Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Politics Fits This Garment to a 'T' ; Increasingly, Clothes Make Demands

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Politics Fits This Garment to a 'T' ; Increasingly, Clothes Make Demands

Article excerpt

As the battle over new immigration laws continues to bubble, Washington is swamped with activists. As Margaret Fallon fights to ensure her voice is heard, she has a secret weapon: T-shirts.

Surrounded by hundreds of Irish-Americans and immigrants, last month Ms. Fallon lobbied for the estimated 40,000 undocumented Irish in the United States. With each person wearing an identical "Legalize the Irish" shirt, the crowd flooded onto the National Mall as a sea of white cotton.

"We're here to be united and show one message," she said. "People can look at us and ask, 'What's going on?' But when they see our T- shirts and just how many people are wearing them, they'll know and hopefully start to ask some questions about immigration."

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform says it handed out 3,000 shirts that day, but that is just an ink drop compared with the ocean of political T-shirts printed each year. From campaign boons to political lampoons, more and more Americans are wearing their political hearts on their short sleeves.

"[Political T-shirts] are absolutely catching on," says Pia Catton, fashion editor for the New York Sun. "It's really an interesting movement to watch.... It's totally democratic and really kind of fun."

With slogans ranging from "If you can't read this, you don't belong in this country!" to "Prosecute Criminals, Not Harvesters," has distinguished itself as a one-stop shop for buyers of virtually every political view. With a staggering 22 million products - including scores on the immigration debate - this online retailer offers buyers and designers "print on demand" merchandise on everything from cats to cooking to campaigns.

Anyone with a computer can create a design and upload it to CafePress; the site will put it on its digital shelves. Nothing is printed until someone orders the shirt, so designers can make a statement without worrying about inventory or brand failure.

With creativity - not cost - as the driving force of his business, satirist John Wooden says he can fund his political spoof site by posting two or three new T-shirts a month. And with the speed of the Internet, he adds, he can post T-shirt designs that keep up with news reports.

When Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental gunshot echoed though the news in February, CafePress clients posted more than 20 satirical designs within 36 hours of the news breaking. That number is now in the hundreds.

"Political items are amazingly good sellers," says CafePress spokesman Marc Cowlin. Politics is the second-best-selling shirt genre, behind general humor. But "during an election season," he adds, "political items are easily our top seller."

Wearing her favorite slogan ("Think fashion makes a statement? Try voting"), high school junior Pamela Weingarden of Bedford, N. …

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