OM42 - Hypercolor

Hypercolor was an early 1990s invention by Generra. It was a treatment they put on clothes where the molecules and the salts would agitate in certain ways as your body temperature rose or if there was any temperature change in contact with the fabric. The garments would be dyed in a light color, for example light blue, and there would be an overlay of a thermochromatic dye in another color that would for example appear purple. If the undercolor was light yellow and the overdye was pink, it would show as a kind of orange. The overdye would be the color that was visible initially and as heat was applied, the thermochromatic dye would become clear and reveal the lighter color of the T-shirt underneath. If a light shirt would be getting dark as it got hot, it would just have looked like sweat stains, or like someone had put their hand on you covered with paint, whereas if someone made a handprint on your shirt and it got lighter underneath the hand, it seemed very technological. The reaction happened really quickly and if you reached around somebody and put your hands on their stomach, those hand prints would remain as soon as you pulled your hands away. There were a lot of purples and pinks because there were only so many colors you could create interesting combinations of.

Unfortunately the technology did not come with detailed instructions on how to care for these products and if you put a thermochromatic shirt into a hot washing machine and then into the dryer, it would create some bad vibes and you might change it permanently. Ultimately most Hypercolor garments looked poo-brown. Generra had no idea that they had created what would now be called a hyper-fad. First there was no such things as Hypercolor, then it debuted and it immediately became a super-fad. It happened in conjunction with Rave fashion and it looked similar to Tie-dye. At the time there was a callback to Psychedelia in Hip Hop as well. It was the era of De La Soul and TLC, the daisy era of fun Hip Hop just prior to the takeover of gangsta rap. There was a lot of fun in the fashion of Hip Hop that revolved around bright colors. As Hypercolor hit the market in the very beginning of 1991, it was a had-to-have style and it absolutely overran the company Generra. They could not meet demand and they did the classic move of a company trying to scale up to accommodate a fad: They hired tons of people and they ordered tons of Hypercolor to meet this sudden $50 million market, because now that there is Hypercolor, there will never not be Hypercolor.

John has no idea why you would want someone’s handprint on you. It seemed like a fashion that invites creepy behavior, but it was very popular with elementary age kids. At first it was just T-Shirts, but in the brief time this was a fashion, Generra evolved Hyercolor to all kinds of things, like by Thursday they had Panama hats and the fad was over by Friday. There were also shorts in Hypercolor, but John cannot imagine any situation where you would want your shorts to change color. Where do you want warmth to be broadcast from your pants? The fad lasted an incredibly short amount of time by any fad’s standard. It was huge in January of 1991 and by July of 1991 the market had crashed. This was only one semester of college! By the time you talked you mom into taking you to Mervyn’s and getting you Hypercolor, everyone was already laughing at your Hypercolor shirt.

John was out of work during that summer of 1991. He had formerly been the assistant manager of a bar called The Off Ramp that sold to a new owner who wanted her son to occupy John’s job. He didn’t care that he didn’t have a job because he was very Grunge, but at a certain point he ran out of money and a friend got him a job at a warehouse in Bellevue, working as the warehouse expeditor for Generra. John sat there while people were unpacking boxes from China and repacking them into boxes sent to stores, so he saw every kind of Hypercolor clothes that was coming through the pipeline during a period where the demand for this stuff was crashing. By the time he left, this enormous warehouse was full to the rafters with crates and crates of Hypercolor clothes, like the last shot of the Raiders of the lost Ark, but they were all full of T-shirts. There were no orders and it was one of John’s first exposures to the downside of being in a big capitalist swing. Here we go! We are swinging for the fences! This scene should fast forward to John on a visit to Sub-Saharan Africa years later and all the children are wearing discarded Hypercolor clothes which are all brown because they have been out in the sun the whole time.

By 1993 Generra went bankrupt and sold the name to some holding company. You hear this about companies all the time: Coleco, the video game company bought the Cabbage Patch brand right at the peak of the Cabbage Patch mania with 100 million Cabbage Patches born in their baby mills that year, only to find that America didn’t want it anymore the next year. What are the options? Do you not make these dolls and does the fad last longer if you induce scarcity? The owners of Generra wished they had controlled supply and had only made it available in limited markets. Rave culture lasted a little bit longer. There was a lot of hype about the Segway scooter and no-one bought it when it came out. Today it is only used by mall-cops and for tours.

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