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RIP T-shirts are part of growing funeral memorials in Memphis and around the country.
Yolanda Jones

MEMPHIS — Jemil Jefferson was familiar with RIP T-shirts long before she started working for a Memphis business that makes them.

“In 2013, my family had  RIP T-shirts made for my cousin when he was killed,” Jefferson said. “I remember the shirts were so nice and really honored his memory. “

Gary Laderman, a religion professor at Emory University in Atlanta, who has written two books on the history of death, said RIP shirts are part of the growing public memorials to the dead.

“It used to be that how we remembered the dead and how we understood memorials was much more limited to either a funeral, cemeteries or religious institutions, and in the recent decades it’s broken out of those areas and has become very much a business,” Laderman said. “It is part of consumer culture. It is part of how we let people sort of stylize their own experiences of grief. You see it in the rest in peace shirts, body tattoos, decals on the cars and on social media.”

In Memphis, Rest in Peace shirts are becoming as common as flowers at funerals.

Several businesses make them for those who want to honor their loved ones with wearable memorials.

Since 2013, Tim Flowers, president of Mall of Memories in Memphis, has been making RIP shirts under his brand EterniTee.

His business started as a hobby out of his garage, but now it has grown into a kiosk at Southland Mall in the Whitehaven neighborhood.

“In pop culture, sometimes the greatest tribute that you can pay to an individual is to wear an article of clothing with them on it,” said Flowers. “Well, this is the exact same kind of concept in a memorial type of vehicle.”

Flowers said his T-shirts are recognizable because of the colorful digital printing called sublimation where pictures and other images are digitally transferred to the shirts.

“We don’t want to give away our secret recipe of how we make our shirts, but we have put images on the T-shirts, on ties, on throws and even on casket panels,” Flowers said. “What we are finding is this is how modern-age people are mourning now with the T-shirts that some wear to funerals and long after.”

Jemil Jefferson, who has been working for Flowers for the last few months, said the shirts resonate with their customers, including with her family when her cousin was slain.

“The shirts really kinda help with the pain of losing someone,” Jefferson said. “It is a tribute to someone you loved and lost.”

Since he graduated high school, Tim Tarver, owner of Air Kingz Airbrushing, has been making RIP shirts.

Air Kingz operates in Southland Mall about 200 yards from Mall of Memories, the other business that also makes RIP T-shirts.

Unlike Mall of Memories where you place an order and the shirts are available later for pickup or delivery, Tarver and his business partner make the shirts on site at their store in the mall.

Tarver said he has made the RIP shirts for people violently slain and others who lost their fight to cancer or other natural causes.

“The RIP shirts are a big part of my business because everybody wants to be remembered,” Tarver said.

Follow Yolanda Jones on Twitter: @cayojones

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