In September 2019 a Facebook user shared the following screenshots (archived here) of a since-deleted tweet, depicting three hoodies (Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Sandy Hook) and a comment — “Ok, this is a NEED”:
A link to the original tweet returned an error message, indicating that the September 13 2019 tweet had been deleted. In remaining tweets, the user explained their originally expressed interest in the items:
I don’t see how this would be supporting mass shootings or anything. I definitely feel for those effected 🤕
of course I know that [the students were victims of mass shootings in schools]. It’s posed to be “shedding light on gun violence in America”. I think it’s pretty creative
Screenshots circulating in September 2019 did not illustrate the first controversy over a fashion statement involving school shootings. In September 2015, Urban Outfitters created a viral outcry after briefly retailing a Kent State hoodie designed to appear stained with blood:
Urban Outfitters is in hot water after selling a faux-vintage Kent State sweatshirt that featured what looked like fake blood stains. To many, the piece appears to be a reference to the May 4, 1970 shootings at the college, in which four unarmed students were killed by Ohio National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest.
The tweet appeared to show three of four hoodies modeled by streetwear brand Bstroy in September 16 2019 Instagram posts, among several less controversial items in a recently-introduced Spring 2020 collection. Four schools referenced in four separate items were Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas:
Hoodies with artificial bullet holes are not an entirely new concept. In season two of Netflix’s Luke Cage, fictional fans of the bulletproof protagonist began wearing Carhartt sweatshirts riddled with fabricated bullet holes as a tribute to Cage. Cage, in turn, laments their “cosplay.”
On September 11 2019, the New York Times Style column profiled Bstroy, but the hoodies did not appear to have been discussed. A New York-based fashion consultant tweeted about the school shooting hoodies, objecting to them:
Putting bullet holes in school sweaters isn’t shining light on an issue. It’s being provocative for the sake of being provocative. And that’s not very provocative. It’s not artistic. It lacks refinement. It lacks intelligence. It lacks design skill. It is lazy at best. pic.twitter.com/ADCXaCFcdQ
— B/G (@bibbygregory) September 14, 2019
Each post identified the pieces as belonging to Season 5, Spring/Summer 2020, and were simply labeled “SAMSARA.” Bstroy founder Brick Owens shared an image of a statement on Instagram, reading:
Sometimes life can be painfully ironic. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you considered to be a safe, controlled environment, like school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential. it is this push and pull that creates the circular motion that is the cycle of life. Nirvana is the goal we hope to reach through meditation and healthy practices that counter our destructive habits. Samsara is the cycle we must transcend to reach Nirvana.
As the posts indicated and @brickowens reiterated, samsara is a Buddhist/Hindu concept holding that humanity is bound to a grueling and painful cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Enlightenment, or nirvana, represents an escape from the tiresome cycle of samsara.
The hoodies shown on Instagram appeared to be authentic, appearing at a Bstroy SS 2020 fashion show in September 2019. The origin of the images shared in the since-deleted tweet was unclear, since they did not match the Instagram runway images. The sweatshirts were real in concept, but they were created by a small brand and unlikely to be available widely even if produced in larger number. One of Bstroy’s two designers published a statement obliquely referencing the four sweatshirts (Virginia Tech, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas), and their purported inspiration in the mystical concepts of samsara and nirvana.