Tee Hunter recently spoke to Christine over at Retro Campaigns – a retro/political tshirt brand. Christine is the founder and they have an excellent range of tshirts covering a lot of different American presidential and political campaigns.
TH: What inspired the Retro Campaigns brand?
Christine: It began about 4 years ago when one day I decided I wanted to own a t-shirt from Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign (I’ve always been an admirer of his). I’m such a t-shirt junkie and they’re so prevalent now that I just assumed there would be either an original t-shirt floating around on an Internet auction site, or someone would be selling reproductions.
But I couldn’t find anything. Lots of original and reproduction buttons and posters, but no t-shirts. So I thought I’d just make one for myself. It turned out okay so I made some more, like for George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. My friends liked them and encouraged me to think about selling to other people who might be looking for the same thing.
TH: How did you approach this brand at the start and who helped you get it off the ground?
Christine: I was fortunate to know a great graphic designer who also liked the idea and came up with our logo and Web site design, which helped create the look-and-feel of the company. He also recreates and designs the graphics we use on the t-shirts. They’re all carefully distressed to give them their “aged” appearance.
My goal was to create a brand that blends history and popular fashion. I make a point to only use high-quality shirts; the thin, cotton/poly vintage-style ringers make the graphics look especially good. It all started pretty simply but it really took off.
TH: This is certainly a different and unique approach to the usual internet tshirt company, do you think it was a brave and worthwhile move trying something different and has it paid off?
Christine: Well, I don’t know how brave it was but I definitely feel it was worthwhile. I’ve learned a lot about owning and running a company for one, which I had no experience in at all. It was a little scary to launch a completely new line of shirts, because for all I knew I was the only person in the world who actually wanted a vintage-style campaign t-shirt! Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case.
TH: What have been the highest and lowest points so far and why?
Christine: There are lots of little things that can make my day, like when someone e-mails just to say that they like the shirts or to suggest a new shirt idea. There really haven’t been too many lows that I can think of, although sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
TH: What is your personal favourite tshirt you sell?
Christine: I’ll always have a soft spot for the Eugene McCarthy “Get Clean for Gene” t-shirt. My background is in politics, and I was a college volunteer during the 1992 presidential primary in New Hampshire (the shirt references the NH primary from 1968), so I can imagine what it must have been like for those young people trudging along in the snow for their candidate.
TH: Who is your favourite US president and why?
Christine: I don’t know if I have a favorite. They’re all a part of American history.
TH: What is it about your brand and clothing that your customers like the most?
Christine: I think what people like is that they can celebrate American politics in a positive way. There are plenty of places where you can buy derogatory shirts, some of which are funny and some I would say are just offensive. But I think there’s also a market for optimism right now.
That’s probably why I find myself drawn to campaigns for inspiration rather than actual administrations: it’s just the reality of our political system that the campaign season is full of promise and hope for the future, while the sitting presidential administration is almost immediately scrutinized and the president usually finds himself in reactive rather than proactive mode.
TH: How old does a presidential campaign have to be before it can be considered for your brand?
Christine: There really aren’t any set rules; it’s just whatever we come up with that we like.
TH: What inspires your designs, are they all recreations of campaign imagery or are some of them unique to you?
Christine: Some are reproductions of campaign graphics (usually with some modification, like adding a date for example), others are a mix of existing imagery and slogans, like the Adlai Stevenson “Hole in the Shoe” design, or the Eugene McCarthy “Get Clean For Gene” tee, which is based on a slogan that existed at the time but to my knowledge was never featured on any campaign item and never had a graphic associated with it.
TH: What one piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?
Christine: I would say be prepared to always be working on some aspect of the company!
Big thank you to the lovely Christine for her time! Be sure to head over to Retro Campaigns and check out their massive and ultra-political-chic-retro selection of tshirts!