At a Banff business conference over a decade ago, a guy walked up to Vancouver tech entrepreneur David Gratton and literally offered to buy the shirt off his back. “It had an embroidered picture of an old airplane that his father used to fly,” explains Gratton. “He offered me $300 for it.” 

Though Gratton didn’t make the sale—“It was kind of weird,” he laughs—it got him thinking about fashion. The man at the conference saw the shirt as a meaningful piece of art rather than simply a garment. Gratton says that the art and fashion worlds are often considered separate because clothing designers and artists don’t really collaborate (it’s a sort of too many cooks situation). In addition to that, as he puts it, “clothing is the most ripped off thing in the world.” Artists don’t like copycats, and once something is printed on a shirt, it’s often replicated without permission.

But Gratton’s background in tech gave him a solution to fashion fraudsters, and he dreamed up a system in which an NFC chip could be sewn into the fabric, then scanned and authenticated. The chip guarantees the owner that the piece is an original. Next up was teaming up with an artist to bring the idea to life. 

Esteemed Vancouver artist Joe Average was a natural choice—not just because Gratton owned five of his paintings, but because of another, much more adorable “business connection.” Joe Average had bought one of Gratton’s 8-year-old daughter’s watercolours after seeing it posted on Instagram. “We hand-delivered it,” remembers Gratton, “and he takes her aside and goes, ‘I want to pay for this,’ and he gives her a hundred dollars.” Gratton tried to protest, but Joe Average shut him up. “Art should be paid for,” said Average. He continued, “I’ll be honest, I would pay more, but she’s not well-known yet.”

And so goes DEQQ Apparel’s origin story. Gratton has just launched their first shirt, a collaboration with Joe Average called “LOVEY.” It’s limited edition; only 90 were made, and all have a chip embedded in them for easy authentication. They’re retailing for $550 each (pricey for a blouse, but a steal for a Joe Average piece). The shirt itself is 100-percent cotton and designed by another Vancouver local, Justine Edralin. It’s manufactured by Joice in China, which Gratton says is one of the only companies that had the technology required for this sort of wearable art. “Getting the quality of the shirt, the quality of the print, and the vibrancy you know from a Joe Average painting was incredibly challenging,” says Gratton. They’re packaged in boxes by another Vancouver local, Chopvalue.

xJoe Average models LOVEY.

LOVEY is Joe Average’s first new piece since the 90’s, and is based off a sketch that never made it on to canvas. With less than a hundred in the world, the shirts are a pretty special piece of local art. 

DEQQ’s also on the hunt for their next artist collab—interested creatives can check out their website for more details.