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Stuff We Love

Obama’s Director of Campaign Merch On What Makes Good Political Gear

Stuff We Love BY tess falotico 03/30/2017

Pussy hats! “The Future Is Female” T-shirts! “Make America ____ Again” caps! What turns a product that conveys something you agree with into one you want to wear? We asked Shahla Karimi, the super-cool jewelry designer and former director of merchandising for Obama’s re-election campaign, to share a few key tips on making merch with a message that’s worth shelling out for.

 

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER

“On the Obama campaign, we were selling to a lot of millennials and a lot of women. That informed all of our decisions. We decided to focus on trend-driven things, like snap-back hats, which were cool in 2011, I swear. Customizable products were also new and popular with our customer at the time, and we were the first political campaign to do them. Our bestseller was a state T-shirt with 2,000 variations.”

 

APPROACH IT LIKE A FASHION LINE

“I hated it when vendors called our products ‘political chum.’ We saw it as a brand, and we worked hard to make trend-driven and high-quality stuff. We released our T-shirts in super-soft cotton blends because my generation and those younger than me care about that sort of thing. We sold more because we were selling the kinds of things they would buy anyway, but with campaign slogans.”

 

HAVE CLEAR TARGETS

“Our goal was more about fundraising than awareness. If it was about awareness, we would have made cheap products and given them away for free. Since our focus was raising money, we had to make nice things that people wanted to invest in. We worked with over 50 top American designers on high-end collaborations, like a Marc Jacobs dog T-shirt, a Thakoon dog leash, and women’s bags by Diane Von Furstenberg and Tory Burch.”

 

KEEP THE MESSAGE TIMELY

“There was a story that came out during the election about Mitt Romney strapping his dog to the roof in a cage and driving like a hundred miles. So we responded with a pet line called Pets for Obama, with dog bowls, shirts, sweaters, and leashes. My chihuahua was a model, so that whole collection is dear to my heart. And our demographic had a lot of pet-lovers anyway, so it sold really well. Another best-seller was a mug with Obama’s birth certificate on it, in response to all the claims that he wasn’t born in the U.S. I think all those things prove having a sense of humor also sells well.”

 

MAKE STUFF YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO OWN

“In general, people have to want to spend money on and wear their political gear. For example, in my line, we have a gold bar necklace that says ‘feminist.’ We made Obama tube socks because I thought they’d be popular with our audience. Everyone laughed at me, but they were on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek the week after they came out—and they sold out so many times because even though it seemed unconventional, people just wanted to wear them.”

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