My Brown T-Shirt

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by Amanda Lucek


This was a personal hack that I perpetrated on my own after coming up with a simple but irresistible idea: making the official Brown Bookstore sell (and thereby endorse) products of MY own choosing.

The key was scanning the UPC code & label of a REAL Brown product and then printing identical labels to attach to my own products, which I would then place on a shelf in the store.

I especially liked this idea because hacking is often associated in people's minds with stealing (illegal file sharing, etc.) but this hack would be precisely the opposite of stealing. 

I decided on t-shirts as the item with which to carry out this scheme.  I bought an inexpensive 5-pack of t-shirts online. Online I found a high-resolution image of the copyleft symbol and I printed out 5 copies of this onto special t-shirt transfer printer paper. After ironing on the designs I was ready to make my shirts into Brown merchandise.

The shirts I had bought online were all size "Large" so that was the size I sought out when choosing a shirt at the Brown bookstore.  When I went to the bookstore I looked carefully at the price tags/labels on all of the shirts they had in stock.  I didn't want to copy a label that, when scanned, would announce the item to be a polo shirt or a sweater or a v-neck.  I was assuming that the text that might appear on the register would be the same or similar to that on the label.  I actually managed to find a label whose text description was "My T-Shirt" (the shirt in question had the text "This is my Brown t-shirt" written on it), which I thought almost unbelievably appropriate.  I took the shirt home and scanned the entire price tag label, including the upc code.  The next day I returned the shirt.

I had originally been planning on printing the price tag/upc onto sticker paper and simply adhering the sticker in a noticeable position on the front of the shirt.  However, every shirt I encountered at the bookstore had a cardboard tag attached by those little plastic things.  I figured it would be a better idea to print the labels onto regular paper and then use spray glue to adhere them to cardboard.  Although I could not replicate the plastic tag holders I could tie the labels on in the same spot using a needle and thread (which some clothing companies actually do do).

Also, while checking out the shirts at the bookstore, I noticed that every one of them seemed to have a clear vertical sticker pasted to the front announcing the size multiple times.  Using sheets of clear label paper made for inkjet printers, I printed out vertical strips that said "Large" on them 7 times, just liked the ones I had seen on the large shirts being sold at the store.  They did not adhere to the fabric of the shirts as perfectly as could have been hoped, but they clung well enough to stay in place even if they did curl up a bit at the edges.


All that remained was to fold the shirts into a nice neat stack, smuggle them into the store in my backpack, and discreetly place them on an out-of-the way (i.e. not visible to employees) shelf.  But I was curious as to whether or not all of this would really work, so I had a friend come with me to the store with a camera to document my purchasing of one of my own shirts.  The plan went off without a hitch:


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