Luke Jaffar decided to question capitalism by making a profit.
At 22, the fourth-year art student manages his own streetwear clothing line that focuses on the concept of money and its role in American capitalist society. Since he began designing, Jaffar said he’s created about five or six designs for sale. Some of these designs are screen-printed uniformly on wholesale blank T-shirts priced at about $25, while others are the one-of-a-kind end result of a lengthy stenciling and bleaching process. Jaffar started the brand with the intention of drawing attention to the role of money within society.
Jaffar began by finding a name for the future brand. Noticing that many popular streetwear brands, such as The Hundreds, were capitalizing on money-oriented names, Jaffar said he began to brainstorm in the same vein. Ultimately, he landed on the name Greenbacks.
Though the word “greenbacks” has a formal definition – a term for the American dollar bill, often used as slang – Jaffar felt that many people don’t know what it means. The word’s ambiguous nature excited him because it afforded him the opportunity to define Greenbacks for himself and his own brand, he said.
“A lot of brands that concentrated on money were more focused on the glorification of money. I think, through my brand, it wasn’t just about the glorification, it was about all aspects of money, whether it be greed or its ties to religion or politics,” Jaffar said. “That’s kind of like an interesting paradox that I’m creating, but at the end of the day I’m trying to make money.”
This interest in money is something he’s also seen at UCLA.
“I think (at) UCLA a lot of people see themselves as coming in to get a job, to make money,” Jaffar said.
Jaffar said he is focused on identifying the all-encompassing nature of money as a necessity, particularly in capitalist America, where many individuals feel the need to succeed financially. Ela Talu, a third-year art history student and one of the models who wore pieces from Jaffar’s clothing line during FAST at UCLA’s annual runway show, said Greenback’s online photos communicate a simple yet definite message. That message is similar to that of Jaffar’s clothing for the runway show.
“It’s not about the superficial side of money, but money being a material thing that affects everyone’s lives in a way,” Talu said.
During the show, Talu said Jaffar asked her to perform bolder poses and give a more performative walk, such as having her throw money from a basket like a flower girl. She said his stage directions contrasted other, more ladylike poses, such as the conventional hand on the hip, that other designers asked her to execute.
Talu said she thinks the brand’s minimalist logo and the way in which Jaffar combines colors gives his brand a simple tone that clearly conveys his message. The logo, a simplistic, white version of the letter “G,” was modeled after high-end brands like Givenchy and Gucci because he wanted to allude to higher fashion trends, Jaffar said.
Jaffar said his brand embraces all aspects of money, from the social and political to the religious side. The dollar bill is explicitly linked to religion by its design, which includes the Eye of Providence, said Jaffar. Though he attempts to critique capitalist greed, he recognizes the inherent irony of selling a product and trying to make a profit.
Jaffar collaborated with his peer Yu Fu, a fourth-year art student who is in the same studio course as him, to digitize some of his designs for screen-printing. Fu said Jaffar was meticulous during the process and had a very clear idea of what he wanted the final result to be.
“I’m not sure about what message he wants to deliver, but I think it’s just like other brands like Supreme and those street brands. I think he’s trying to borrow the style from them and those are pretty successful,” Fu said.
In the future, Jaffar said he envisions the brand working against the profit-driven greed encouraged in capitalist societies by potentially commenting on the sociopolitical status quo. Currently, he has an idea for a design that will critique America’s private prison industry, which supports mass incarceration. Ultimately, Jaffar said he wants the brand to be an accessible form of streetwear combined with high fashion. Meanwhile, the current state of the brand – high-end designs placed on cheap, mass-produced T-shirts – reflects that desire for diversity and accessibility, he said.
“That juxtaposition is interesting to me because it kind of shows the two sides: I’m trying to go toward this, but I’m at this stage currently,” Jaffar said.