How did OBEY go from an anti-corporate anti-Man street un-brand to Made in China fratboy wear?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jun 2, 2013
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Obey vs. Obey Clothing.

“I’ve been hearing some cries of “SELLOUT!” over the various products for sale. I put all the profits back into more stickers and posters for the street, because that is obey fairey sell out clothingmy love, not money. People have different reasons for liking GIANT and I can understand people not wanting to see it leave the underground niche it has enjoyed for so many years. All I can say is that even in the commercial applications of OBEY/GIANT I am attempting to retain the rebellious spirit of the street project.” ~ Shepard Fairey

For more on his prolific “selling out,” click here.

During the economic downturn, Saks Inc. hired Fairey to attract consumers.


I used to live in Boston, and OBEY stuff was everywhere…but it was anti-croproate, anti-The-Man stickerage, street art, illegal.

Now it’s big business. Now it’s made in China, sold in Urban Outfitters and worn (and marketed by) the YOLO D-bag set. Still, it’s backed loosely by good-guy Shepard Fairey, and it supports some good things.

So I was curious, and watched some videos (at bottom) and read up on some word on the street (via Reddit comments) as to how we got from underground to sell-out. ~ ed.

The below quotes come via OBEY fans on Reddit:

“…[in buying the tee shirts I’m] supporting one of my favorite artists. Obey can be dated back to 1989 starting with the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” ( campaign started by a street artist named Shepard Fairey. Basically he put it everywhere and it blew up and led that into this: That is pretty much all he did to get known was put that shit literally anywhere and everywhere as an “experiment in phenomenology” Well it blew up over time, more so in the past 5-6 years, its expanded exponentially with all the “hipster” teens and party kids hence all the hatred in this thread.

“The clothes aren’t that great anymore. They used to be made in America but now it’s done overseas, so therefore the quality is super shitty now. He pretty much just licensed the name to a group of 4 guys who control the fashion half while he just does his ‘art.'”

“…why he used the name “OBEY”. He got it from an 1988 film called “They Live”( If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s entertaining and honestly quite true. The story behind this film is the theme he chose for his art. Also Shepard Fairey doesn’t really have a whole lot of input when it comes to the clothing, never really did, he just focuses on OBEY GIANT, which does all the prints. Watch a documentary called “Exit Through the Gift Shop” ( this talks about him some but mainly Mr. Brainwash (who is a talentless ass) and Banksy.”

“…I love the layers and textures he creates when stenciling and I love the symbols he uses and repeats like the sort of bandanna patterns and he often does such things as displaying a woman in distress and a star which is kind of a hidden easter egg like in a lot of movies you’ll notice a twinkling star above a damsel in distress etc. (Ex: He also does illuminati-esque works that just portray a higher power. All things that interest me. I’m a huge fan of street art in general whether it be Banksy, Shepard Fairey, or a nobody such as ZuZu Gold that wheat pastes poetry up here in LA.”

“…Shepard Fairey doesn’t have a “statement” that he stands by. He does his works based on current events mostly and will always gladly give his opinion on anything political or foreign events w/e. He also does lots of art to support foundations to support breast cancer reasearch (Save A Breast) and feeding the less fortunate (Feeding America) to name a few. He is also the face behind the infamous Obama hope blue/red face…”

“…it’s a little ironic that Obey was founded on the idea that you can brainwash people into almost anything with advertising, and now the company has blown up, and now feeds into the consumerism that it was originally was against…”

“More info on how/why Obey was started can be seen in this documentary.”

“Obey is worn by young people who are most likely to be using such slang words as ‘Swag’ and ‘Yolo.'”


“This film is based on the true story of Shepard Fairey’s first act of street art during his time at Rhode Island School of Design from 1989-1992.”

OBEY THE GIANT – The Shepard Fairey Story from Julian Marshall on Vimeo.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


5 Responses to “How did OBEY go from an anti-corporate anti-Man street un-brand to Made in China fratboy wear?”

  1. bagecka says:

    every time a kid comes up to the counter with an obey shirt I want to ask them, do you know who shepard fairey is? i'm sure they don't. yolo.

  2. Zumiezgal says:

    Instead of mocking them why don't you educate them? Talk about Shepard and his clothing, how they started. Don't you think thats what Shepard Fairey himself would want you to do?

  3. Many people don't know Shepard Fairey was working for corporate labels years ago, like when Pepsi release the campaign "obey your thirst". Do you know who put the "OBEY" in "OBEY your thirst"? Yep, I think it was him. We can consider it infiltration. And everyone has to earn money. Well, about the new direction of his brand, I'm not sure because it's not a long time since i been seeing it.

  4. Bob Bobby says:

    Soon you will be able to buy his crap art at the Gap, he is the biggest hypocrite, sell out of our time. Plus, he is the master of Graffiti: art so bad bad you have to break the law to force someone to see it. I can't wait to watch this hack fade away, oh wait, it is already happening.

  5. Jonnhy says:

    Keyphrase your arugement is built on "Yep, I THINK it was him."