Just along from a surf’n’ skate shop, next to the impossibly named Latin Lingo clothing store, the new C28 store slots right into the Northridge Fashion Center mall aesthetic – a concrete pavilion in a sun-bleached part of the San Fernando Valley. Black hoodies emblazoned with the gothic scrawl familiar to any gangsta wannabe hang on racks. T-shirts bearing images of skulls and crosses bear down from the walls. A hip-hop soundtrack pounds in the background. In the window stands a shirt with the slogan: “Religion sucks”.
But in the world of C28, that is all code. Or to put it another way, the Lord works in mysterious ways. “We exist to lift up the name of Jesus, to show the world who he is through fashion,” says Dustin Stout, a C28 shop assistant and part-time impassioned youth pastor of this Christian fashion store .
“For instance,” he continues, “‘Religion sucks’. Now you wouldn’t expect that, but the message behind it is simple, it’s from Jesus when he says . . .” Stout takes a deep breath and begins reading from a Bible that has suddenly appeared in his hands: “‘These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men . . .”
C28 – the name comes from an equally gnomic biblical passage, Colossians 2:8 – was born out of the desperation of its Cuban immigrant founder. Churchgoing Aurelio Barreto. Barreto made his fortune with the Dogloo, the hugely successful pet toilet, but on selling up that business, found himself becoming disenchanted with his $23m fortune. “God put it in my heart. The last thing I wanted to do was retail,” Barreto explains.
Ten years on, Barreto – with some assistance from Him Upstairs – runs the ever-expanding range of companies selling Christian-themed clothes, music and accessories to the youth market, sponsoring skateboarders, motocross and other unlikely activities.
The clothing certainly catches the eye, debunking the notion of Christian attire as a branch of Mormonism.
“It’s edgy – sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s lively,” enthuses Barreto. Does the popularity of the gothic styles indicate that young Christians are flirting with the dark side?
“No,” says Barreto, “the most popular colour is black because it makes people look skinny.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010