Fashion, Faith, & Visual Parables
Why do you wear what you wear? Fashion has always been an important part of civilization. Of course there’s a healthy involvement with it, but we often see an obsession. Although not primarily a clothing company, Blacksheep Collective is a movement that expresses “visual parables” on clothing. Founder and Art Director, Byron Elliott, joins us this week to talk about fashion, faith, and visual parables in this encouraging conversation.
Who’s Our Guest?
Byron Elliott is an illustrator and graphic designer living and working in Indianapolis, Indiana. He specializes in apparel design, illustrative branding, visual storytelling and character design. Byron is the founder and art director of Blacksheep Collective. He’s done work for awesome people like Funny or Die, Rapzilla, Deitrick Haddon, Indy Eleven, Kottonzoo, Indy Film Festival, Vision 3 and many more.
Be sure to check out Blacksheep Collective, the movement Byron founded.
Also, here’s the graphic design (or, visual parable) that Byron was talking about.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is Byron Elliott. Byron is the founder of Black Sheep Collective. It’s not just a clothing company but certainly nothing less than a clothing company as well. Anyways, thanks for being here today, Byron.
Hey, what’s up?
Hey, first before anything, let’s just tell us how you met Jesus. We want to know who Byron is.
Well, the short version of that is I grew up in church, was baptized at nine, but honestly I want to say that my real relationship with Christ started honestly two years ago. It’s one of those cases where I’ve been in church my whole life and I thought I had a relationship. Honestly, I don’t think that I was actually practicing my faith or really getting to know Jesus up until two years ago where I had to step out on faith and prove his word to be true. You know what I mean?
Let us know what Black Sheep Collective is and even in that, in your mission of Black Sheep Collective you do say that your art is really to glorify and magnify Jesus Christ, all that he is. Obviously with Black Sheep Collective you’ve chosen the art of displaying graphic designs on clothing. Along with asking you what is Black Sheep Collective also the question is why clothing? Maybe that’s a question that you can only ask God when you’re up in Heaven. He’s the one that told you to do it. Anyways, let us know what it is about.
Well, you know, for me, and just the way that after much prayer and just really trying to figure out what it is God wants me to do, clothing is really just a starting point. I believe we chose it because as far as I’m concerned the only thing that really matters is the message or the art, right?
The canvas and the medium, for me, they’re almost secondary. I feel like with clothing you’re literally wearing … Especially when it comes to graphic design or graphic tees. You’re wearing your beliefs. You know what I’m saying? You’re wearing things that you feel like resemble who it is that you are on the inside. They say not to judge a book by its cover but the reality is that’s how most people choose their books. You know what I mean?
For sure. Yeah.
What you choose to wear, who you choose to represent, the things that we wear they do say a lot about who it is we are and what it is we believe. I guess that’s just one way that I justify going into the fashion world. Let me be clear, I’m an illustrator and graphic designer first. I just learned that we were streetwear a couple months ago. I was like, “Oh, okay, well, I need to embrace that I guess.” You know what I mean?
A lot of this stuff in this whole world of fashion is still fairly new to me.
Well, it’s interesting. You talk about fashion and that’s in a sense secondary to the idea that the message, the art that you want to get across to obviously glorify God, that’s first. That is your first mission. You decided to put those pieces of art on clothing, which is secondary, which is all used together now as a couple to now share this message around.
When you think about it fashion, our world, and you know this, Byron, obviously, it’s obsessed with fashion. At the same time, it’s like, yeah, I can wear pants and a shirt with a graphic on it. That doesn’t necessarily always mean that’s who I am. Maybe that’s telling the world who I want to be but it’s not really who I am exactly.
Anyways, we’re obsessed with this fashion. Every time we look into history of any time it’s always this obsession of fashion. Many people today, Christians as well, a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of money is spent on how we look. Anyways, having really started Black Sheep Collective how have you understood and how have you reflected on fashion and faith? Maybe there’s not a black and white answer but do you think there’s a right and wrong way for a Christian to think about fashion?
I think you hit on something when you said it being not necessarily who you are at the moment but who you want to be. When you think about it our aspirations, regardless of the percentage, it is some form of our personality. At least at that moment. As far as our thoughts, as far as our beliefs, as far as our intention. Even when it comes to when we think about people wear a certain thing because they want to be a part of a certain scene. I feel like that already speaks to who you are a little bit. You know what I mean?
Or what it is that you’re trying to go after.
A lot of times people are wearing certain things simply because of the status they’re trying to acquire.
You know what I’m saying? Or how it is that they want to be seen. Or even to the point where there’s a lot of brands that mimic what’s happening currently because they don’t want to be left out.
They want to be a part, even though they kind of have their different message, but they still kind of look like everything else. You know what I’m saying? That still kind of speaks to that too. I’m not trying to dump on anybody but this is just the way I see it. As far as just mocking a logo that’s already out there or a brand that’s already out there and mocking them. Look, you’re already attempting to attach yourself to that scene regardless of the message you’re trying to give out.
At least to me that’s already kind of a part of who you are. It’s like, “I want to look like this” or, “I want people to think that I’m this way.” Now when it comes to fashion and faith a lot of these things that I’m about to say that are my own personal beliefs, these are my opinions, just blanket it. I don’t believe these to be everybody’s truth or fact or whatever.
To me, as far as I am concerned, and one of the main reasons why I started Black Sheep Collective is that my belief is this.
If you do anything in the name of Christ or in the name of the Lord, you ought to do it with excellence and you ought to do it with as much creativity as possible.
The first thing that God ever did was create.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. He created what we know as reality. How we judge reality is by time, space, and matter. Just in that first phrase, he’s establishing time, space, and matter. In the beginning there’s time. He created the heavens, the space, and the Earth. That’s matter. He created what we know as reality. He stands outside of that. You know what I mean?
Then it talks about how we’re created in his image and his likeness. How I take that is when you have a child they’re going to have certain capabilities that you have because they’re your kid. You know what I mean? They’re going to replicate or mirror some things or be apt to some things just because genetically they’re predisposed to them because of who you are.
If I’m a musician my kid might not come out of the womb knowing how to play the guitar but he’s going to have an ear for it and because he’s watching me play he’s going to want to know something about it. Or at least, can’t grow up knowing something about guitar just having a dad that is a guitarist.
Just by that, with that being in us, we are creating for the ultimate creator so we should be at our most creative. I feel like whenever we are making something we are not to phone it in or to try and copy what other people are doing but we are to do our best to, as much as possible, create from scratch. It’s not always necessarily about slapping a scripture on something or even just making a Christian version of something that already exists.
Or even, I hate this too, when people try to make the Bible look cool or make Jesus look cool. Look, Jesus is already cool. It’s us Christians who are messing it up by the way that we package him.
It’s like if we can just use him as inspiration as we should with everything that we do or even mirror how he does things and how we do them and just present something that is creative and is positive and can start a conversation I feel like for me that’s the way to go and that’s the approach that we take at Black Sheep Collective.
With Jesus one thing that I really loved about him was his parables. He found a way to communicate a totally foreign concept of the kingdom of Heaven and to people who had no clue. None of this information they were privy to before Jesus showed up. With his parables he used things that they related to in order to convey a complex message.
It’s like you see something that you relate to but not exactly slapping you in the face with a scripture. It’s drawing you in by the way it looks. Then the wearer can begin that conversation with them versus just going up to people, telling them they’re going to Hell, or asking them if they’ve accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. It’s like, no, make something that will actually … You know what I’m saying? Make real bait for the fishes of men.
That’s my next point is like these fish, they know imitation when they see it. You know what I’m saying? They know the food that they’re used to in the world. They enjoy their food because of how it tastes or how appealing it is. When you make an imitation version of it that’s not going to attract them. Christians are going to love it because they feel like they’re a part of the world now, they can fit in because they’re wearing their Christian version of what you’ve got.
I think our goal should be to create bait that is already appealing and is already been appealing but will be more nourishing.
I love it. That’s awesome. Now you talk all about this. I really want listeners to get an idea of one of these, let’s say, visual parables. You have a design on one of your shirts that says Inspired by John 3:16. I saw it first. I found it obviously very intriguing. I was wondering if you could just explain it so that our listeners could understand what it looks like. Then also why you chose that design to be your visual parable.
Okay. Cool. It is Inspired by John 3:16, which talks about for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son and who so ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Everybody knows that.
The main points I want people to focus on is that Jesus giving his life for the simple fact that he loves us. The title of the shirt or the name of the shirt is He Loves Us. I’m just going to describe the design. What it is is a hand sign where the pinkie, the pointer, and the thumb finger are out. The ring and middle finger are down. There’s a hole in the hand and blood dripping from the hand.
What this represents is that hand sign is the American sign language hand sign for, “I love you”. The hole in the hand represents one of the many wounds that Christ suffered for us. Then the blood represents the blood that was shed for us. In essence, that is Jesus’ hand showing us this hand sign.
When I made it that’s all I was thinking about.
I wanted to convey love but not in the conventional way.
I didn’t want any hearts, I didn’t want the word “love” necessarily. Not to say that there’s anything against any of those things. I just wanted to make something that was completely different than anything that I had really seen before. That was my mission with making these things.
Like before I make anything I do as much research as possible before I actually make it. Yeah, that is and has been my 100% intention is just to create what I felt like the ultimate sign of love between the combination of the hand sign itself and it being Jesus’ hand, what he did for us, what he did is the ultimate sign of love, and I just wanted to create something that was as bold and as loving as that act.
That’s good. That’s good. I want to ask this question. Obviously you want to help promote the uniqueness in any individual to be the person God has called them to be. As someone who works in fashion, even though it is graphics on tees, it’s still fashion, obviously you desire to glorify Christ, how would you encourage Christians to understand that? Obviously being who Christ has called them to be it actually does start with the heart but then it moves outward. It’s the whole inside out rather than outside in. At the same time, how can fashion … I think we’ve already talked about it a little bit. How can that actually help promote who we are in Christ at the same time?
As far as promoting individuality and uniqueness the two scriptures that we base our whole thing off of is First [inaudible 00:16:13] 209 talks about how we are peculiar people, royal priests and the holy nation. You know what I mean? We’re already set apart just by being who he called us to be just by birth. Then Romans 12 and 2 it talks about not being conforming to this world but being transformed by the renewing of your mind. In one translation it literally talks about going against the culture, countering the culture.
Just in those two things, the first one is saying, “You were made different. God called you different. You are set apart. That’s who you are. Embrace that thing.” Then the other one, Romans 12:2, is saying how we should actively promote and chase being different than our surrounding.
The reason why this is so important to me and I feel like this is a story that a lot of people can relate to is just for a long time I wanted to be like everybody else, I wanted to do what everybody else was doing, I wanted to be a part. No matter how hard I tried I felt like everybody could see that I was different. Regardless, even if I looked exactly like everyone else, there was still something about me that stood out like a sore thumb.
It wasn’t until I accepted who he was in me and it wasn’t until I accepted what it was that he wanted me to do and who it was that he wanted me to be then I started to love him and love who he made me to be. I didn’t need anybody’s acceptance anymore.
Sure. That’s good.
Now as far as fashion, the desire to glorify Christ, trying to encourage other Christians, I think it’s just a thing that sometimes I feel like a lot of people can feel embarrassed or ashamed because the world, at least from our perception, does not agree with the things of Christ. They don’t want to be seen as a weirdo, they don’t want to be made fun of, they don’t want to be ridiculed. That’s totally understandable.
It does take a certain amount of faith and a certain amount of boldness to just say to yourself and to those others, “Listen, I don’t care what you think about me. At the end of the day, you can’t get me into Heaven. You can’t save me.” I think that’s what really did it for me was just why am I so worried about the thoughts and opinions of people who have not done what Christ has done for me?
Even in this reality, there is so much more that we have not seen. We’re an atom on a speck of dust floating in the galaxy. God made all of that. He made you and he knows you and he says that you are his. He even went as far as turning himself into an atom on a speck of dust to save all these other atoms on a speck of dust.
When you think about that we’re literally nothing. Our lives are but vapors. He killed himself to save us so that we can be with him. When you really put things into perspective the thoughts and feelings of your fellow atoms they wane in comparison. If I want to matter here, if I want to do something that matters, I want to do something that impacts other people’s lives, I want to do something that means something besides just the chase for more fame or fortune or money or just the other mundane things that we do to be seen or just to pay bills or just to live the American Dream or the Canadian Dream. I don’t know if it’s different from the American Dream.
It’s been pretty close. Those things are so, so minuscule in comparison. I would rather my life and my life’s work be for doing that and showing other people who he is. Not just through scripture but through my actions. Being that light. I would encourage anyone who is feeling that way, they’re feeling that pull …
That’s ultimately what I want Black Sheep Collective to be. You are different, you feel different, and there are some things that you are dealing with in your life that they might not look good to somebody else. If God is pulling you into a certain direction and giving you a certain perspective not only you are doing yourself an injustice by not following what God is asking you to do, but you’re possibly doing hundreds of thousands … Heck, maybe even millions of people an injustice by not acting on what it is God told you to do.
Whatever it is that he’s pulling you towards it’s not just about you. It’s not just for you. I know it’s scary because I’m doing it too. I know it’s terrifying to do those things. I promise you there is nothing more fulfilling that you could ever possibly do.
Just the thought about possibly saving or touching someone who is thinking or has thought like you and bringing them to the light, even if it was just one person, that’s more than worth it. Even if one person bought a shirt I know that one person believed in the message that was in that design. That is impacting them. In return, they are impacting others.
I love it. That’s awesome, Byron. I think that’s important to really flesh it out. Pretty much throughout this whole conversation you’ve really taken … We haven’t really talked about fashion much, which in reality, that’s okay because you’ve just pretty much gone to the route of everything. The foundation of why we do those things that we do anyways. Really, the foundational truths and principles that we ought to be thinking of before we even consider what we put on our bodies in general.
Exactly. I think ultimately in everything that we do, especially for those people who like to say, “Only God can judge me”, right? If that is the case, then before you do anything you should say to yourself, “Is God pleased with what it is I’m thinking about doing or what I’m about to do?” Even if it’s wearing clothes and things of that nature.
First of all, just wearing something that represents him. For me, this is just me, I’m so sold out for God, at least, I am really trying my hardest to be, that I want to wear him and I want to put myself in these situations to talk about him. That’s what’s important to me. It’s not even necessarily to like tell somebody how wrong they are or whatever the case may be. I would never do that.
I would never do that because I just don’t believe that’s the way that Christ would approach those types of things anyway. He only really dealt with hypocrites that way. Not even necessarily to show somebody scripture but just to mirror who Christ is and what is he?
He’s bold, he’s loving, he’s compassionate, he’s creative. He cares about you. He cares about your soul. He doesn’t care about your color or your background. He just wants you. He wants to promote things like peace and love. He wants to promote things like individuality and being who God called you to be. Going down that road that doesn’t necessarily look pretty.
At the end of that road there’s something beautiful for you. That’s what I want to represent. That’s who I want to be. I want other people to want to feel that way and to want to represent that thing. That’s to spread this whole idea.
Love it. That’s awesome. Thank you so much, Byron, for your time, your wisdom in this area specifically, and if you’re listening right now and you’re interested, obviously this graphic design that we’ve talked about, the graphic design that’s called He Loves Us, if that’s interesting to you check out Black Sheep Collective.
I’m going to put the link on our episode page. Also, if you want you can type in BLK SHP CO dot com. It’s like Black Sheep without the vowels and then adding the CO at the end. Anyways, I’m going to put that all in the episode page for you to check out. Anyways, again, thank you so much Byron for your time.
My pleasure. Absolutely my pleasure.