- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Walk into Lori Devins’ downtown shop and it’s clear this isn’t a typical Christian retail store. First of all, Extreme Christian Clothing features T-shirts. Then, there are the shirts’ in-your-face messages.

Along with ones saying “Got Jesus?” and “Fear God” are shirts declaring, “Satan Sucks,” “My God can kick your god’s butt,” and “To Hell with the Devil.”

“Our shirts are a little extreme, but I think God is spreading the word and having the youngsters shout out their faith,” Miss Devins said. “I think teenagers want to evoke a response.”

For the most part, religious retailers focus on books and Bibles; apparel is a small part of sales. Miss Devins turned around that concept with edgy T-shirts and is finding a niche market here and at a similar store she owns in Topeka.

“There aren’t too many stores that are breaking out like hers that are focusing on clothing and apparel with the shock value,” said Pete Wagg, owner of Never Say Die in Fernley, Nev., which designs religious T-shirts, including one with a skull and “Never Say Die.”

“A store like Lori’s is unique in that it’s geared for youth and geared with such a strong message,” said Mr. Wagg, who sells to Miss Devins.

Overall, religious retailing is a growth business in the United States. CBA International, the trade association for Christian bookstores and retailers, reported sales by member suppliers at $4.2 billion in 2002. A CBA sampling of retail Christian stores showed 57 percent of sales in 2002 were Bibles and books, while apparel accounted for 2 percent of sales.

Strongly worded religious apparel is a growing trend, said Catherine Stellin, vice president of the Intelligence Group in Los Angeles, which forecasts trends. She said Miss Devins “is ahead of the curve” with her stores.

Teens and those in their early 20s see consumerism as a way to express convictions, she said.

“There is a little bit of shock value to this because this is a generation that feels very strong in their convictions,” Miss Stellin said. “So if they believe in something, they are going to shout it out. Subtlety is not their strong point.”

Noting trends typically start on the coasts, Miss Stellin said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked its way to the Midwest because the core values of religion are much stronger in the Midwest and South.”

Chris Rainey, director of marketing for Kerusso Inc., of Berryville, Ark., said his company’s sales of various religious apparel, including T-shirts, increased by 70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004 over the same period in the previous year.

“There has been such a rise in spiritual interest across the country, especially the youth looking for ways to express their faith and values,” he said. “They are wearing T-shirts both as a fashion statement and a faith statement.”

For Mrs. Devins, a wife and mother of four, selling religious items is about more than just making a quick buck.

“I couldn’t feel any other way than doing this is doing the work of the Lord. He filled us with this purpose to do this,” she said.

In January, she opened her first store in a Topeka strip mall, and by March, her second store was operating in Lawrence.

Some people worry about extreme epigrams, including Craig Detweiler, a Biola University professor in La Mirada, Calif., who wrote a book about finding God in pop culture.

“My concern with the T-shirts is that may be good for rallying the faithful, but offensive to those outside that circle,” Mr. Detweiler said. “Did Jesus build bridges or burn them? Did Jesus ever say they shall know us by our T-shirts?”

But extreme clothing has appeal, said Abe Hernandez, a founder of a chain of five C28 stores in Southern California and a line of wholesale clothing that includes T-shirts sporting “King Kong Wasn’t My Grandpa.”

“Kids want to be bold about who Jesus is in their life and that is why we are here. Edgy sells well,” Mr. Hernandez said.

Wearers often want to make a point, said Kelton Cobb, professor of theology and ethics at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

“If I wear it, I’m not only saying that I’m a religious believer but that I’m also a cool and clever religious believer,” Mr. Cobb said. “Being cool and clever is what young people want to do.”

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