Signs of Tension

Hanging in the vast front window of Sound Exchange on the lower Drag, between fliers advertising upcoming performances by the Riddlin' Kids and Mala Sangre, is a handwritten sign directed at the commercial strip's new Diesel clothing store. "Diesel sucks because of the homogenizing of the Drag, making it one big strip mall," the sign says. "Exploitative corporations masking consumerism as 'cool' are still exploitative corporations. Having two of your goons coming in to OUR store, ripping down flyers they don't like and TALKING SHIT to our employees is pretty fucking lame."

As Sound Exchange employee/clerk Lance Hahn tells it, regular customers and fellow employees of the independent underground record store had been grousing for weeks about Diesel even before it opened its doors (and installed its security guards) last Thursday. So, somebody stuck up a "Diesel sucks" sign in the window. During a shift last week, Hahn was talking to a few customers when two people had entered the store and asked him why Diesel sucked. "I didn't realize the sign was in the window," Hahn said. Later on, another employee spotted that the sign was missing. "I just assumed it was Diesel people" who removed the signs.

But Diesel USA Public Relations Director Bridget Russo says she checked with staff in both Austin and her office in New York City, and no one said they tore down the sign. "It saddens me that Diesel's move to Austin has made such a stir," she said. "As I have said before, we are nowhere near the size of the Gap or the like, and I feel we are being treated a bit unfairly." Based in Molvena, Italy, and owned by its founder, Renzo Russo, the company claims to be "the first brand to believe truly in the global village and to embrace it with open arms." Currently, it is not publicly traded on the stock market, and operates only 18 outlets nationwide -- "a far cry from the 'corporate' brands we are being compared to," Russo says.

So far, Diesel's notoriety stems not from relying on sweatshop labor à la the Gap or Eddie Bauer (it claims to keep a tighter rein on its subcontractors than those companies), but for its ironic, establishment-mocking advertisements. As part of its new "HappyValley" ad campaign, which features, among other things, deformed-looking elves drinking from fast-food soda cups, the company invites people to "bring a smile on your face, a song in your heart, and a major credit card in your pocket." Judging from the store's price tags, Hahn says, that might be difficult for many Austinites and Drag denizens. "I think students are a lot more broke than people realize," Hahn said.

Interestingly, the owner of Sound Exchange also owns the Emeralds clothing store on North Lamar, which carries Diesel products. When asked if customers complained about the prices, an Emeralds saleswoman responded, "No, actually, not at all."

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