You know how the car radio occasionally scans up a station that sounds like standard indie rock, with big guitar riffs and some guy singing about getting high, kicking ass, and falling in love? But then you listen for a minute and you realize he’s getting high on God, kicking Satan’s ass, and falling in love with Jesus? C28 is the rag-trade equivalent of that sneaky FM station, a retail chain selling faux-hip clothes and gear for young evangelicals who don’t want to dress like Mormon missionaries, but whose moms won’t let them shop at Hot Topic.
Poised between the godless Bay Area and America’s pulsing red heartland, I have a rare vantage-point from which to observe this sort of phenomenon. It’s called Sun Valley Mall, and it’s easy enough to find the C-28 store if you know what to look for. Just stand in front of Hot Topic, then look across the mallway to the store that looks just like it, only instead of being staffed by surly teens with clip-on nose rings, has a fresh-scrubbed cheerleader type working the door.
From a distance, all the gear looks like normal teen wear. Screen-printed tees and hoodies with bold text tags like “Convicted” and “Sinner.” But get close enough to read the fine print and you’ll see that “convicted” is also “not condemned,” and that the “sinner” is “saved.” The graffiti on those low-rise jeans is actually scripture (“Ezekiel” brand), and those Vans-look skate shoes are covered with tiny crosses.
I’m not sure why this bothers me, but it does. When I was in school, it was easy to spot the religious zealots. Their hand-me-down clothes, birth-control glasses, and bowl haircuts made them instantly recognizable. But with this C28 gear, you could be chatting up some Betty for ages before you noticed that her ring says PURITY and not HAIL S8N. Of course goths have been plundering Christian imagery for decades, but that’s different: it’s ironic. This, on the other hand, is just wrong, like Jesus putting on a red suit and a pair of clip-on horns and hanging out in dive bars, passing out cigarettes.
C28 founder Aurelio Barreto seems to have hit gold with this formula. A dozen retail outlets, a clothing line (the “Not of This World” brand) and an online store at www.c28.com. Aurelio is also willing to preach the gospel at your next “outreach” event (honorarium negotiable), and C28 franchise opportunities are available. Believe it, my children.