Talking Point: Papa don’t preach…

12 August 2011

There was much rejoicing in the Grazia office when US retail giants Forever 21 opened a brand new store on London’s Oxford Street. We joined the congregating masses to snap up some fash-wan bargains to add the finishing touches to our summer (oh, who are we kidding – winter!) wardrobes.

But not everyone in the industry is worshipping at the altar of this cult brand. The Chang family are widely known for being devout Christians and have recently come under fire for spreading the gospel message via the medium of retail therapy. Blogger Rachel Kane has noticed an increasing rise in religious wears throughout their stores and online catalogue. Their fondness for crosses among their accessories range can be easily forgiven – these are worn the world over not just as a faith symbol but made entirely covetable by the likes of Madonna, a devout Jew!

It was the selection of graphic t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Thank God’ and ‘Jesus ♥ You’ that Rachel was particularly at odds with claiming that they ‘jumped out at me, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "You are no longer in a store. Welcome to the Sunday morning service you did not sign up for. Now get to prayin' sinner!"'

This reaction seems a little extreme – afterall, no-one is obligated to purchase let alone wear these garments and with the trend for slogan tees still as strong as ever, links to the store owners beliefs are tenuous at best.

However, there’s no denying that the words John 3:16 printed at the bottom of every yellow shopping bag is a direct reference to their faith. Its discreet placement means most customers would be unaware of its location or that they were carrying around a scriptural reference.  One such customer claimed, ‘That's so freaky, it kind of annoys me that I'm carrying this around without even knowing it.' But the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, William Donohue, told the New York Sun, 'We should give them the benefit of the doubt and cheer them on. While it may not be the most reverential thing to do, by putting John 3:16 on a shopping bag, indeed it smacks of commercialism, it does not rise to the level of insult,' he said.

It’s certainly heart-warming to see the passion of the Chang family who are unabashed in sharing their faith with the world while still giving customers the choice of whether to engage with them either in spirit or in an ironic fashion. But what do you think? Is it a match made in heaven or a step too far?
- Jo Oliver

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