Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
As global capitalism has expanded its hold on the world, it’s become easier than ever to express oneself through clothing. Not only are high fashion knockoffs available at every price point, but you can also find a T-shirt to convey any message you want.
Although T-shirts advertising political messages are not a new phenomenon, they seem to have taken on a new life recently. Along with bumper stickers and yard signs, T-shirts are an easy way to communicate political beliefs and values to the world. The particular design of a candidate’s campaign merchandise can become iconic — the mere sight of a red trucker hat is enough to send chills down my spine.
And of course, whenever there is a market for a product, it is likely to be exploited for every last drop of profit. While some purveyors of political garb aim to be less wasteful and profit-hungry than the typical T-shirt vendor, it often feels insincere.
For example, an online store called The Outrage, with brick-and-mortar locations in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, is “on a mission to raise $1 million for orgs like ACLU & Planned Parenthood.” Yet, there is very little information on its website about the logistics of this mission or the amount per purchase donated to these organizations. Prominently featured, however, are gift guides for the dissenters, environmentalists and resisters in your life.
Similarly, ALLRIOT is a British brand that “design[s] the most ballsy political streetwear London has to offer” with a website header that offers “free shipping over $60, you cheeky rebel!” Many of the designs have an environmental bent, and even with their promise to use “ethical, sustainable manufacturing practices,” as many of their customers are “eco-activists,” it’s hard to imagine that one more cotton T-shirt is going to do the environment any good.
It’s possible that these brands are preferable to those that make no offers of ethical or sustainable practices or are capitalizing on a political movement for a profit grab. But part of the issue with brands such as The Outrage and ALLRIOT is the complacency they present to their customers. The superficial assurances about ethical practices or donations to progressive organizations compound upon the complacency of wearing the products.
There’s nothing wrong with showing your love for RBG through a snazzy tee. However, don’t fall prey to the rhetoric of these companies that say you’re doing the world any good by buying their products. Consider how much further your money can go when you buy from local artists or simply donate directly to the causes you believe in.
This holiday season, ignore the gift guides for resisters. Nobody needs yet another T-shirt, no matter how subversive its message might seem. Demonstrate your beliefs through your actions; donate directly to your favorite cause, and the fuzzy feeling will keep you warmer than any Bernie Sanders sweatshirt will.
Emily Maurer is a junior environmental policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.