Making a Political Statement Without Saying a Word
Obama T-Shirts More Than a Business for Young Entrepreneurs
Wendy L. Wilson
The official Barack Obama Web site has its own online store where supporters can purchase all things from limited edition prints created exclusively by “Artists for Obama” to casual clothing. So, sure, you can order and wear the official campaign T-shirt with a subtle yet effective “Obama ’08” emblazoned on the breast pocket. But those who want to make a bigger, bolder statement might want to look at what else is out there.
Superstar singer Alicia Keys shows her support for Barack Obama during a performance this summer in London, England.
Leandrew Robinson, 25, president of the online store Ragamuffin Clothing, has been selling consciously inspired tees since he and two college buddies launched their line to coincide with the 2004 presidential election. It was their attempt to encourage the African-American students at University of California, Berkeley, to get more involved and remind them of the sacrifices of the civil rights era that ensured their current right to vote. “We immediately saw how we could use fashion as an avenue to generate change,” says Robinson.
Today, Ragamuffin Clothing offers a total of 22 different designs, including a $20 T-shirt with Senator Obama’s smiling image next to the famed Langston Hughes poem, “I, Too, Sing America.” It’s in keeping with the Ragamuffin mission, linking the past to the present. “Obama has captivated so many people to be part of change,” says Robinson, who has committed 10 percent of his profits to the Obama campaign in addition to volunteering at the Obama campaign office in Oakland. “I pretty much gave up on America because I started to feel like it didn’t represent me, but Obama speaks for the people. In turn, the people are committing themselves to being positive and a part of a larger change.”
Get Ragamuffin Clothing’s “I, Too, Sing America” T-shirt featuring a photo of Barack Obama along with Langston Hughes’s famous poem of the same name at Ragamuffinclothing.com
Taking things a step further are the Houston-born brother-and-sister team of Lorielle and Brandon Broussard, 27 and 32 respectively. Co-owners of Barackawear, which sells T-shirts, hoodies and accessories emblazoned with the slogan “Barack the Vote,” the siblings launched their company last August after deciding to do something “edgy” to support their candidate. They now donate 25 percent of their proceeds to the Obama campaign.
Model–actress Eva Marcille, in her Barack the Vote tee, knows a thing or two about making fashion statements.
Their first order of 100 T-shirts sold out to friends, family and co-workers—and quickly got the attention of actor–author Hill Harper. “He contracted us to make 250 more and added them to the gift bags for an Obama fundraising event at Oprah Winfrey’s home,” says Lorielle. “It was a big success. We launched our Web site and immediately got an order for 300 more shirts.”
Actor and author Hill Harper—a longtime friend of the presidential candidate and member of Obama’s national finance team—wears his “Barack the Vote” T-shirt at an event in New York City.
In the midst of their ever-growing demand, the Broussards are ordering approximately 3,000 shirts every three weeks just to keep up. Their most popular version is the pink and green “Also Known As” shirt inspired by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Wendy Raquel Robinson of “The Game” lets her choice for president be known. Might Niecy Nash of “Reno 911!” be rocking a Barack the Vote tee next?
Barackawear co-owner Lorielle Broussard, center, says her crowning moment was meeting the man himself at a fundraiser last month at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. “It was pretty amazing and exciting because it was at a private event,” recalls Lorielle. “I never really get blown away by celebrities but I was nervous and a little shaky to meet him. We wanted him to know that we’ve supported him from the beginning. He was just so humble and just thanked us, saying every little bit helps and how much he appreciated it.”
Senator Obama is more than grateful for the support Barackawear owners Lorielle and Brandon Broussard, right, have shown.
Tricked-out Obama shirts might turn out to be the must-have fashion item of the fall. But both the Broussards and Robinson believe that their shirts transcend the trendy. “We like to think our T-shirts are fly,” says Robinson. “But Ragamuffin is more than a T-shirt…it’s a movement.”
In a design made just for her, actress and comedienne Kym Whitley leaves no question as to which candidate she’s supporting at this year’s BET Awards.
Comedian Bill Cosby clowns around with radio host Tom Joyner, who sports a bedazzled Obama tee, at the 2008 ESSENCE Music Festival, in New Orleans.
The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am rocks Obama-themed kicks at an event this summer in Beverly Hills, California. will.i.am co-produced this year’s buzzworthy “Yes We Can” video, which became an Internet sensation and went on to win an Emmy in the first-ever New Approaches in Daytime Entertainment category.
Comedians Joe Torry, left, and Guy Torry arrive at a 2008 BET Awards after party, with Guy making a statement for his pick for president.