Northern Liberties resident Leigh Wetterau watched during the debates as phrases like “Nasty Woman” went straight from a candidate’s mouth to hashtags to merchandise. She wondered where the money was really going, seeing too many vendors promising $1 to a charity or activist group.
“That just made me feel shady,” Wetterau said. “I know what the cost of that shirt is and you marked it up by 50 percent or more and you’re just going to give a dollar?”
So Wetterau, a photographer and digital marketer, started making her own political statement t-shirts on Etsy, selling them under her company name TwoWayStreetTess. In about three weeks, she’s sold about 650 shirts and bags, and the entirety of her profits are going to the ACLU, the Environmental Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood. With shirts selling for about $20 and the profit margin about 33 to 40 percent, that’s roughly $4,000-plus so far.
She came up with her biggest hit so far last week, after Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was voted into silence by the Senate. Wetterau used Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s quote/inadvertent feminist catchphrase: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
“I couldn’t even get into my phone,” Wetterau said. “That one just sort of took off. When I donate the money from this month of shirts I’m probably going to put Mitch McConnell’s name on it so he gets the thank you.”
Wetterau decided to start making the shirts after hearing about the travel ban late last month. She was seeking a way to fight back against what she saw as an injustice, thought about the previous merchandise she’d seen around the political statements and came up with an idea about the travel ban. It features the words, “Give Me Your Tired Your Poor Your Huddled Masses Yearning to be Free.”
The shirt ended up being successful. Others she’s made include “No Ban No Wall,” “Nasty Woman,” “My Grandparents Were Immigrants from Poland” and “Sock It (Pat) Toomey.”
Wetterau had seen plenty of political shirts on Etsy with odd-looking fonts and flowery designs she didn’t think were fashionable. Hers are understated, black letters splayed over a gray background, a design Wetterau believes everybody can enjoy.
“I was searching on Etsy to see what other people are making,” she said. “This is going to sound really mean, but a lot of it was just ugly. It wasn’t stuff I’d want to wear.”
Wetterau moved to Philadelphia in 2009 after getting her MFA from Ohio University. She’s originally from Hazleton, Pa., or as she describes it on her website, a “small coal mining town.” Her family has always leaned Democratic, but plenty of friends and acquaintances from her hometown are Trump supporters. She tries to have open conversations with them about the political climate.
And in the meantime, Wetterau plans to continue making the shirts, basing the designs off her “frustration with what’s happening at the exact moment.”
“I’ll keep going and keep making shirts,” she said. “It makes me feel I’m doing as much as I can.”