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Wearing Your Politics

Apr. 4, 2011
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Designer Byron Thomas has thrown a fashion curve at Wisconsin's political discourse with politically themed T-shirts, available at Bullseye Records (1627 E. Irving Place) and Sky High Skateboard Shop (2501 S. Howell Ave.). "I sort of lucked into spots on both the East Side and South Side," Thomas explains. "I've never sold apparel before. But people in both spots were cool. I showed them the shirts. Three, four, five minutes, they were like, 'Sure. We'll sell them.' They were super cool."

What's your alternate identity?

My day job no longer exists. Let's just say I do a lot of free-lancing in art and design.

I've been into art, drawing, painting and sketching since I was 10. I went to UWM for painting and drawing, and studied the same at MIAD. I do a lot of design, illustration, logos, CDs—whatever I can get my hands on.Check out http://btbyronthomas.carbonmade.com/.

Can you sum up your political stance in one sentence?

I'm glad you said that. Everything seems to be all or nothing these days. I'll just say, it's an unfortunate situation and it's pretty obvious that power is in the hands of the wrong person.

What's the deal with the new shirts?

The concept is based off an early-'90s Nike campaign with Bo Jackson. "Bo Knows." "Walker Doesn't Know." It was just a statement. It was definitely expression. A stance, a statement—something I stand behind. I know others feel the same. It's simple, concise and says in three words what others can't in thousands. At the same time, I think it's fun—something you can have a laugh with.

How does one go about making T-shirts?

It's a long process. The quick and easy answer is Photoshop. I also like Illustrator. I hit up Redwall [Screen Printing in Bay View]. They did the heavy lifting. It's a lot easier than getting into all the screens, ink and photo emulsion—not as fun, though.

Is making T-shirts First Amendment expression, mass media, pop democracy, or all of the above?

Mine are a mix of political expression and art. Shirts certainly can be media. I guess it's mostly up to what's in the individual's design.

Have you made T-shirts before?

Funny thing about that... I did a run of sweatshirts up in Minneapolis not too long ago. I made the mistake of letting my ex-girlfriend choose the brand. It was more artistic—pure creative. But I was not happy with the cut, with the brand. And in retrospect, it's seems to be a big part of the reason why we broke up...



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