Why ‘Toronto Vs Everybody’ Isn’t Just A Toronto Thing

A popular phrase has spawned ubiquitous streetwear across North America, but what does it really communicate?

September 27, 2016

In the summer of 2015 a curious thing happened in Toronto: civic pride hit a collective fever pitch. People started realizing, in throngs, that the local teams didn’t suck. The Toronto Raptors — Canada’s sole NBA franchise — had just wrapped a season with a record 49 wins, with an assurance that the best was yet to come (they’d make history the following season by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time). The Toronto Blue Jays were on the way to ending the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports history, ultimately claiming the AL East division title by season’s end.

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There were other reasons for locals to embrace a renewed sense of hometown pride. A new mayor had been elected, ushering out Rob Ford’s stranger-than-fiction era of municipal political scandal and shame that played out, for four years, on an international stage. Drake and The Weeknd dominated the pop charts, shouting out their Toronto roots to packed-arena audiences: so much so, people outside of Toronto started to identify the city as 'The 6' more than actual locals. It was a very good year.

It was around this time that Peace Collective, a clothing company with a philanthropic spirit helmed by a young entrepreneur named Yanal Dhailieh, began producing lounge apparel branded with the logo, 'Toronto vs Everybody.'

“I had been seeing the phrase ‘____ vs Everybody’ around, and that’s kind of how we came up with it,” the affable 26-year-old told me, over the phone from Toronto. I was sitting in my New York City apartment — having just moved back to the U.S. after 11 years in Toronto, a place I still consider home — where 'Brooklyn vs Everybody' T-shirts can be spotted in shop windows from the Flatbush neighborhood to Fulton Mall. Still, Dhailieh doesn’t claim for a moment to have originated the phrase.

For him, it’s precisely the clichéd grandstanding that makes the catchphrase so appealing to Torontonians. “We’re from a city where I’m not sure if we’ve fully embraced our identity as creative people yet,” Oliver El-Khatib, Drake’s manager, told The FADER last year. But for once, the largest city in a country whose total population is outmatched by the state of California alone has the kind of cultural currency to be meme-ified. As Dhailieh put it, recycling this regional boast broadcasted the idea that Toronto figured prominently enough on the same map as other major cities that had been making the same boast. To wear it is to embody an inheritance of civic swagger, reaffirmed on a global scale.

[Toronto vs Everbody] embodies a snag in Toronto’s ongoing quest to project a hometown pride that conveys the city’s own nuanced character, without telling a story that belongs to somebody else.

“Toronto is reaching those heights,” he elaborated. “Paris, London, New York, Toronto.” Just like its rap star poster boy, Toronto has finally been promoted to mononym. But cribbing brags comes at a price, and a Detroit entrepreneur had already trademarked Detroit vs Everybody three years prior to Peace Collective’s release. The Detroit iteration came after decades of economic turmoil, on the heels of a thriving disaster tourism cottage industry fortified, not least of all, by white Torontonian hipsters taking four-hour road trips to bolster their Instagram feeds. Detroit really was against everybody when Tommey Walker Jr. trademarked the slogan in 2012, a year before his city would declare bankruptcy, making U.S. history as the first major municipality to do so. There’s even a heavyweight posse cut called “Detroit vs Everybody” on the 2015 mixtape Shady XV featuring Eminem, Big Sean, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, Royce Da 5’9”, and Trick Trick. I was daydreamin’ one day I would be shit, Eminem rapped, And if I ever end up escapin’ these streets I swear that I would stay here still.

According to Macleans, Walker — who claims to have originated the ‘____ vs Everybody’ slogan, and was conspicuously elusive when contacted for this article — sent Peace Collective a cease-and-desist in September of 2015. A month later, he told Deadline Detroit that the Peace Collective team were “scumbags” with whom he’d been legally entangled for over a year. This past weekend, Walker cut the ribbon on a Detroit vs Everybody retail store.

When asked about the legal skirmish, Dhailieh assured me that there’s currently “no legal situation.” “Detroit vs Everybody” is trademarked in the U.S. and “Toronto vs. Everybody” is trademarked in Canada, and the two are not technically in legal conflict, regardless of who got there first.

“To be honest I wasn’t really aware of what [Walker was] doing,” Dhailieh said. As a concept, the motto was in the air. To wit, Diddy and co. have been wearing “Bad Boy vs Everybody” tees on the current Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, that have the blessing of DVE Brand. Dhailieh insisted that hawking “Toronto vs Everybody” athleisure is largely “a modern and fashionable way to show pride in the city while also giving back to the community” (Fifteen percent of Peace Collective’s proceeds are donated to Canadian charity Breakfast for Learning).

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When asked what ‘vs Everybody’ means to him, particularly in the context of a cosmopolitan and economically thriving city that has the privilege of boasting more tower-building cranes than homicides, he explained that he saw it as a sports thing. I pressed for elaboration. “The Blue Jays and the Raptors are the only Canadian professional teams in their leagues,” he said. Right.

The civic-cultural capital that arises from the overlap of pro-sports and pop-icon success is good for business, especially if your business happens to be gear capitalizing on civic culture. So I asked Matthew Blackett, publisher and creative director of Spacing magazine — Toronto’s urbanist fanboy bible, and one of the city’s few notable purveyors of Toronto-centric merchandise, along with streetwear brands like The Legends League and 1LoveTO — whether he’d noticed a recent uptick in branded boosterist apparel. The short answer: Yes, a lot. Now, he said, it’s a bigger ballgame.

“The thing that has changed since we started doing subway station buttons and magnets in 2004 is that there are so many more products available to be produced by independent designers and artists,” Blackett wrote via Facebook messenger. “Technology in production has transformed the quality of products people can create.”

But, interestingly, Blackett doesn’t see Toronto’s branded merchandise as a billboard of Torontonian, or even Canadian, identity to be projected for a wider audience. Unless the wearer is at a sporting event, he thinks they’re usually just reaching out to other Torontonians as a way of communicating a shared in-group belonging. “I love seeing fellow residents wearing clothing that celebrates this city or its neighbourhoods,” Blackett added. “What is most encouraging is that there is a young demographic — a really diverse and worldly cohort — that has really jumped onto this civic boosterism wave.”

As it happens, Blackett’s Spacing store — along with the Hudson’s Bay company and the upscale menswear boutique, Gotstyle — sells Peace Collective’s “Toronto Vs Everybody” apparel, too. And just this summer, Peace Collective opened a brick-and-mortar store on a fast-rising retail strip, teaming up with the Blue Jays for official 'vs. Everybody' merch. Toronto might be up against everybody, but the Peace Collective is doing just fine.

Dhailieh’s entrepreneurial triumph might be read by critics as a parable of creative copyright law fallen short. More urgently, it embodies a snag in Toronto’s ongoing quest to project a hometown pride that conveys the city’s own nuanced character, without telling a story that belongs to somebody else. My hunch is that Dhailieh wasn’t thinking too hard about the implications of appropriating another city’s narrative of adversity. Everyone likes an underdog story; everyone wants to believe. But the brand’s success goes to show that Toronto’s most conspicuous adversary, where image is concerned, remains itself.

Why ‘Toronto Vs Everybody’ Isn’t Just A Toronto Thing