Deante Howard was just 13 years old when God called him to Christianity. After sustaining neck surgery in an accident, he began to question the world around him. This led to a shocking moment that challenged his belief that God would always give him another chance. He joined the youth ministry after his grandma encouraged him. The clothes were a favorite part of church. He loved the ritualistic aspect of Sunday church services, where he would dress up for every service.
Deante’s faith is still driving him today, more than ten years after. Deante’s love for style is what drives him. He now uses Etsy to spread the Christian gospel. In 2019, he launched his label Equris to spark conversations about Christianity, selling graffiti-inspired logo hoodies, T-shirts, sweatpants, and jackets. Howard says that his decision to venture into streetwear was influenced by the way other Christian labels did “cliche, corny stuff” and not pieces that were inspired by fashions that he wanted to wear. He recalls, “I told myself, I can make that.” The Missouri native founded Equris using his business and graphic design background.
It is not new for the Christian fashion industry. Designers who want to bridge the gap between faith and style have used events like Christian Fashion Week. It was last held in 2015. Designer labels such as Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier and Dior have been drawing inspiration from Christianity for decades. This has been done through events like Christian Fashion Week, which was held its last shows in 2015. The Costume Institute, with support from Vatican, highlighted this relationship in its 2018 exhibition “Heavenly Bodies”: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.
There is also a thriving Christian e-commerce community on Etsy that evokes the type of “cliches” Howard wanted to distinguish his brand from. To convey their femininist message or faith, they use friendly messages and swirling calligraphy – “Jesus Loves You”, for example – channeling the same T-shirt activism as pink #girlboss merchandise. These shops, like Howard, are run by entrepreneurs who use apparel to spread the gospel.
The idea of faith-based brands using streetwear codes to build a Christian community is not new. For years, designers like Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God have been pioneering Christian messaging through streetwear brands. But now, that same message is starting to make its way into the closets of people who don’t want $700 sweatpants. The hashtag #christianstreetwear generated more than 22,000 Instagram posts. People were wearing T-shirts with Bible verses and #Blessed logos. They’re no different to mainstream streetwear brands that use spirituality to promote positivity and foster community. Just recently, Balenciaga created cross-bearing T-shirts for Kanye West’s Donda merch, proving the kind of cross-pollination that’s using codes from the secular world – much like West’s album – to the masses at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Howard agrees with West’s vision.
Drew Urquhart has a similar vision. Drew Urquhart is a nondenominational Christian and very private. He’s not comfortable asking strangers about their faith. He hopes that his brand, God The Father, will do the talking. He says it’s ironic that he now talks about God every single day, which is amazing. This is in reference to how his brand has allowed his to share his faith. God The Father, a Los Angeles-based streetwear company, was launched in 2019. It sells neutral-hued T shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies. Urquhart says that they get DMs every day from people all over the globe stating that their T-shirts helped them have a conversation about their faith. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, have you heard about Jesus?’ it’s someone asking them about it.”
Due to the collapse of political, social and economic structures in the last 10 years combined with religious polarization, Christianity was deemed politically . A large number of millennials have abandoned religion due to their conservative beliefs. Christianity’s ageing ideology is evident in popular mainstream issues such as increasing abortion access and queer justice. Streetwear is considered a movement that represents young progressive people in many ways. A recent Gallup report found that 47% of Americans are members of a synagogue, church, or mosque. This is a drop below 50% for the first 80 years. Pew Research Center’s 2019 study found that almost half of millennials say they don’t believe in God. Four out of 10 people in this age group also said they had no religious affiliation.
These entrepreneurs believe that it is precisely these generational struggles that drives them to use streetwear as a means of evangelization. Streetwear, a New York City and Los Angeles phenomenon, has always been infused with stories of personal ambitions and community building. Streetwear, thanks to brands such as Cross Colours or FUBU, has always linked clothing and social messaging. It provides a platform for those who wish to share their beliefs with the world. Howard has been a long-time fan of streetwear and says these themes are what have bonded him to this style of fashion. Howard is a founder of a Christian streetwear company. He wants people to see that they aren’t so different. He believes that his personal struggle led to him believing in Christianity. Equris is his way of building a community around it. He says that all Christians have the same calling: to go out and make disciples.
Tianna Jenkins, founder and CEO of lifestyle and fashion brand CoSignedxGod has a similar approach. CoSignedxGod was founded in July 2021. It is a result of Jenkins’ experience as an ordained minister, and the daughter a pastor. She says, “We are for people who don’t know God and people who do know God, wherever they are in [Christianity] relationship.” As a founder, she’s trying to use social media and newsletters to foster a community around her brand, similar to those created by Black designers like Telfar Clemens and Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond. Her method? She sends weekly newsletters based on prayer, which she shares with her subscribers along with discount codes for her merchandise. She says that profit is not her primary goal, despite the commerce play. She says, “If you’re anointed with the calling you have, the money won’t come without you.”
Modern Christianity is rife with materialism. Megachurch pastors are known for flaunting their wealth to promote Christianity. Many are used to seeing pastors wearing off-the-rack grey suits. However, a new generation of preachers is giving Yeezy, DSquared and Gucci their approval despite the fact that the average pastor in the United States makes between $28,000- $44,000 annually. In 2019, the Instagram account @preachersnsneakers even started documenting the hefty price tags on the clothes worn by some pastors within Evangelical circles, like the leaders of Hillsong and Zoe Church. The book of Proverbs states that “Whoever accumulates money little-by-little makes it grow,” but the New Testament depicts Jesus cursing those who make the temple a money-making enterprise. The latter scene is often seen as confirmation that faith and commerce don’t mix.
These entrepreneurs see style and commerce as tools to communicate their message and make money. Some people don’t believe there should be any separation between the two. Howard says that money can be a problem if you love it. “But if I have a talent or a gift, then biblically I should be paid.”