Hollywood Gifts, Praying, and OGBFF are churning out tongue-in-cheek graphic tees. Why does the internet like them so much?

Hollywood Gifts, at first glance, may seem like an inside joke among friends. It could easily be mistaken for fan-made band merch, constructed quickly and fervently. Selling original hand-drawn shirts with mordant phrases such as Men Rule and Targeted Individual, the clothing brand has garnered a cult following on Instagram. “There’s inspiration from the experience of living in real life, and living online,” says founder Madeleine Kunkle, who started drawing on garments during the pandemic in her studio apartment.

There is a paradox in fashion in the age of the chronically online. Amid micro-trends and algorithmically-sourced aesthetics, Hollywood Gifts—as well as OGBFF and Praying, other labels from this genre—offers a refreshing and unique alternative to hyper-curated luxury brands. Small, DIY labels are usurping Instagram feeds, being passed around in group chats and on meme pages. The unrelenting uniformity of ‘clean girl aesthetics’ and micro-trends like balletcore are being stripped away in favor of a grittier, scrappier aesthetic—and ultimately, one that feels artist-made. “Many of my customers are people who would be my friend,” says Kunkle.

At their core, DIY fashion brands create community. They echo the 1970s punk era, where fans crudely cut up and reassembled clothing—a countercultural ethos that has since been replicated by major labels. Amid chaotic Instagram photo dumps and the resurgence of indie sleaze, consumers are looking for their fashion choices to convey their individuality, as well as the unevenness of life after the pandemic. This new rowdy aesthetic exudes an authenticity that has been lost in the landscape of homogenous fast-fashion brands like Shein and Zara, which make garments seem disposable.

“It grew out of a desire to wear my heart on my sleeve, to externalize mantras as slogans.”

“Instagram is becoming more and more like a mall,” says Kyle Hide of I Need God, a viral meme page dedicated to tongue-in-cheek religious content, which later spawned a fashion line and podcast. “There are more ways to sell clothing online than ever before.” On their website, I Need God offers all sorts of things, from sweatshirts to underwear with cryptic religious slogans, such as god won’t let me die. The line feels like a playful homage to the gritty band merch once sold at Hot Topic. “I like that it harkens back to when graphic t-shirts were really big, in the 2000s,” said Hide.

Kunkle is not afraid to embrace the cringe: “It grew out of a desire to wear my heart on my sleeve, to externalize mantras as slogans.” Since 2022, influencers and celebrities such as Charli XCX and Kim Petras have taken note. In 2022, Doja Cat hosted an Instagram Live in a Hollywood Gifts tank top, adorned with the word Anal in pink lettering. “It’s an if you know, you know vibe. Certain people, like Julia Fox, who have good taste have caught on,” says Kunkle.

Kunkle describes her brand as “painfully earnest, chaotic, and sincere.” On its feed, models pose in poorly-lit rooms and cropped mirror selfies. It all looks remarkably low-effort. The aesthetic provides an antidote to the moneyed polish of luxury ads which overwhelm social media. “It feels bad to be inundated by these processed images that are seemingly made by an algorithm. It’s so cynical, the way they market to you,” says Kunkle. “People want something more precious these days.”

OGBFF, which launched in 2021, was born from the bond between Angela Ruis and Lauren Schiller. “It’s just our friendship materialized. Whatever we’re rocking at the time,” they explain. Their Instagram has accrued 48,000 followers, along with high-profile fans including Fox, who sported a shirt that read Canceled Adjacent in one post. “We didn’t expect that to happen. We were having fun, and didn’t have a plan,” they say.

“It doesn’t present any stance. Sometimes it seems genuine. Sometimes it seems blasphemous. There’s a tension there that helps it grow.”

Brands like Hollywood Gifts and OGBFF uniquely encapsulate the ennui and delight of being online. “I started making clothes because it was instantly gratifying,” says Kunkle. “There’s a connection between putting something on a t-shirt, emblazoning [a message] on your chest, and the feeling of posting—externalizing an internal experience, sensation, vibe, or joke.” OGBFF is a precocious child of the internet, the founders explains: “As time went on, it became more influenced by internet culture at large—stuff for the chronically online people.”

It is sometimes best not to read into the designs too closely, Kunkle explains. When commenting on her sold-out shirt that simply reads I <3 $20, she says that it’s “kind of fun, because it’s an idea that, if you thought too hard about it, you would throw it away.” Its vague and ephemeral nature is precisely what gives it its charm. Similarly, Hide says that I Need God, as a meme page and fashion brand, has no inherent ideology. “It doesn’t present any stance. Sometimes it seems genuine. Sometimes it seems blasphemous. There’s a tension there that helps it grow.”

At large, the fashion industry has taken note. Both OGBFF and Hollywood Gifts report that their designs are getting reproduced and knocked off by fast fashion. “I’ve had people suggest that if I want this brand to be worth a lot of money, I should refine and manicure my output.” That would suck the air out of it, Kunkle argues: “I try to keep the heart in it, and the handmade quality. I’m still sewing in the tags myself.” When imagining the fashion industry’s future, Hollywood Gifts and OGBFF hope that it becomes increasingly DIY. The OGBFF team, which plans to expand to live events and content, believes that “larger brands will start to draw on creators like us to try to emulate this vibe.”

As the internet cycles through culture at an exponential rate, it’s inevitable that the fashion world will become more refracted. As apathy towards fast fashion and the uniformity of influencer culture grows, consumers will gravitate towards the idiosyncratic ethos. The popularity of DIY brands reflects a shift in youth consciousness: People are looking for a personal connection in the clothes they wear, using their wardrobes as a conduit to social scenes and online selves.