SAAN recalls T-shirt that turns tweens into tramps
You have a 13-year-old daughter. She’s the apple of your eye and you wonder if she’s growing up too fast.
Yesterday, it seemed, she was wearing Strawberry Shortcake underwear and carrying a Dora the Explorer backpack.
Today, she shops with the girls and arrives home wearing a rose-coloured T-shirt that nearly makes you retch.
Across her blossoming chest is the phrase “Almost Legal, So Please Be Patient.”
She bought it at SAAN on Second Avenue.
Before it grew to more than 200 stores and began selling sexually exploitive T-shirts to young girls, SAAN, which stands for Surplus Army, Air Force, Navy, humbly began in 1947 with a store in Winnipeg that sold surplus items from the Canadian armed forces.
SAAN now sells everything from beauty products to housewares.
The goods are cheap and imported, like the jailbait T-shirt, which was made in China and sold in Whitehorse for $7.99.
A Mississauga-based SAAN executive — “vice-president of merchant buying” — bought hundreds Almost Legal T-shirts intended for underage girls, apparently without ever seeing them.
“I am suddenly very familiar with the T-shirt,” she says on the day she gets the message that a journalist is asking questions.
“We’re actually in the process of pulling them right now,” she quickly adds.
The company that takes credit for manufacturing the T-Shirt is called Side Street (a name that seems to have escaped the internet).
The label produces clothing for women 16 to 24 years old, according to the SAAN VP.
The T-shirts have indeed been made to fit grown women, although it’s undoubtedly significant that all of the small and medium sizes were gone by the time I arrived at the store.
But it was intended for girls under 14 – girls who are “Almost Legal,” but not quite, since 14 is the legal age of sexual consent in Canada (although the Conservative government has introduced a bill that would raise it to 16).
No wonder Whitehorse customers were outraged.
One woman said she found the T-shirt “really appalling and degrading, especially for a child.” And she felt sick to her stomach, she said, when the store clerk told her they were hot sellers.
She called and e-mailed SAAN head office to complain about the T-shirts. She never got a response.
The day I spoke with the SAAN executive was a week after I began calling and leaving polite messages, never using the words “reporter” or “story,” but was ignored.
I spoke to the SAAN VP because I finally uttered the words “reporter” and “story,” raising the flag that I wasn’t just a customer.
The VP was genuinely apologetic to the journalist.
She certainly wouldn’t have let the T-shirts inside any SAAN store had she any clue what she’d purchased from the company’s regular Montreal vendor.
She wouldn’t name the vendor so that I could contact the company and get near the bottom of this Chinese-manufactured jailbait shirt. (I don’t doubt that children are making them.)
She said she’d give the company my number so “he” could call me … and that made me laugh pretty hard.
I had to thank her, though. She was removing the T-shirts, ASAP, after all. But I had one more question.
When I went to SAAN hunting for the T-shirt that said “Almost Legal, So Please Be Patient” I found it by the window, in the women’s section.
But I searched the kids’ section first and found an array of bedazzled shirts with at least one equally disturbing phrase.
“What about the T-shirt that said ‘Angel Gone Wild’ in the girls section?” I ask the VP. “Anybody who watches TV knows what the inference is.”
“I’d have to look at it,” she says.
She knew the commercial I meant for Girls Gone Wild, a collection of videos displaying drunken college women taking their clothes off.
“If it had a cute little angel on it…, ” she says.
Aha, my first lesson in merchandising.
The critical mistake of Almost Legal isn’t that it capitalizes on lechery, it’s that the lechery is too blatant, too guilty.
Next time, if there’s an imprisoned bunny on the Almost Legal shirt, we’ll assume it’s for cute girls doing hard time.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.