I love talking about the ’80s for nostalgic reasons of course, but more and more I find that I like talking about that decade because I’m awed at just how archaic it seems now; compared to today’s Instant Everything culture where omnipotence is just a click away, the 1980s feel downright Paleolithic. And it’s especially hard for me to remember that the ’80s were 30+ years ago while we as a culture are stuck in this perma-’80s & ’90s closed circuit loop. I’m sure people in 1970 felt light years ahead of 1940, but 2016 feels like it could still be 1983-1997. It’s all very weird. Okay, okay, this old man’ll stop yelling at you to get off his lawn and get to the point.
I wanna talk about Len Rapoport and his company Movie Tees Inc. Len initially started his career in women’s clothing, but a fateful meeting one day with a friend who had recently acquired the merchandise licensing to Rocky IV would change everything for him, for us, and for home video rentals.
To make a long story short, Movie Tees ended up being the first company to bring licensed film related t-shirts to the video market-place. Originally, Movie Tees was simply providing t-shirts for film companies to sell once their movie went to video. (To express just how lucrative this idea was, Len’s first project was for CBS Fox who ordered 100,000 Clan of the Cave Bear t-shirts, which he earned $400,000 from. Can you imagine: 100,000 Clan of the Cave Bear t-shirts.) Soon, however, Movie Tees Inc. were advertising their shirts in magazines, in video stores, and on the videotapes themselves.
In the first four months of operation Movie Tees generated over 1.5 million dollars in sales and was the only company producing movie related apparel specifically for the video market. But as with almost all overnight successes, the bottom eventually fell out. Len’s company was unable to keep the momentum going. They went from working on projects like Predator and several Disney films, to producing wearables for Return of the Living Dead II and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. After only 5 years of business, Movie Tees Inc. shuttered its doors. Still, Len and his Little T-shirt Company That Could managed to make some very memorable merchandise, and memorable ads as well.
Oh, right! The ads! Below are a few of the ads that were attached to the new video releases. Len referred to this type of marketing as “Studio Store”, but most everyone else refers to it as “Watch and Wear”. And after you’re finished watching the ads, I highly suggest reading Len’s full story on Movie Tees Inc. — written by Len himself. It’s a fun and interesting peek into the strange niche market he helped create.
Oddly enough, Movie Tees weren’t the only ones shopping products to home viewers. Other companies – especially horror titles – soon jumped on the trend and started offering buyables before and after their movies. Below is a short collection which emulated the Movie Tees model. What I wouldn’t give for a pair of Hellraiser sweatpants!
Len Rapoport, on behalf of anyone who saw your ads in Fangoria or on rented video tape, or who might still own one of these sought after collector’s items: we salute you!