Vancouver’s Deqq Apparel partners with Joe Average to make wearable art that can’t be ripped off

Copycats beware—LOVEY is verifiably genuine (and extremely stylish).

Copycats beware—Lovey is verifiably genuine (and extremely stylish)

At a Banff business conference more than a decade ago, a guy walked up to Vancouver tech entrepreneur David Gratton and literally offered to buy the shirt off his back. “It had an embroidered picture of an old airplane that his father used to fly,” Gratton explains. “He offered me $300 for it.” 

Though Gratton didn’t make the sale—”It was kind of weird,” he says with a laugh—it got him thinking about fashion. The man at the conference saw the shirt as a meaningful piece of art rather than simply a garment. Gratton says that the art and fashion worlds are often considered separate because clothing designers and artists don’t really collaborate (it’s a sort of too-many-cooks situation). Also, as he puts it, “clothing is the most ripped-off thing in the world.” Artists don’t like copycats, and once something is printed on a shirt, it’s often replicated without permission.

But Gratton’s background in tech gave him a solution to fashion fraudsters, and he dreamed up a system in which an NFC chip could be sewn into the fabric, then scanned and authenticated. The chip guarantees the owner that the piece is an original. Then Gratton teamed up with an artist to bring the idea to life. 

Esteemed Vancouver artist Joe Average was a natural choice—not just because Gratton owns five of his paintings but also thanks to another, much more adorable “business connection.” Joe Average had bought one of Gratton’s eight-year-old daughter’s watercolours after seeing it posted on Instagram. “We hand-delivered it,” Gratton recalls, “and he takes her aside and goes, ‘I want to pay for this,’ and he gives her $100.” Gratton tried to protest, but Average shut him up. “Art should be paid for,” Average said. He continued, “I’ll be honest, I would pay more, but she’s not well-known yet.”

And so goes Deqq Apparel’s origin story. Gratton has just launched its first shirt, a collaboration with Average called Lovey. It’s limited-edition; only 90 garments were made, and all have a chip embedded in them for easy authentication. They’re retailing for $550 each (pricey for a blouse but a steal for a Joe Average piece).

The shirt itself is 100-percent cotton and designed by another Vancouver local, Justine Edralin. It’s manufactured in China by Joice, which Gratton says is one of the only companies with the technology required for this sort of wearable art. “Getting the quality of the shirt, the quality of the print and the vibrancy you know from a Joe Average painting was incredibly challenging.” The shirts are packaged in boxes by another Vancouver local, ChopValue.

Lovey, Joe Average’s first new piece since the ’90s, is based off a sketch that never made it onto canvas. With fewer than than 100 in the world, the shirts are a pretty special piece of local art. 

DEQQ is on the hunt for its next artist collab—interested creatives can check out its website for more details.