One night in May, graphic artist Dave Barron found himself sitting up in bed, doodling. Against a dark background, a simple design in stark white emerged: eyeglasses, "2016," and a shock of unkempt white hair. "Bernie," he added, though many would have easily recognized the locks and dome of Vermont's independent junior senator, who was just weeks from announcing his run for president.
For kicks, Barron posted the image on Facebook under the header, "My contribution to the campaign." By morning, the requests were rolling in: "Where can we buy the T-shirts?" Barron has since shipped thousands of them, to addresses in all 50 states.
He's not the only one. Outside the realm of official campaign buttons, mugs and tote bags, homegrown Sanders swag has proliferated like Subarus on Interstate 80. The rise of Vermont's most famous socialist, it turns out, is working just fine for small-time capitalists.
Burlington artist Madeline McLennon has sold so many of her Bernie tank tops that she was able to cut back hours at her day job to devote more time to her art. Bo Muller-Moore's iconic Eat More Kale T-shirts are no longer his top seller: The Montpelier, Vermont, man is struggling to keep up with orders for his Bernie shirt.
It's not just Vermonters making the stuff, either: In Boone, N.C., Gwynne Dyer may realize the dream of a retirement funded by earring sales—thanks to people who love Bernie enough to wear him on their lobes.
In searching for merch, one can't help but notice that the items associated with other presidential candidates lack a certain impassioned authenticity. Donald Trump's Make America Great Again hats and Hillary Clinton's barbecue apron—Grillary Clinton—look like the products of campaign staffers who aren't as clever as they think.
The grassroots designers of Sanders swag have no such creative problems.
There are products featuring Sanders as Doc from Back to the Future and firing rainbows from his hands while astride a unicorn. A Christmas ornament sports Bernie in a disco dance-off with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and a sticker compares Bernie to wrestling legend Andre the Giant.
The makers' anecdotal sales figures support the narrative of Sanders on the rise. Dyer, for example, sells earrings featuring the faces of all presidential candidates. Guess whose mug is most in demand? Sanders, of course.
"He's my best-selling politician, that's the God's honest truth," Dyer said. "I'm not just saying that to you. Far and away. There's not really a close second."
$9, Esty.com, Charm456
Gwynne Dyer isn't big into politics. But the many hours she's spent cutting out tiny images of Bernie's mug to make earrings may yet convert her. "I'm not quite sure," Dyer said. "I like to listen to everybody. But he has an honest face. I look at their faces a lot, and I think he looks like a nice, honest man."
Bern One for Bernie Pipe
Pipe: $50 (some proceeds will be donated to the campaign), tee: $20, Stash N' Stowe Smokeshop, Waterbury, Vermont
It doesn't get much more Vermont than the Bern One for Bernie pipe. For the record, Sanders supports medical marijuana but has not declared support for legalization. He told journalist Katie Couric that he wasn't a fan, personally. "Because I coughed a lot, I don't know," Sanders said. "I smoked marijuana twice, didn't quite work for me... It's not my thing, but it is the thing of a whole lot of people."
The pipe is the brainchild of Sarah Coshow Bobowick, owner of Stash N' Stowe Smokeshop in Waterbury, Vermont "We're just doing our part to spread the word," Bobowick said.
Her friend Marshall Cummings, came up with the T-shirt, as a companion item.
Feel the Bern Unicorn & Rainbows Pin
$2.75, Etsy.com, OccuTees
"Eat More Kale" Bernie T-shirt
$25 (10 percent of profits to the campaign) EatMoreKale.com
This design was intended to capture Sanders in his sternest glory. "He's not smiling. His eyes are squinted. He's in that serious pose that he takes," said Bo Muller-Moore, who is shipping "hundreds" of the shirts every week. "You can almost see the spittle flying out of his mouth," he added.
Lil' Bernie Doll
$80 ($25 goes to the campaign), LilBernie.com
Professional tailor Emily Engel makes dolls that resemble friends—for the fun of it. But her dad, a hardcore Sanderista, was dead serious when he recommended she make a Bernie doll in her shop in Ludlow, Mass. On Sept. 16, she posted a design of Lil' Bernie on Facebook, thinking a friend or two might buy one. One week later, she had shipped the dolls to customers in 20 states and Australia.
Bernie Sanders Coffee Mug
$28, Burlington City Arts Artist Market or ChrisThrowsPots.com
Wake up and smell the inequity. Essex potter and teacher Christopher Vaughn said that as a small business owner, he appreciates how Sanders hammers the "1-percenters."
Bernie 2016 T-shirt
$25 (10 percent of the profits to the campaign), TheBernieShirt.com?
Dave Barron's T-shirt is arguably the most iconic image thus far of the Sanders campaign. "The simpler you can get your point across as a designer, the stronger it is," Barron said. From 20, 30 feet away, people can "see what it's all about," he noted.
Feel the Bern T-shirt
$20 (10 percent of profits to the campaign)
Etsy.com, Madeline McLennon, or at Maglianero Caf, Maple St., Burlington
This is the shirt that's enabled Madeline McLennon to work a bit less as a barista at Maglianero Café and focus more on her "Feel the Bern" art. "I wanted to use the phrase and show that Bernie and all the people in the campaign are doing a lot of hard work to make him a frontrunner," McLennon said. "And I wanted something goofy, because politics can be a depressing subject."
Disclaimer: We haven't seen Bernie shirtless in a while, and we didn't have the courage to ask his wife, Jane, so we can't say whether the six-pack McLennon gave him is accurate.
Bernie Pop Laminated Bag
$39-$59, 60 Lake St., Burlington, or FlashBagsOnline.com
The folks at Burlington's Flash Bags laminated Obama several years ago—and the item sold well. So they had a pretty good idea that "Bernie Pop"—à la Andy Warhol and his Campbell soup cans—would also be a winner. It doesn't hurt that Bernie's poll numbers are so hot, you have to blow on them before digging in.
Bernie Sanders & Elizabeth Warren Disco Night Mini Print
$10, Etsy.com, FullSnowMoon
The original concept from Wyoming artist Kim Harris pictured Hillary Clinton, Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley onstage, with Michael Jackson sitting on the side, watching them in the rumble scene from West Side Story.
"It was getting to be too much," Harris lamented. This is her revised version.
Bern Down Babylon Bernie Sanders T-shirt
$20 ($5 goes to the campaign) Pineale.BigCartel.com
"Chant Down Babylon" is a Rastafarian phrase and the title of a Bob Marley song about bringing down corrupt and unjust human institutions. So naturally, like you, we assumed the Jeb Bush campaign had already secured the rights to the phrase. But Winooski, Vermont, T-shirt designer Drew Burns said it reminded him of Vermont's man in Washington.
"Obviously, the message is a niche one," Burns said. "Not really something that your grandma would wear. But we've been getting a lot of love from the West Coast ... and Vermont as well."
dug Nap Bernie Prints
$19-$250, Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center, Church St., Burlington; Burlington City Arts Artist Market
Veteran Burlington artist dug Nap has been making Sanders-related prints for years. His "Bernie" vanity license plate prints have always sold well. Now he's also got 11-x-14-inch posters that read "Bernie for Prez," "Add Some Bernie to Our Journey" and "I Am a Bernie Maniac," among others.
"You're trying to figure out who's going to buy them, who is going to hang them on the wall," Nap said. "You don't know. You just find out."
Bernie Sanders New World Money Posters
Giclee posters available in three sizes, $69-139. DonnaRosenArtists.com
Russian-born artist and aspiring Vermonter Val Bochkov launched a New World Money series a couple of years ago and has graced his elegant "bills" with celebrity faces from Billie Holiday to Bono to ... Bernie Sanders. Read more about Bochkov in State of the Arts.
St. Bernie Sanders for President Prayer Candle
$15, Etsy.com, Rustbelt Cooperative
We're nondenominational at City Weekly, but take seriously the Bible's admonishment not to worship false gods. So exercise caution with this St. Bernie Sanders for President prayer candle, no matter how much you love the Jewish candidate and hate multinational corporations. And don't bern yourself.
Black Flag Bernie T-shirt
$18 (roughly 80 percent of profits to the campaign), BernieFlag.BigCartel.com
Chicago resident and punk rocker Steven Vainberg just got out of graduate school and is "broke as hell," so he couldn't donate money to the campaign of the man who wants to make college more affordable. He was also moved by stories about how Sanders, who, as mayor of Burlington, supported 242 Main, the all-ages youth center that hosted bands like Fugazi and became a punk mecca.
So he and a buddy decided they could raise money for Sanders—and themselves—by selling a shirt that borrows one of punk's most iconic images: Black Flag's thick black bars.
In August, Vainberg's first run of 50 shirts sold out in two hours. He has moved 200 shirts a week since.
"The punk community is pro-Sanders," Vainberg declared.
Talk Bernie to Me T-shirt
Nothing less sexy than a Bernie Sanders speech, but this "Talk Bernie to Me" T-shirt makes an interesting proposition.
Badass Bernie T-shirt
$15 (100 percent of profits to the campaign) XFeelTheBernX.com
Behold, a badass Bernie. This was designed by Burlington, Vermont, artist Justin Gonyea and Big Heavy World music shop manager James Lockridge to appeal to the "punk and metal kids in town that like Bernie Sanders but don't really feel like wearing a pastel shirt with a logo on it," Gonyea said.
Locals Feeling the 'Bern'
When presidential candidates are in it to win it, they, of course, need a logo, a website and a big formal announcement. But most modern campaigns now operate what would seem to be outside the scope of politics: a store. These retail divisions sell products to supporters such as T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, buttons and stickers.
When supporters shop at an official campaign store, they soon learn they are actually donating to candidates. The items in the store are seen as "premiums"—similar to what subscribers of public radio or TV receive when they pledge support to the station. Shoppers are asked to provide not only their contact information but the name of their employer and occupation.
Their choice of purchases tell candidates a little something about their supporters, plus purchases provide much-needed campaign cash.
The campaign of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, a proud Democratic socialist, operates a shop where it sells typical campaign "merch"—T-shirts, buttons, baseball caps, stickers and signage. But it is his unofficial "merch" that seems to be catching fire lately, as this feature would attest.
However, since dollars spent on unofficial merch don't necessarily go toward the campaign, City Weekly checked with the local Utah for Bernie group to see what they thought about it. Not only did they not hate it, some proudly displayed their own purchases of "bootleg" merch.
We interviewed Sarah Scott, the founder of the all-volunteer Utah for Bernie group to find out what her group is up to. We also caught up with volunteer Dana Clark, a Utah resident who once worked on Sanders Senate campaigns in Vermont in the '80s and '90s. Their interviews follow:
Founder of the all-volunteer Utah for Bernie Sanders, Sarah Scott got her start in community activism in Detroit. That was where her job in technology marketing and design took her before she became a software developer in Utah. Born in Alabama, raised in Rhode Island, she hails from a very conservative family.
Why did you launch Utah for Bernie?
Because I was so angry at the political state of this country. I want to believe in the American dream, but as someone who's 27, I don't see that happening any time soon unless we make changes that benefit real Americans, not the billionaire class. In early 2015, I contacted the Bernie Sanders campaign. They said they had nothing going on in Utah and if they [decided to open an office here], it would be months, if that. After combing through social media and Google, I realized that no group existed here in the state. So I started one and bought a website domain. Within a week, I had 100 members and, now, it's well over 4,000.
Describe the average Bernie Sanders supporter in Utah.
One of the most surprising things about this campaign has been the diversity of supporters. We have a huge outreach program at BYU, and at almost every college in the state, actually. We have individuals who work in the mining community, farmers, small-business owners, teachers, community leaders, politicians, Republicans, government workers, stay-at-home mothers, bankers, and supporters of all cultural backgrounds. It's impossible to describe an average Bernie individual.
How is it that Sanders was ahead of Hillary Clinton in a recent UtahPolicy.com poll?
Utah is unique, because we place such a strong emphasis on family. At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, the ones we love and the community we live in are the most important things to Utahns. Bernie is the only candidate running for president that is sync with these values.
What's your view on the unofficial "merch" shown in this story?
At first, I was worried about the unofficial merchandise [and its impact on fundraising efforts versus selling official merchandise] and then realized that Bernie's entire campaign is about empowering individuals. My rule of thumb is, first and foremost, donate to the campaign; if you have money to spare, then buy whatever you want including non-campaign related merchandise.
If you were going to buy some of the unofficial merch in the article, what would you buy?
Ha ha. I would definitely buy the Badass Bernie shirt (can you even print the word "badass" in City Weekly?) because A. 100 percent of the proceeds go to the campaign and B. my dog is named Badass—not even kidding! I call her "B" when I'm in public, though.
Any Bernie events coming up for interested readers?
The biggest event we have coming up is the next Democratic debate on Nov. 14. The best way to get involved is to go to BernieSanders.com, where you can attend an event near you or create your own event. We are urging people to find events that are near you, and then "flyer" those events. Make sure to bring your friends and family—the more the merrier. To sign up for our local newsletter, visit UtahForBernieSanders.com. —Jerre Wroble
Local 'Berning' love
Midvale resident Dana Clark first met Bernie Sanders in Vermont, working as a field coordinator on Sanders' 1988 and 1990 congressional campaigns (shown, left, wearing a T-Shirt from the 1990 race). That experience got him interested in running for office himself, and Clark later got elected to the Burlington School Board and later its city council. He later got involved with the winter-sports industry, and that work brought him to Utah nearly 10 years ago to take a job with a Park City ski manufacturer.
Where did you first meet Bernie Sanders?
Bernie was mayor of Burlington when I first learned about him. I didn't meet him until I started volunteering on his 1988 campaign. I was just extremely impressed with his clear vision for our democratic society and how it should work and his directness and honesty about his ideas. Bernie gets a lot of votes from people, including some Republican-leaning voters, who don't agree with him on all the issues.
What makes Bernie Sanders a good candidate for president?
Bernie is passionate about what he does and is driven to make the world a better place. He was always the hardest-working person on the campaign and an inspiration to the rest of us. While he's a big-picture guy, he also takes an interest in common every day people. He's very approachable and open to meeting people and wants to learn about their lives and hear their concerns.
Why is Sanders gaining traction in Utah?
As we move further into this century, voters are now recalibrating what they are looking for in a candidate. A candidate who is willing to buck the system a system where Washington is not functioning well becomes more appealing. We have some big challenges as a nation, and voters are willing to follow a leader who has clear common-sense answers on how to effectively deal with these challenges.
What's your view on the unofficial "merch?"
The campaign is not Super Pac-funded so [buying merch from Bernie's store] is a great way for people to contribute to the campaign and show their support along with making individual cash contributions.
Do you think Bernie gives a hoot about the unofficial swag?
He is probably amused by it. On a side note, the Trump campaign reminds me of a story when I was campaigning with Bernie in Vermont many years ago, and we were in a discount department store meeting voters. The store was advertising Donald Trump's board game (it was like a version of Monopoly) at a deep discount. Trump was going through one of his huge bankruptcies at the time, so we joked that even his board game was on sale.
What unofficial merch would you buy?
The St. Bernie prayer candle is my first choice since it would be a classy addition to my secular home décor.
What are the chances that Bernie Sanders will visit Utah?
I think they are good. We have a petition on our website, UtahForBernieSanders.com, that people can sign expressing their desire for him to come to Utah and make a speech. We are pushing for 10,000 signatures. [As of press time, the petition had 2,000 signatures.] —Jerre Wroble