Once I got this sweatshirt up to the light for a better examination I noticed the address was for a distributor, Living Epistles, Inc. I was baffled by the address but I was giddy inside because I knew I was going to be able to get a good backstory out of this piece. I’m almost 40 years old and self-awareness has taught me that I don't love anything more than learning. Small burst of research are my thing because much more than that and I will get bored or distracted.
An internet search turned up a few shirts already being auctioned which let me know that there is a body of work and a demand for the shirt. I dug a little deeper and found out that the company, Living Epistles, was founded by Jeff Nicholson. Jeff Nicholson landed a gig with Van Halen in the mid-to-late 80’s through his long time professional connection with Sammy Hagar. Nicholson and Hagar had been in a few bands prior to their time together in Van Halen according to Hagar’s book “Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock” but it was purely a professional relationship. The book is a great read for anyone who can remember the 80’s or looking for reference to the peak of the “Glam Rock” movement in the U.S. but it only mentions Nicholson a handful of times.
I almost gave up but then some Facebook searching turned up a few groups but only one bearing the name and a t-shirt in the profile pic. The official Living Epistles group for the business says they were founded in 1983 but makes no mention of Jeff Nicholson. In a couple post outside of the group( under a search for “living epistles”) I saw a lady claim that Jeff Nicholson was her father and so on.
The official page was created in 2011 and actively posted a dozen comments over about six month but the last comment/response was over a year ago.I found a 2004 article that references the company’s move to Klamath Falls in 1989. The formatting or something is starting to breakdown in the article but you get the notion that the venture was profitable and had considerable demand when Nicholson is originally quoted:
“Those things are exploding, Nicholson says. It's paying my mortgage payment and all sorts of stuff on a monthly basis.”
Another Facebook group called “Still Living Epistles” comprised of former employees is small but active right now. I got a lot of good information from this group and found out that Jeff Nicholson was very much still alive and just celebrated his daughters wedding at 69 years old. He didn't know about the group or what I would consider the cult sensation of his creation. This group also pointed me to the artist which was Tito Moore.
According to Moore’s Facebook page he still designing Christian themed apparel for his own company Pilgrimz Whereverwear. The page was created in 2013 and is sporadically active a few months out of the year but Facebook store and web address bear the coming soon lingo. Moore’s personal Facebook page seems to be the most active and it has some nice inspirational photos and quotes.
The “Still Living Epistles” group had a lot of the t-shirt designs being kicked around by the former employees. Living Epistles took mainstream and many times controversial messages for application to a Christian theme. I can remember the Lord’s Gym t-shirts but outside of that I don't really remember them. Now that I have learned more about what they were trying to do I feel like they were niche market pioneers. It looks like they closed up shop sometime in 2009 or 2010, sadly. If I had to guess… someone probably bought the name and customer list.
I think that these shirts will become more valuable as time goes on because they were creating controversial messages and practically copying mainstream designs in a time when being mainstream was very mainstream. I don't know if these folks created the Lord’s Gym t-shirts but I know they were the first group to capitalize on it commercially. If you are a Christian then that is something to get excited about but more importantly for me or anyone it shows how anything can be mainstream with enough support.