The "Cop I.R.L. Only" Challenge

Escaping JAWN-ZOMBIE algorithms in the physical realm

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Back in 2015, Erin & I climbed a staircase off a Kyoto side street into the studio of Tezomeya — jawnsmakers whose natural-dye expertise we wanted to see firsthand. It was a small space, with a few racks of clothes for sale and, beyond them, stainless-steel cauldrons burbling with dyes that proprietor / pigment-freaker Masaaki Aoki whips up from FARMERS-MARKET type s**t such as rose madder root & pomegranate skin

We lingered over the vats, watching shirts get submerged and talking with Aoki about how he does his d*mn thing… Before we bounced, I copped a cotton loopwheel tee in a faded black derived by mixing indigo and logwood, because yes ma please trust and believe the fits stay “plant-based!!”

The tee’s as simple as it gets, but 6 years later it remains one of my favorites, not merely for its inherent appeal, but also because I copped it somewhere special — 〒604-0983 Kyoto, 京都市中京区Nakagyo Ward, 麩屋町通夷川上笹屋町456-2F— in person!!

The other day, rocking the Tezomeya tee and flashing back to that Kyoto trip, a string of DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE / SNEAKILY PROFOUND SpyQuestions occurred to me, as often happens when yr frontal cortex is bussin’ at the heightened capacity required to publish a newsletter this incredible:

🔮 How many pieces of clothing do I have in current “cherished rotation” that I copped IRL?
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Does an IRL jawn “hit different,” on some metaphysical level, than an e-jawn?
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Is it possible to love a virtually purchased piece as deeply as one U copped in the flesh — esp. while traveling?
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Is copping IRL circa 2021 a way to cop fewer wack things / cop with more “intention“ / break free from the undead consumerist puppet-mastery of “the algorithm” ??

These questions feel freshly pertinent, for the obvious reason that we’re emerging (hopefully??) from a year-plus of lockdowns, quarantines and closures during which IRL-copping was impossible.

But well before the pandemic, the entire economy of not only jawns-acquisition but jawns-desire began migrating substantially webwards… Pop-up ads barnacled onto our browsers, nagging us about pieces we’d glanced at… Timeline brands hocked dubious wares in our stories… Webshops peppered the MF inbox with THIRSTY reminders about s**t we “forgot” in our carts… And radiant kings & queens got off inspirational fits in grid pics / moodboards. Blackbird Spyplane didn’t exist pre-2020, but as earth’s no. 1 electronic-mail magazine for style, culture and “unbeatable recon,” we are a (highly blessed) part of this same phenomenon.

Part of being so blessed is that we constantly theorize and propose RADICAL MINDSETS to improve our readers’ lives — even when those mindsets sit in seeming opposition to core elements of our very existence, such as the way we’re known to generously & expertly serve YOU links to fantastic s**t we find online

TODAY we’re going to explore and theorize one such radical mindset: Call it the “cop-IRL-only” challenge (C.I.R.L.O.C.), where you see how much you can cop things NOT in cyberspace, but only in The Physical Realm….

Besides the Japanese tree-bark tee, several of my best-loved pieces are ones I copped in living, breathing spaces whose four dimensions I can readily summon to memory… There’s an early-’90s triple-stitched Banana Republic workshirt I stumbled on early last year for $20 at a little Berkeley thrift store, which I wear all the time … There’s a natural-dyed shop coat that was out of stock at Visvim Exposition in downtown L.A. so I said f**k it and drove to Visvim Brentwood in a rental car on a sunny day listening to Terry Riley’s Shri Camel, copped it, then threw it on immediately and rocked it to the Schindler house … There’s the FIRE vintage mustard $4 Eastern Mountain Sports anorak Erin copped at a Salvation Army outside of Philly… There’s the hinoki-wood bathroom mat we scored & LUGGED back to the U.S. from the Daikanyama T-Site… and so on…

Yes, there are many jawns I love that I copped online, too — but what are the component parts of the specific affection I feel for IRL-copped jawns??

1) Part of it has to do with simple, nuts-and-bolts factors of fit and feel… These are pieces I didn’t experience in .jpg form, but actually saw, touched, tried on and then made mine. Which means there was zero dispiriting stomach-drop as the jawn morphed from a tantalizing e-commerce photo into a tracking number into a package out for delivery into a disappointment — “Huh, the color looks like that ?? … “Oh hmm, the shoulders hit there ??” …

The inverse of this disappointment is the DELIGHT of discovering that certain garments that might not “pop” or “sing” in the context of a .jpg nonetheless look FANTASTIC IRL … And the only way to know is to see them IRL ! Jawns that do pop in virtual contexts can be great but also deserve some suspicion — see the rise of the “peak graphic-tee” era, or the rise of milquetoast Helvetica-font-a** “minimalist” houseware brands, or outlandish stunt jawns like Chunky Dunkys, with extremely front-loaded “noveltyish” appeal.

2) Part of it has to do with the fond memories you can only generate when yr out moving thru the world versus shut in at the crib smashing the coppington. A jawn that you happen on and snag while you’re traveling — or while you’re just bouncing around town one day, handling yr d*mn business — can become a talismanic memento of a place and time, significant beyond itself. It could be a store as far flung as Tezomeya, or one that’s local to you, stocked and staffed with LOVE and ATTENTION by ppl who care about ingenious jawns — or, for that matter, it could be a BUSSIN’ thrift shop teeming with CHAOS and ripe with POTENTIAL DISCOVERY!

Those are both straightforward, broadly familiar virtues of IRL coppin’ — but if U dig deeper….

3) ANOTHER part of the appeal of an IRL jawn RIGHT NOW is that if U cop in a physical store these days, you are partaking in a “bygone ritual” that cuts pleasurably against the “modern grain” — not unlike copping an album on vinyl or cassette or CD, rather than experiencing it only as an instantly accessible / dematerialized / evanescent puff of vapor from “the cloud.”

It’s wild to think that in 2021 you can cop a jawn idly, with the same kind of casual inattention that you can throw on an album stream idly. Actually walking into a shop, browsing racks, making a discovery, trying it on, and talking to a human about it is something like sitting down in front of a turntable (with yr phone nowhere in sight & the liner notes out in front of you): You’re bringing a higher level of attention to bear on the experience, which can diminish the chances for “bricking” a purchase, and can set the stage for a higher level of reward.

A U.X. designer at an e-commerce platform would refer to this as friction: all those “inefficient” steps that gum up the works between you and the impulsive purchase they want you to make. But even though their goal is to eliminate friction, that doesn’t mean it’s your goal, baby!!

There’s a passage toward the end of Jenny Odell’s fantastic 2019 book How To Do Nothing about how the first public online message-board was accessible via a coin-operated (!) computer terminal located up a flight of stairs, so if you wanted to post a message it was impossible to do so impulsively: You had to get yr steps up AND yr flights up in order to post — the process had built-in friction, in other words, that encouraged thoughtfulness and consideration.

And that right there is the core appeal of the Cop IRL Only Challenge (C.I.R.L.O.C.) mindset — it reintroduces meaningful, productive, ineffable friction into the experience of copping, and offers a way to take yr brain off of the “autopilot” zombie-consumer mode that e-commerce is designed to lull us into.

Can any contemporary jawns-enthusiast fully escape the effects of “the algorithm” ?? Probably not, but C.I.R.L.O.C. mindset can help you put some healthy distance between it and yourself. With something you bought I.R.L., you weren’t “doom scrolling” passively, posted up like a hollow shell of a human on the COUCH when a jawn suddenly targeted you in this state of vulnerability and exploited the mountains of data associated with your IP address to tempt U to purchase it … NO, you were out in the world, breathing FRESH AIR, seeing people, living LIFE, and in that context YOU found a jawn and deemed it worthy of your time, admiration and BUCK$ — incredible !

In a sure sign that G-d smiles upon the C.I.R.L.O.C. Mindset, while we were putting the finishing touches on this essay we strolled over to a BRAND NEW STORE here in Oakland called the Understory — they stock a bunch of sick s**t from BBSP-approved brands like It. Vanishes, And Wander & Snow Peak, along with camping gear & some vintage jawns.

We popped in to check it out and say what’s up to the owners and got recognized by some cool dude who was there shopping in an And After That t-shirt — d*mn, cool shops are fire!!

Now of course there are C.I.R.L.O.C. caveats, among them:

  1. THERE ARE JAWN DESERTS. Some ppl live places where pernicious forces of swaglessness and Amaz*nian corporatization have conspired to kill MOST / ALL fire shops (whether it’s jawn depots, bookstores or record stores or hardware stores)…

  2. THERE ARE JAWNS SO INHERENTLY COOL, RARE, SPECIAL & THOROUGHLY FIRE that u gotta cop ‘em online if that’s what it takes. A small maker might not have the production scale, much less the financial or social capital to get their s**t stocked in a store, much less a store near you, which is one of several cases where E-COPPING can be a dope “democratizer” <— As it happens, this is a foundational premise of Blackbird Spyplane, the masterpiece 100% subscriber-supported newsletter about dope under-the-radar joints that you are currently enjoying and where we will continue to recommend online coppables !!

So do we mean literally ONLY cop IRL? I mean, sure, go for it — try it for like a month on some “sober January” s**t if you want! See how it fits into yr life!

But beyond that literal level, U can just take the C.I.R.L.O.C. mindset as a perceptual-horizons shifter to help you re-examine, re-write and RE-INJECT PERSONAL AGENCY back into yr relationship to jawns, web-era consumerism… and desire itself.

💾🏬🧠 Jonah

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