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Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2005

Fashionable faith

Downtown shop converts pop culture into Christian apparel

April 2, 2005

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At Extreme Christian Clothing, God is in fashion.

So is Jesus, heaven and Scripture.

Even -- gulp -- Satan makes an appearance or two.

The store, which opened two weeks ago in the former home of Mass Street Comics at 938 Mass., sells the latest in Christian clothing and accessories, all designed to boldly and often amusingly identify its buyers as devoted followers of Jesus.

The religious-themed merchandise on display at the store could be described as edgy, funny, clever, provocative -- even a little "in your face."

Thus the T-shirts emblazoned with messages such as "Satan Sucks" and "My God Kicks Your God's Butt."

Other products on display are more lighthearted (a license-plate frame that reads, "In Case of Rapture, the Car's Yours"), or play off of instantly recognizable corporate branding (a ball cap that says "GAP," and underneath it "God Answers Prayers") or a shirt that says "Jesus Christ" in the familiar Coca-Cola script.

Aside from T-shirts, hoodies and ball caps, the store carries jewelry, bumper stickers, decals, wrist bands, skateboards, backpacks and military-style dog tags bearing Scripture.

There's even "God Rocks Sucker and Dipping Candy" and fortune cookies with biblical verses tucked inside.

Merchandise at Extreme Christian Clothing, 938 Mass., offers
customers a way to wear their faith on their sleeve or lapel.

Merchandise at Extreme Christian Clothing, 938 Mass., offers customers a way to wear their faith on their sleeve or lapel.

"Man, I wish I could be a kid at this time, this day and age. They just have so much to offer Christian kids these days," says Lori Devins, a Topeka woman who co-owns the store with her husband, Cris.

"It's so cool to be a Christian now. That's the greatest thing. Nobody has to be afraid to shout out their faith."

Exploding market

There's really nothing else in Lawrence like Extreme Christian Clothing.

The city has Signs of Life, 722 Mass., a well-established Christian bookstore, coffeehouse and art gallery.

But that soothing, serene oasis is not exactly the kind of place where customers are likely to find distinctly Christian apparel influenced by skateboard and hip-hop culture.






Extreme Christian Clothing, 938 Mass., is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.To take a look at some of the Christian clothing and accessories that are available online, try visiting these Web sites:¢ www.mychristiangear.com¢ www.biblebanger.com¢ www.adifferentdirection.com

The new 1,000-square-foot store represents just the tip of the iceberg, evidence of a growing national trend that's becoming an important part of the landscape for Christians -- both young and not so young.

An Internet search for the phrase "Christian clothing" alone results in 8.9 million links to stores, manufacturers and others selling a wide variety of merchandise similar to many of the items sold at Extreme Christian Clothing.

That's what Devins found when she started doing research online before opening her first store in December in Topeka, also called Extreme Christian Clothing.

"I could not believe how much stuff was out there to offer in this market for Christians. If you're looking for it, you'll find it," Devins says.

"What I found in my research is that there's stores like this everywhere. We're talking all Christian stuff, really cool stuff. And you just can't imagine the number of Christian skateboard companies."

Justin Hurd, left, and Jesse Ridder shop for T-shirts at Extreme
Christian Clothing on Tuesday.

Justin Hurd, left, and Jesse Ridder shop for T-shirts at Extreme Christian Clothing on Tuesday.

Devins got the idea to open a store of her own after seeing young people at her Topeka church wearing T-shirts proclaiming their Christian faith.

"This whole power overtook me -- 'We've got to have a store like this in Topeka.' And that feeling never left me. I couldn't stop thinking about it," says Devins, 41.

It wasn't long before she and her husband had thoughts of expanding their business.

"From the minute that I opened that store, the idea of going to Lawrence hit me just as strong as it did (about) opening in Topeka," she says.

"Even though it didn't make any sense at all -- the store in Topeka wasn't making any money -- I think the Lord spoke to Cris, too: 'Go to Lawrence.'"

Offensive, or evangelism tool?

Lori Devins, right, rings out Jesse Ridder at Extreme Christian
Clothing, 938 Mass.

Lori Devins, right, rings out Jesse Ridder at Extreme Christian Clothing, 938 Mass.

But will there be much of a market in Lawrence for Christian clothing and accessories with an irreverent, youthful attitude?

Michelle Nila, 18, recently visited Extreme Christian Clothing to browse. She thinks the store will find a customer base.

"The clothing that's there -- (T-shirts that say) 'Got Jesus?' and 'Don't Keep the Faith -- Spread it Around' -- it's cool, but I haven't gotten around to getting any," says Nila, a Eudora High School senior who belongs to the youth group at Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive.

"I think the store will do well, because there's a lot of Christian kids that don't like the plainer shirts with just the Scriptures (on them). I think that more people will be willing to buy the catchy-phrase shirts."

Ten-year-old Austin Nichols, who has a ball cap that says "Jesus Is My Homeboy," says most kids who wear Christian apparel don't really understand its messages.

"I have a T-shirt that has a big cross, and it says 'Jesus' on it. I wear that a lot," says Nichols, a student at Schwegler School. "Most kids who wear them don't really know what it means other than that it's religious. I think it's more of a trend."

Kieran McBride, a member of Heartland Community Church, 619 Vt., has mixed emotions about the Christian apparel that's on the market.

Some T-shirts and caps don't work well as evangelism tools, says McBride, 20.

"Instead of causing people to turn toward your God, you're causing them to be offended. I don't know if I would ever actually buy them," he says. "But some of them are pretty entertaining."

Katie Schwyhart, 20, doesn't like some of the harder-edged Christian garb that's out there, including the shirt that says, "My God Can Kick Your God's Butt."

"As Christians, we're supposed to love people into the kingdom (of God), not hate them into the kingdom. Some of the shirts are harsh, but others are playful and fun," says Schwyhart, who also attends Heartland Church.

But she welcomes Extreme Christian Clothing to Lawrence.

"I'm glad there's going to be a Christian market downtown," she says. "It's nice to have things like that here."

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