I poke my head into the Burnaby on the main street of Greystones, and slowly amble around the sun-flooded restaurant looking for a table. A 30-year-old in baggy jeans and a black leather jacket crosses the room on the opposite side of the restaurant, his pierced eyebrow crinkling in a smile under a shock of unruly hair.
I follow the young Irishman outside to the heated garden patio. “Scott?” I ask, as he begins to sit down at a small table crowded with an empty mug, a Moleskine, and a carafe of water. “Whitney? Hey, how you going?” We shake hands, and I sit down.
I first met Scott Evans when he spoke in a chapel address to myself and some other American students studying in Ireland. When asked about his career, Scott joked, “I tell Irish people that I’m 30, unemployed, broke, and live with my parents. Americans are a lot more positive, though, so to them I’m an entrepreneur, self-published author and speaker, and t-shirt designer.” Despite assertions that he’s a total loser, Scott’s self-deprecating humor was belied by his brutally straightforward, passionate, and highly intelligent exploration of the gospel, and by the end of his chapel talk, my classmates and I came out deeply respectful of the former youth pastor.
Impressed as I was by the raw but committed way in which Scott talked about life in Christ, I was grateful to get the chance to chat with him a few days later about the t-shirts he designs and the convictions that birthed them.
Whitney: How did the idea for the t-shirts start?
Scott Evans: Like everything in my life, it’s a reaction to seeing bad things being done. There’s a t-shirt that I saw at a Christian festival a few years ago, and it had a picture of a big red button on it that said “Jesus.” And it said, “Push the button: it’s just that easy.”
And I was like, really? Cuz I’ve been following Jesus for awhile, and it sucks. It’s also amazing, but it is a life taking up your cross, forgiving your enemies, giving to those in need, learning to reject wealth, reject selling out in order to maintain integrity. There’s nothing in the world that I’d rather do, but it’s really tough. It just frustrates me when I hear people talk about it being really simple.
Or you have the parodies, like that one of Abercrombie and Fitch: “A Breadcrumb and Fish.” It doesn’t say anything, it just says, “Look at me, I’m a Christian.” It doesn’t actually offer any wisdom, it doesn’t offer you any hope, it doesn’t ask any questions.
But I’ve got this kind of rule: I’m only allowed to complain about stuff if I’m prepared to do something about it. So I decided I wanted to start a t-shirt company, hope//fully clothing. In Ireland, people will constantly say, “Are you gonna get the chance to go and do this?” “Oh yeah, you know. Hopefully.” And they actually kind of mean, You know, I’m not really putting that much hope in it. I got the idea then of cutting up the word, so it says hope fully, as in, to hope in a full way. Then I began getting really passionate about certain taglines, so I started designing t-shirts around that.
W: So the philosophy behind the t-shirts is basically to start conversation?
SE: Yeah. When I had a website—I’ve since taken it down because I don’t have any t-shirts left and I can’t afford to print any more at the moment—the slogan for the t-shirt company was “Wear your faith without being a tool.” (smiles) It was pretty blunt, but it was my intention. It’s not to start conversations manipulatively; but a lot of people want to incorporate faith into every part of their life. I wanted to figure out a way where people could wear a brand that they believed in, felt said something positive, but that also didn’t outsource their opportunity to share.
This is the “Don’t despise the bear” t-shirt. That doesn’t make any sense, until you actually ask someone. The wisdom behind the t-shirt is, before David could kill a giant when everyone was watching, he had to kill a bear when no one was watching. He could’ve said, “Look, when I was a shepherd, a bear came out of the woods and he attacked me. Obviously, God isn’t protecting me.”
But actually, what God was doing was preparing him for the future. My non-Christian kids will wear these t-shirts, and they’ll be like, “This is the coolest message ever. I don’t particularly believe the Bible, but I believe in what this says.” It’s kind of like a step-by-step, beginning to see the Christian faith as another way of living that’s potentially compelling.
Another one says, “May the bridges I burn light the way.” It’s the idea that if you want to change the world, you’re not going to be able to keep everybody happy, and you’re going to make mistakes doing it. Like Roosevelt says, either in risking everything and failing, or risking everything and succeeding, at least your “place will never be with those cold and timid souls who never knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Another one I’m working on is this expression that my friend, who’s a pastor, uses. He constantly says to his congregation, “Hurt people hurt people.” Whenever you’re looking at somebody who’s hurt you, you’ve got to remember that they’re not doing it out of their wholeness; they’re doing it out of some way in which they’ve been hurt. It’s about understanding this cycle of pain that we’re all part of.
So that’s how I’m trying to do this, to frame these things differently so they start conversations: either with Christians, or for Christians, or even with non-Christians who see the t-shirt or even wear it—which is an odd thing that that actually happens. And yet it does, which is cool.
W: Right now, you don’t have the money to print more t-shirts. Do you just print as you get funds? How does that work?
SE: I think it’d probably be fair to say it doesn’t work. (laughs) Seth Godin is a marketing guru, and he says, “He who fails most, wins,”—as long as you fail in a way that means you can keep going, right? So I am a complete failure, but I’m still succeeding in that it’s not over for me yet. I printed 1200 books; most self-published books in their lifetime sell 200. I’ve sold 1200, and I have no books left; I also have no money to print more. I sold all my t-shirts, and I don’t have any money to print more. I’m just kind of living by faith. I’m looking at working with a t-shirt company in the U.S.—hopefully an ethical company that’ll do everything in a positive way, and has high quality stuff. But the problem in the past is that I had to buy all the shirts in all the sizes up front, working on a youth worker’s salary.
Interestingly enough, a priest came to me last week and was like, “I wanna give you two grand, towards the reprint of the book and towards flights to North America.” So God is moving, I just never know what he’s going to do next.
W: How many t-shirts did you print the first time?
SE: 150. Cost me about 9 euro per t-shirt, so you’re talking over a grand I dropped on it. I barely paid myself back in the end.
W: Living by faith.
SE: Yeah. That’s a really hard balance to get right because people talk so glibly: “Oh, you know, the Lord will provide.” And to a certain extent that’s crock, because Christians die every day in the world of starvation, because we don’t provide for them. But the advantage of living in the Western world is that I’m more likely to come into contact with people who are prepared to support what I’m doing.
So as much as I do believe God will provide, it is a struggle to believe that it’s easier for God to provide for me than it is for him to provide for other people in the world. I’m trying to hold that in tension. I don’t want to take that for granted, and also, if I ever make money off this stuff I want to figure out a way in which I can provide for other people, rather than just keeping it all for myself.
W: How often do you wear one of your own designs?
SE: At any point in my life, I only own enough clothing to pack into one bag. You’ll only ever see me wearing a pair of black shoes, a pair of jeans, and generally a black t-shirt, black hoodie, and my leather jacket. I only have one pair of shoes. I own enough boxers and socks to get me through two weeks; I own three pairs of jeans and 15 t-shirts. And that’s it, that’s all I own.
Of those t-shirts, probably 10 of them are my own designs. The rest are either made by To Write Love on Her Arms, or else I have a Taybeh, a Palestinian beer company. Or I just wear plain black t-shirts.
W: You mentioned earlier the idea of bringing what we wear into a worshipful lifestyle. Other than wearing shirts with an explicit message, how can Christians do that?
SE: We can wear t-shirts that are about the God that we’re passionate about. But I think another way we can glorify God is by wearing clothing that God would be passionate about. I like the idea of constantly wearing things that celebrate something positive. Because even if you’re just wearing a branded t-shirt, you’re still celebrating that brand. If I’m going to be presenting something to the world, I want it to be something that means something. T-shirts are the height of my creative ability to express my faith through clothing; I’m sure there are other people who have far better ways to do it.