I was lucky enough to have an interview with Duncan (the Dude) from Ban T-Shirts. For those of you who are not familiar with Ban T-Shirts, they are like a politically correct version of T-Shirt Hell. Is that even possible? Well, I think so and that is why I wrote it. While T-Shirt Hell seems to create t-shirts designed to shock and amuse Ban T-Shirts has designs that sometimes shock and usually make you think. Most, if not all of the tees have a message and those messages are typical of far to the left liberals…like me. Anyway, scroll down for the interview and when you are finished (and only then) head over to Ban T-Shirts to check out their great selection of t-shirts.
Who is behind Ban T-Shirts?
All the website design, most of the shirt designs, the promotion, customer interaction and so on is handled by me, the shipping and printing is done by a very nice man called Kurt Brunetto. The Native American designs, and a few others, are created by Ryan Red Corn.
Where are you based?
I am based in the UK, I work on this full-time. However all shipping and printing is done from the States (Connecticut). As most of the customers are not UK based it didn’t make much sense to be shipping shirts all the way across the ocean unnecessarily.
Ban T-shirts was started initially as a creative outlet. I had been in a line of work that required very little artistic expression and I found it frustrating and unsatisfying. I guess I just had a strong need to express myself so I came up with a bunch of designs and put them out there. I’ve always loved T-shirts with cool designs and slogans on them, so I guess this was a natural medium in which to express myself. I have strong opinions and beliefs about what is going on around us so the shirts that I do are usually controversial in nature. I wouldn’t class them all as being political, but they tend to get thrown into that bag, so I focus on that angle quite a lot from a promotion point of view. The majority of the ideas are my own. The exceptions are all the American Indian designs, and 3 or 4 others that I liked that other people had sent in. However as a general rule I don’t use other peoples’ designs. I find I have so many of my own ideas, and I have so much work with those, that using other people’s designs is a distraction.
Ideas come to me in different ways. Sometimes they will literally pop into my head out of nowhere, or some other dimension! But I find that the best way to come up with an idea is just to go somewhere with some peace and quiet and ponder a topic. I need to be relaxed and away from the computer.
Do you remember the first t-shirt you sold? If so tell us about it.
It was a silly little design called Satan’s Little Helper with a pentagram drawn under it. It was done as if a kid had drawn it.
Ban T-Shirts has many controversial t-shirts. Are these causes about which you are passionate?
All the t-shirt designs that I create are about issues that I think are important and they reflect my beliefs on the subject in question. I have designed several T-shirts with an environmental theme, such as the Last Fish, SOS and Think Green. I find it incredible that taking steps to protect our planet from overheating is controversial, to me the number one priority of humankind must be to look after the planet. Another issue that I have no time for at all is creationism, so I did a funny design about that, “Dinosaurs against creationism”. 150 years after Darwin we’re getting a resurgence of ignorance from people who’d like to take us back to the Dark Ages. It blows my mind.
Which cause are you most passionate about?
I guess my big thing is shark finning and how the decimation of shark populations driven by the demand for shark fin soup (mainly in Asian countries) is putting sharks in danger of extinction. 3 sharks are finned every second. Their fins are dried and used in soup. The rest of the body is dumped back into the sea (often still alive). This is a huge issue which is affecting the oceans and ultimately will affect us. I have a website devoted solely to this subject: Stop Shark Finning. I also did a shirt on the subject which you can buy either at Stop Shark Finning or at Ban T-shirts.
Do you think t-shirts can help these causes?
I think they can help in 2 ways. Firstly by generating debate. Customers often write to me saying that they get lots of comments on their T-shirts, so they are obviously getting noticed, and people are engaging. Secondly T-shirts can help to raise awareness about an issue. It’s essentially the same thing as a company getting t-shirts printed to promote their business, but at Ban T-shirts I’m doing it to get a different kind of message out into the public void (I use the word intentionally). Also, people don’t even need to buy a shirt for them to have had an impact. Obviously a lot of people visit the site but don’t buy a shirt – these people are still exposed to the messages I’m transmitting.
I notice that you have a page on your site called Hate Mail. Do you get a lot?
We get a fair amount. Most of it has been published. I guess when you are outspoken you just have to develop a hard skin. Not everyone agrees with me. Some people agree with some things and not others, some agree with most things, and others probably don’t agree with anything! I got so much hate mail that it inspired me to create a T-shirt called “Feel the Love”. It’s proving to be fairly popular. Every cloud has a silver lining!
Were you shocked when you got your first hate mail?
Not really. There’s a lot of easily offended people out there who need to chill out a bit and open up their minds.
I assume you get some positive feedback too but I couldn’t see it on the site. How about including some of that?
I get a lot of positive feedback and have received some really nice emails from people. I publish some of them on the blog page.
How has the t-shirt biz changed since you got into it?
I’m amazed at how many T-shirt companies are out there and how much talent there is. There are a lot of cool shirts out there and talented designers. So there is more competition now than there used to be.
What do you think about trends such as the ampersand, Helvetica and CMYK tees?
They’re cool from a design point of view. I guess I don’t really spend much time keeping up with the latest trends although I am exposed to them as I am in the business.
Do you have any favorite online t-shirt stores or designers? Who and why do you like them?
One site I really like is A Constant RRP OFF. They were going to bring out some new shirts but I don’t know what’s happening. I liked them so much I was even considering carrying some of their shirts. I liked their designs and also the web site design. From just a t-shirt store perspective I like Royal Apparel. If anyone out there just wants plain shirts but doesn’t like the American Apparel advertising strategy, I suggest they check out Royal Apparel. They make great tees which are very similar in styling to American Apparel. I use them a lot for my own designs.
Do you have any advice for people getting into the t-shirt biz?
Start off slow and work hard. Don’t invest much money, it’s more important to build up contacts and work on getting traffic to your site. I don’t advise throwing away money on advertising. I have tried it and it’s very difficult to make it pay.
Would you like to tell us about any mistakes you have made along the way?
I kind of regretted not having made Obama shirts until after the election. I think I could have made some money off it but I guess I just wasn’t inspired too much. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Obama is President, he’s infinitely better than Bush, it’s cool that he inspired so many people to go out and vote, but I’m just not really into making shirts about individuals any more. I’m more focused on issues.
Have you seen celebs wearing your tees?
No. I don’t pay much attention to what celebrities are doing.
What can we expect from Ban T-Shirts in the future?
Ban T-shirts has tended to have a lot of “anti” T-shirts, and I will continue to do that kind of shirt, but I am also starting to focus on doing more T-shirts with a positive message, such as “Build Community” and “We are the people we have been waiting for”. I am also probably going to bring out one or two less overtly political shirts, although I think even my non-political T-shirts are probably more political than other people’s.
The only other thing I would like to add is to thank everyone who has ever taken an interest in what I do, whether or not they have bought a shirt. I’ve made a lot of contacts and met some cool people doing this, customers, designers, bloggers, models, photographers, printers, it’s been great fun so far, I hope to keep doing this for a long time to come, it’s my passion.