Can a t-shirt change the world?
Printed t-shirts are everywhere and carry a load of different messages; some are funny, some are fashionable and a few are political. T-shirts lend themselves for use as protest t-shirts, as they can carry a message on the front of the t-shirt creating a walking bill board for everyone to see; a tactic that has been used by many celebrities making some sort of statement; personal or political.
Whether poignant or personal, when celebrities decide to express themselves on printed t-shirts people take notice. The idea of celebrity and the society we live in determines that we want to know as much as possible about our entertainers and if they happen to broadcast their political persuasions on their t-shirts then the public will want to see it.
February the 11th in America is national White t-shirt day, which is a celebration of the power of the union of workers, and more specifically the people who took part in a strike at General Motors in 1937. As part of the symbolism of the strike, all the participants wore white shirts or blouses although it is now more commonly celebrated by the wearing of plain white t-shirts.
This power was once again exercised in May 2013 when the local government in Kunming, China decided the best way to put a stop to protests against a chemical plant was to ban the selling of plain white t-shirts. Protestors had used the plain white t-shirts as a base to write their slogans on in a previous rally and eventually, a number of t-shirt printing companies around the city signed an agreement with the government not to aid or support the protestors.
As mentioned before, printed t-shirts are a great way of getting to people to act like walking billboards for a message but it is important to remember who is acting like the billboard is just as important as the message, if not more so. I could design a really cool slogan with the wisest words of wisdom printed on the softest t-shirts in the world but it wouldn’t really do much unless I got somebody of importance to be seen wearing one. Then the tabloids would take notice.
So if the recipe for a good protest t-shirt is a good design draped over some of your biggest celebrity buds then Human Rights Campaign’s Love Conquers Hate t-shirt is out of the top draw. Much has been said and written about the anti-gay laws currently in place in Russia and with the eyes of the world firmly focused on Sochi for the 2014 winter Olympics HRC sent out these t-shirts to some real A-listers who took to social media to show off their new tees. Now that walking billboard has become interactive and can gather online momentum for the campaign.
Stars such as Jonah Hill, Matt Damon and Ben Cohen have taken to twitter to show their support for HRC along with many other well-known figures. On the Human Rights Campaign website they have a webpage dedicated to the monitoring of NBC’s Olympic coverage of LGBT issues with the statement:
We will not sit quietly as the Russian Government charts a path that puts LGBT Russians in harm’s way. HRC will harness the energy of our members and supporters, and all fair-minded Americans, to bring justice to Russia’s LGBT community.
The t-shirts are the physical example of how the HRC are ‘harnessing the energy’ of their members and supporters including the A-list celebs.
HRC are not the first, nor will they be the last to employ the power of celebrities in t-shirts to help further their message. Dame Vivienne Westwood has announced that she is to concentrate more on quality than quantity and continue to use her high profile to further put forward her political beliefs. The 72 year-old fashion designer has decided not to expand her company despite recent success in the Asian market and she is keen to promote the work that Greenpeace are doing to protect the Arctic. Enter George Clooney, Chris Martin and few other big names sporting Westwood’s new Save The Arctic t-shirts.
“The status quo will kill us. People don’t realise how quickly we are marching towards a possible mass extinction. Once the global temperature goes up beyond two degrees, you can’t stop it. Current predictions are that we will see a rise of more like 4C or 6C, which would mean that everything below Paris would become uninhabitable.”
The photographer for this photo-shoot, Andy Gotts MBE, attributes Westwood’s passion as one of the reasons why celebrities want to support her. And Westwood herself understands the importance of a celebrity endorsement, saying that ‘public opinion is very responsive to celebrity’ which could be the key to getting a message across.
The 1937 strikes proved that shirts could be worn together in union under the philosophy of strength in numbers, which turned out to be a victory for the working class and the t-shirt as a protest symbol. This was echoed in China in 2013 and has been extended again through the power of social media with HRC’s campaign during the Winter Olympics. It remains to be seen how successful the gay rights protests at the Sochi games will be and whether a t-shirt can really change the world.