ArtWorkTee's T-Shirt Campaign and the Selling of Identity
ArtWorkTee has been quite busy this year when it comes to their charity drives and other Kickstarter campaigns. At this time they are working on their third KickStarter for the year. The first was a calendar drive where fursuiters were pictured for each month. These calendars were sold with proceeds going to a shelter for young horses called Last Chance Corral, which was covered by Flayrah. The second was not covered by Flayrah and was a for helping a feline shelter, Flatbush Cats.
Using charitibility is always a good way to achieve positive marketing and brand recognition, particularly in the furry fandom. In fact, it was a suggestion I had made in regards to the failed ‘designer fursuit’ experiment Zweitesich that if they made those custom designer fursuits a few thousand dollars more expensive and donated those thousands of dollars toward a charity it would have made the fursuit a badge of honor instead of one of purely being a gloating of wealth, which tends to be seen as reprehensible in the fandom.
Now that ArtWorkTee had done these charity kickstarts, the third appears to be using a month drive as an opportunity to introduce a new line of T-Shirts from them. This time it looks like there is no organization that is being supported. Instead, ArtWorkTee is using the same marketing strategy in order to introduce a line of pride shirts based on promotion of individual sexual and gender expression. It mixes a furry character brought to life by LuhBraz Art, mixing the characters with the particular representative flag's color schemes.
There are only a few days left to secure a t-shirt from this initial printing. But they will be available for sale after the campaign at their website and at Midwest Furfest's Dealer's den this year. So what is the incentive for doing this Kickstarter Campaign? It seems mostly to gauge interest, and they will expand their line based on this interest. That's what we will be going over in this article.
I was approached by ArtWorkTee to write an article about this, similar to how they had approached me for the calendar. With the calendar I was happy to do so as it was for a good cause, and the fact that a charity calendar had parallels with famous drives outside the fandom made it an interesting artifact to note. But here, at first, I could find no angle that I could take that wouldn’t seem like blatant advertisement.
Given this and some of the other promotional content that has started to find its way to us, we as the editors have been in discussion about how to handle such content. Should we ask those organizations that wish to promote their own items to sign up for their own accounts and then limit the amount of publications per year? Do we take a more laissez-faire approach and allow whoever to submit whatever and then choose who to promote and who not to?
Personally I have an issue with the latter approach, despite it being the easiest to implement. There is no transparency to it, so end users can then decide we’re conspiring to work with certain sellers and not others. If that is the case, if I were to promote this sale of T-Shirts, then what’s to stop other T-shirt sellers from flooding Flayrah? If we start chewing bubblegum what if there is not enough for everybody? I mean, have you seen a convention’s dealers den? There are a lot of people selling shirts. If I have to write an article for each of them, I’ll probably lose the shirt off my back to be able to actually talk about events and not just things for sale.
On the other hand even if we put it out for the individual entrepreneur to write for themselves, where does the line between a fan end and a business or organization begin? If we hand these accounts out, even if we limit the amount they could publish, how would we determine which are granted to have accounts and which are not? Furries don’t necessarily have a guild of convention organizations or businesses to refer to for lists of these. So once again, there is still a judgement call on our part on whose promotions go in and whose remain sidelined.
I guess, though, curating information is supposed to be part of the job. So trying to avoid that responsibility in the hopes of making a less bias system may just be me trying to avoid doing my work.
It was in thinking about these kinds of decisions on my own work that I stumbled into an angle for this T-shirt article. Like the above questions of curation on who gets in to start and who may not, that I started to see parallel issues with the shirt campaign. So I will share my thoughts about how I feel about the shirts themselves, and why I was conflicted in making an article in the first place.
The good side - Promotion of expression to prevent depression
While it may seem strange that the proceeds are not going to any particular organization such as the Trevor Project, the growth of this t-shirt line can take a more offensive role in trying to address society’s understanding of those with differing sexual preferences and identities. Sure donating to an organization that works to try and prevent young members in the LGBT community from committing suicide is a wonderful gesture, but it is very defensive. It’s helping the mentality of those who feel outcast only at their lowest moment, instead of doing what you can in order to improve morale and the environment itself before the emotions of the individual in question hits that critical point.
Having such an open expression of both furry and those who are treated marginally for who they are is an important aspect of helping self esteem for the community as a whole. While some who are more reserved may have trouble with wearing this on their sleeve, those that do will help inspire others to also come forward and be more true to themselves. In this vein it also shows that there is a market for these kind of apparel. With this campaign's success, more businesses may adopt more stylized offerings when it comes to expression merchandise.
Don't know if they'd get art this good though, because it's well designed.
This is why, despite this not being charity based, it is a helpful campaign. The characters and identities they represent can help those coming to terms with themselves in a world and wardrobe that conversely seems to wish to mold them into easier to understand compartments.
The Bad Side - Paying a Premium for the ‘Marginal’ Identities
One of the biggest critiques that Pride events have created recently from those within the community has been about corporate sponsorship and support. Those who are critical of this indicate that corporations cannot feel or support anything. Instead this so-called support is simply to try to market to their demographic in order to sell them things.
Now there can certainly be a difference when it is a company like Google advertising your identity back to you, but when it is someone who is a member of the community itself it can seem much more genuine. However, even if that is the case that the person selling the pins or the shirts have their hearts in the right place, through another lens, it can be seen as being just as exploitative as the larger corporations. In fact, since the person is within the group, the entrepreneur may be able to be much more effective at advertising than their mass-corporate siblings.
In that vein, there was something in this campaign that felt a bit off to me, and that is the unlockables it chose to use. There are additional t-shirt designs that will be unlocked as the funds raised by the Kickstarter becomes larger. These designs seem to already be in the planning stages, with characters chosen and a banner for the unlock amounts. The further down you go, the higher the dollar value goes, and the more obscure the identity being presented becomes.
At first glance I didn’t think too much of it, but after awhile it became quite a thorn I could sense that some may find objection with, though may not speak out about it. The primary reason that on social media you may see an asexual or a demisexual individual getting huffy about having to explain who they are and what they like is that they feel ignored by the mainstream. This is because outside of heterosexual and homosexual binary there really isn’t too much understanding about sexual identity by general society.
To be fair, at the time of publication, those that are still under the unlock are obscure enough where I haven’t heard of them myself. Asexual and demisexual are both already unlocked, with the former being a part of the standard lineup and the latter having had to pass a $4,000 stretch goal. However, the ones yet to unlock, though obscure, should not have to pray to the heavens that other people contribute tens of thousands of dollars to the campaign for a chance to get their identity’s shirt printed.
If you’re an androsexual, you’re in the toughest bind at a price tag of $28,000 to be contributed before your shirt is designed. Their opposite, the gynosexual only needs $26,000 to unlock. I guess that adds a whole new spin on “ladies first”.
At least the above was true when I wrote the rough draft of this article a few weeks ago. When writing the final on November 17th I found that this had changed. Both of these were shifted down, gynosexual now needing $32,000 and androsexual needing $34,000. Three identities were injected in front of them: biromantic(26k), homoromantic(28k), and panromantic(30k). I suspect this happened when they hit $20,000 in revenue raised which is when they made an update message on this site. But there was no mention of these injected rewards. Evidence can be seen for this as while the bottom two rewards have text descriptions, the three injected ones above do not have them.
This shocked me a bit, and I feel bad for the andro and gynosexuals who injected money into the campaign only to have themselves pushed $6,000 further from being able to obtain a shirt design. This change was made silently and I only caught it because I had made a rough draft from before this change was made. It only served to highlight the problem with this unlock idea.
I wonder if ArtWorkTee is regretting bringing this campaign to my attention yet.
A cautious growth in the LGBT self-made markets
Selling shirts to highlight one’s pride in their community and their identity is a positive for those outside of what is perceived as the general societal norms. It can help solidify the feelings of comradery through these commodities. It also creates an opportunity for fandom artists and business organizers to sustain themselves doing something they love, by promoting the love of oneself and others.
However, it is important that when creating these businesses, that one not forget to never let the money come before that purpose. If you are releasing a product line that has to do with people and how they identify, do not put the identity of some behind a paywall. If you want to make rarer shirts given out to backers, then items such as the Pastel Rainbow and the Unity Flag are fine, since they are mostly redesigns of the overall movement’s symbol. I mean, there is the Pride flag with the pink stripe as well that is not a tier, which was its original design before pink fabric was found to be too hard to find to print the flags in mass.
If a flag does deal with an individual’s identity, though, it becomes a bit less of a moral position to lock it behind a fund goal. We should not expect those individuals to pay a premium to have their own identity represented in the shirts they wear, no matter how marginal their identity may seem. My hope is that the campaign hits the $34,000 dollars and makes me eat my giant roo shoe, but with 3 days and $10,000 to go it seems the androsexuals are out of luck.
To be fair in all of this, it takes guts to start a business, and it takes even more guts for the foundation of the business to stick its neck out for those whose sexuality and gender identities are marginalized. The artist and the business are doing more good than harm with this campaign overall so don't berate them too hard for this oversight. In this critique, my hope is to assist those companies like ArtWorkTee in their endeavor of not leaving others behind. To highlight that while people should be able to proudly buy products based on their identity, their identity itself should never be for sale.