August 26, 2019
It didn't take long for Bernie Sanders's meme-able moment at the July Democratic debates — "I wrote the damn bill!" — to make it onto a T-shirt.
But the shirt creators didn't expect the man, himself, to stop by during a recent trip to Iowa. When Sanders visited the flagship Raygun store in Des Moines, founder Mike Draper told Cheddar he thanked the senator for "talking in sound bites that fit on T-shirts."
Sander's shirt is part of the "The Snowflake Agenda," a Raygun collection drawing in some of 2020's Democratic contenders, including Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.
"We joke that we're the progressive Pizza Ranch," said Draper, referring to a popular campaign stop for Republican candidates. "We have now become a stop."
Draper started selling T-shirts while he was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, a business he has since grown into multiple brick-and-mortar shops around the Midwest.
Now the company releases new designs fairly regularly, based on what's going on in the world. Popular styles fluctuate, but "Tupac for Governor" and "Iowa Needs Tupac" Draper says "were pretty hot for a week or two."
Many of Raygun's current designs include feminist slogans and icons, with one sweatshirt noting "America Needs Female Leaders" and a sticker of Nancy Pelosi's now famous clap.
"Along with 'Me Too' and Hillary [Clinton] running for president, there was a feminist uprising," creative director Jennifer Leatherby said of the company's many feminist items. "Our customer base really responds well to the pro-feminist designs and ideas and we do a lot of fundraisers for places like Planned Parenthood and Iowa Abortion Access Fund."
While Raygun's main gig is selling sassy T-shirts, it also raises money for local causes. In addition to Planned Parenthood, the company says it works with companies like ArtForce Iowa and Iowans for Public Education. "We're one of the few companies that is not afraid to say we support these things and people respond really well to that," she said.
Leatherby said "exact numbers are hard to come by," but the shirts are "keeping us in business."
Most of the political designs lean left, but Draper said some visitors ask for a 'Make America Great Again' shirt. Draper has a shirt for them, with Barack and Michelle Obama's faces in front of President Trump's 2016 election slogan.