Wearable game weaves clues into cloth

If you find yourself wearing clothes from a new company called Edoc Laundry, beware: Strangers may walk up to you on the street to examine the intricacies of your shirt's patterns.

That's because Edoc Laundry's first line, expected to launch March 1, literally weaves an episodic, multimedia game into the fabric of the garments. The Seattle-based company is believed to be the first to attempt such a fashion feat.

The idea is an extension of so-called alternate-reality games, or ARGs, in which people try to solve puzzles that are propagated online but require players to team up to find clues in the real world. Usually, the games are promotional vehicles for other products, including video games and movies.

Edoc line

Examples of ARGs include 2004's "I Love Bees," which was a lead-in to Bungie Studios' Halo 2 for Xbox, and 2005's "Last Call Poker," which promoted Activision's Gun.

Edoc Laundry's line integrates an ARG into its shirts, hats and accessories. The story involves the mysterious death of the manager of a fictional band called Poor Richard. Players find clues such as words and symbols embedded in the clothes. They then head to a Web site where they can unlock complex elements of the overriding story of Poor Richard and its music.

"I think it's an excellent idea," said Jonathan Waite, senior editor for ARGN, an online publication about ARGs. "It's something that I'd not heard tried before: incorporating a cerebral, mentally-challenging aspect to clothing. So often (clothes are) aesthetically pleasing, but to incorporate underneath that layers and layers and layers of intellectual substance is totally innovative."

Edoc Laundry was founded by, among others, Elan Lee, the chief designer at 42 Entertainment, the leading producer of ARGs, and Dawne Weisman, wife of Jordan Weisman, a 42 Entertainment founder. In a bid to help its clothes stand on their own, regardless of how the game element was received, Edoc Laundry also brought in apparel veteran Shane Small.

"The basic premise is that all our shirts just look damned good," Lee said. "They've all got kind of a street-edge, skater look to them."

Thus, the clothes are heavy on artistic and abstract images, sometimes with birds intertwined with human figures, or with guitars that seem to morph into trees.

Those who have seen the line say the company is headed in the right direction.

Blending fashion with art
"I was really attracted to the mix of urban culture-based graphics and the attention to detail and the quality, as well," said Grace Kim, an assistant buyer at Evo Seattle, one of the first stores that will carry the Edoc Laundry line, and a haven for Seattle hipsters. "That's what initially grabbed me, the visuals, and the overall mesh of fashion and art."

Edoc Laundry, said Small, is a clothing company first and a game company second. As someone with a long career in apparel, Small said it was important to him to do something new.

"I've gotten to the point where everything's been done, and I'm over it," Small said. "We're saying that clothing ... can be so much more. You get (something) like HBO through your T-shirt."

According to Jillian Hertzman, an analyst for The Intelligence Group, which follows pop-culture trends, Small and his designers may well be onto something.

Game element aside, "I definitely think they would sell on their own as clothes," Hertzman said. "You should see some of the things out there that people buy."

"My personal view is that it won't look like ARGs of the past, but it will be interesting."

-- Jonathan Waite, senior editor, ARGN

But to succeed from a marketing standpoint, she explained, it will be important for Edoc Laundry to focus on the game aspect of its clothing. And that is going to mean making sure they don't try to overreach.

"I think it's really important that they sell (the clothing) in specific places," Hertzman said. "I don't think they'll be selling them in mall stores."

Kim agreed. She thinks that because of the line's high-concept nature, it won't do so well in the Macy's-type stores of the world.

"I think that the graphics and the styles are more geared toward boutique stores, and not a general department store," Kim said.

Meanwhile, given that clues embedded into the designs printed on the clothing are subtle, or in some cases even woven into the interior of the garments, Edoc Laundry faces a challenge in trying to make it clear that its line has something extra to offer.

As such, the company is pushing a slogan, "Our clothes tell secrets," that it hopes will pique the curiosity of potential buyers.

The clothes will also come with swing tickets -- the little cardboard tags hanging off new clothes--detailing the game and how it works.

And while Edoc Laundry hopes its customers will buy multiple garments, it's also realistic that some people, in a bid to solve the game's mystery, will simply go online and find images from the clothing that were uploaded by those who have bought a shirt or a hat. But that doesn't bother them.

"My whole thing is, if they're talking about (our line) for the next 30 minutes, I have done more for one T-shirt than I've ever done in my whole life," Small said. "The best you're usually going to get is, 'Hey, I like your T-shirt.'"

Yet the company is also hopeful that once the word gets out about the clothes, and a critical mass of interested followers develops, sales will follow.

In any case, given that Edoc Laundry has chosen clothing as the medium for its new game, it has to deal with the fact that with new seasons come new garments. As such, the company plans to come out with what amounts to new episodes of the game with each new seasonal line.

In the end, those who are familiar with ARGs and the track record of the people behind Edoc Laundry think that the company is likely doing something special.

"My personal view is that it won't look like ARGs of the past, but it will be interesting," said Waite of ARGN. "Knowing the people that are behind it ... if they're going to put a game out there, it's going to be substantial and it's going to have some quality content to it. These are people who have a great curiosity for where they can go next."



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