Toronto Star | This Toronto artist's merch pokes fun at Metrolinx. The response he got was unexpected

Toronto Star | This Toronto artist's merch pokes fun at Metrolinx. The response he got was unexpected

By Calvi Leon
Posted: December 29, 2023

It's witty, terse and universally recognizable to almost everyone in this city.

"Metrostinx," the comedic moniker for Metrolinx, is no longer just a word Torontonians say to express their frustrations with the public transit agency. Thanks to Christopher Lambe, the cheeky jab has also become a fashion statement. 

The 37-year-old Beach resident created a line of apparel — T-shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags and stickers — that bears the nameplate and then started selling the items online last spring.

It was an instant hit, with buyers from across the GTA and as far as British Columbia and Quebec. Most came across the merch on Etsy, the e-commerce website, and a Facebook group called Weird Toronto.

Graham Steele told the Star he bought the apparel for his son at Queen's University, "who enjoys ironic T-shirts.

"He laughed when he got it and tried it on immediately," he said. "He thinks it's great."

But the joke didn't land for everyone. In late November, Metrolinx's brand manager sent a message to Lambe via Etsy, requesting that he remove all the merchandise featuring its protected trademark by Dec 4.

"While we appreciate your enthusiasm for public transit, we cannot permit the unauthorized use of our trademarks," the message read.

Lambe said he did not respond to the message and has no plans to. "I don't want to fight Metrolinx. That's not what I'm here for," he laughed.

However, he eventually decided to comply and remove the trademarked apparel — but only after letting people know they still had a few days to make a last-minute purchase.

"Metrolinx finally took notice and I have to stop selling them Dec. 4, so if you want any, you have to get them before then," Lambe wrote on Facebook days before the deadline.

His post garnered a few hundred reactions and plenty of favourable comments. "Purchased," one commenter said." I missed the deadline by one day. So much for that Christmas gift," someone else wrote. "This doesn't fall under parody use," wrote another.

The irony, Lambe said, is that he generated more sales in the days following the announcement than when he started selling the merchandise last May. "I've sold more than 100 within that week."

In response to a series of questions from the Star, Metrolinx spokesperson Andrea Ernesaks confirmed that Lambe was not asked to close shop entirely but was asked to remove merchandise featuring the agency's logo.

"As fellow transit enthusiasts, we appreciate the pun but the use of the Metrolinx registered logo on any type of unauthorized merchandise is against the law," she said.

Long-time Toronto transit advocate and blogger Steve Munro said he understands why the provincial transit agency took issue. "That said," he added, "come on.

"Does Metrolinx have nothing better to do with their time than hassle people for making T-shirts that make fun of them?"

Munro said its reaction reminds him of a situation in 2006 when blogger John Martz took the Toronto Transit Commission's subway map and replaced all of its names and phrases with his own anagrams. For example, St. George station became Greg's Toe, and Bathurst was called Butt Rash.

The TTC wasn't a fan, and its legal department sent Martz a letter warning him he'd face legal action if he did not "cease and desist from using TTC intellectual property," the Star reported.

Metrolinx has come under fire in recent years for various reasons, from concerns about a lack of community consultation on transit projects to poor planning and, most recently, the agency's refusal to provide an opening date for the much-delayed Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

Lambe, a marketing professional, said he experienced those frustrations first-hand during his last job at an organization that often interacted with Metrolinx. Around the same time, he saw the term "Metrostinx" being tossed around. "You know what," he recalled thinking, "I really want to wear this."

Inspired by a design he stumbled across online, Lambe created a "Metrostinx" T-shirt just for himself. Soon, his friends and neighbours began to inquire. And before he knew it, strangers were stopping him on the street, wanting to know where the shirt was from.

The intention was never to make money, Lambe said, who considers himself an artist and activist, having been involved with a number of movements including Occupy Toronto in 2011. "They're not priced to make a lot," he said, referencing the $25 T-shirt and $45 sweater. With more than 120 sales by early December, "I was able to buy an extra Christmas present this year."

The best part of the gig, he said, has been meeting customers during pickups and deliveries. "Metrolinx employees are buying this. They're like, 'I want five. I'm going to give them to my buddies.'"

Since taking down the original "Metrostinx" collection, Lambe has revamped the design by ditching the logo and modifying the text.

Barring any copyrighted property, he even brought a few new designs into the mix. Listed on his Etsy storefront under the name InstantDistractions is a $36 T-shirt with the question: "Are we there yet?" printed in the middle and the words "Eglinton Crosstown LRT" on the top corner.

Beside it, a $30 grey baby onesie with the phrase: "I crawl faster than Metrolinx lays tracks." Lambe said he designed it in anticipation of putting it on his first baby when they arrive in late January.

"I'm going to keep making new designs until (Metrolinx) finally complete the project," he said.

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