A short while ago we reviewed some t-shirts from Retro Campaigns and Christine from Retro Campaigns kindly agreed to tell us more about this unique store. Retro Campaigns is not only her first t-shirt business but her first business of any kind she tells us. What a great way to start. The American Dream is alive and well in the form of cool retro political tees.
What made you decide to start a t-shirt store?
Actually, it didn’t actually start out as a business venture. A few years ago I just wanted to own a shirt from an old campaign for myself. I looked everywhere I could think of but I couldn’t find anything. So I thought, “Why not make some myself?” I created a handful of simple designs and got positive responses from friends who encouraged me to think about selling the shirts. I mulled that over for a while and I thought maybe there are people out there like me who would be interested in this kind of thing, so I decided to give it a shot. I knew a great designer who thought it was a cool idea and we were off from there.
I’m a big political history buff, and America has a rich tradition of interesting and colorful politicians. I think the shirts are a fun way to remember them and maybe also shine a light on some of the candidates who lost the race, like Eugene McCarthy, Wendell Willkie, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Adlai Stevenson, etc. I think it’s unfortunate that some of them are remembered now only for losing their election(s).
Wendell Willkie for instance made huge contributions after his loss to Roosevelt. He traveled the world in 1942 as Roosevelt’s representative and reported back to the president and to America in frank terms what he saw throughout a world in the grips of war. “A military victory, as such, will not be enough … We must win the peace,” he famously said. He so firmly believed that it is the duty of Americans to debate and question government that the press dubbed him ‘America’s Private Citizen Number One’.
You include information about the politician featured in the designs with every purchase. Are you trying to educate people too?
That’d be a great bonus, yeah. I’d love to think that in some small way I might be helping to keep the memory of these people alive.
How often can we expect to see new products in your store?
We’re aiming for 3-6 new designs every other month.
Which is your favorite design and why?
I really like the Adlai Stevenson “Hole in the Shoe” design. I think it looks great and I love the story behind it. During his 1952 presidential campaign, a photographer caught a picture of Stevenson with a big hole in his shoe. “Better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head!” he said to the guy, a remark typical of his quick wit. The Stevenson campaign went on to use that as a symbol of Stevenson’s down-to-earth character, work ethic and frugality. Today that image is part of our political history. There’s even a statue based on that photo at the Central Illinois Regional Airport!
What has been your proudest moment?
It was pretty cool the first time we were contacted out of the blue by a television production company asking to use out shirts for their show. But I’d say the first sale we made via the Web site was the best.
The wait for someone to buy the first shirt seemed like an eternity. I kept doing “practice” buys to make sure the site was working! Basically, I was the geek who calls the operator when no one is calling to make sure the line is working. When I got notification of the first sale it was amazing. The first thing I did was make sure it wasn’t someone that either I or my designer knew! But it was an honest-to-goodness sale. Very cool.
Who is your favorite former politician and why?
Robert Kennedy. His adult life was at first dominated by his zeal to stamp out organized crime; even during the first year or so as Attorney General he offered little but lip service to the civil rights movement. But as he saw first hand the reality of what was going on, particularly with regard to educational opportunities in America, so far removed from his prep school upbringing, he came to believe that racial equality was a key to America’s development as a nation. And he would go on to travel the country and see crippling poverty, leading him to promote social programs.
I guess what I’m getting at is he could have led his life quite happily as a criminal attorney, or as an Attorney General or senator focused on crime, or even a presidential nominee on a crime platform. That was an area he could latch on to. Black students trying to attend school in the south was outside his milieu by a long shot. But he sought out knowledge of what was happening and he listened to real people and learned about their experiences and problems. He actively sought to help people and raise awareness nation-wide. Few people, much less politicians, seek out the realities of inequality in the world, and fewer still change their life’s focus based on what they’ve learned. That’s my opinion anyway. He’s a hero to many people, for many different reasons.
There’s a great biography of him called Robert Kennedy: His Life, by Evan Thomas that I would recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about him.
If Retro Campaigns is still around in 40 years time and I’m sure it will be, which politician do you think will sell the most t-shirts?
I would love it if we were around for 40 years! I think RFK, but I’d love to see the statistics of whose shirts people are buying over a couple of generations like that. I’m a big statistics nerd!