Got the t-shirts
Life is good, have a nice day, etc. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
On the advice of several readers (thanks!), I’ve spent a bit of time exploring how to create Understandably-branded merchandise. This will be fun, and I have some cool ideas. (Actually, I’d love to hear your further suggestions, either by replying to this newsletter or in the comments!)
Anyway, this exploration led down a rabbit hole, learning again about the parade of people who have built entire businesses on the back of t-shirt slogans. After a few hours … well, I’d neither finished designing my merch or writing today’s newsletter.
So, let’s explore my ADHD-enabled wanderings. Here are some inspiring examples of people who took catchy phrases, merchandised them, and made good money in the process.
1. "Life is good."
If you grew up in New England like I did, chances are you know this brand.
Brothers Bert and John Jacobs first tried to start a t-shirt business in 1989, but they wound up broke and living in their van before they came up with the slogan that would change their lives: "Life is good."
As of 2007, they'd sold 20 million shirts, and had a company making $100 million a year.
2. "Have a nice day."
In the early 1970s, two brothers, Bernard and Murray Spain, trademarked this phrase, added a smiley face logo (which had been designed by an artist named Harvey Ball about a decade earlier), and sold stuff.
By 1972, the Spain brothers had reportedly sold 50 million smiley face buttons. Plus posters, and of course, t-shirts. (Their story even sort of made it into the 1994 movie, Forrest Gump.)
3. "Yankees suck!"
Around the turn of the 21st century, two more Boston friends (I’m sensing a pattern) took this popular cheer at Red Sox games, put it on t-shirts, and sold them for $10 outside Fenway Park. They were “wicked” popular.
According to a report in Grantland, however, while their enterprise made a ton of money it allegedly got caught up in a mess of crime, drugs, and gentrification.
For a while however, the saying was "ubiquitous" in New England, sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy told Grantland, "to the point where you'd hear it at graduations, or weddings. Or bar mitzvahs."
4. "Ranger Up"
This is an Army saying: "To prepare yourself for an immense amount of suffering and learn to enjoy it," according to Urban Dictionary.
In 2006, Nick Palmisciano, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, started making t-shirts and selling them to ROTC cadets across the U.S. The most recent financial data I can find shows it described as a “$20 million business” as of 2018. Ain’t nuthin’.
5. "Keep Calm and Carry On"
This phrase has its origins in a public service poster that the British government put out during the Blitz in World War II. In 2000, the owner of a used bookstore in England came across one of the posters, framed it, and put it up by the cash register.
It was very popular, and since the saying is not copyrighted, others made millions printing t-shirts, posters, and other objects.
"I didn't want it trivialized," the bookstore owner later commented. "But of course now it's been trivialized beyond belief."
Bonus: "You needn't be a soldier to have your own personal T-shirt."
Although it wasn't actually printed on a t-shirt, that's the slogan Sears Roebuck & Co. used after World War II, when civilians began to wear the white t-shirts that veterans had been issued in the Army. Without it, none of the others would have been possible.
7 other things worth knowing today
At a ‘show and tell’ event on Wednesday, Elon Musk said that his brain-computer interface company, Neuralink, could implant one of its devices in someone’s head within the next six months. He also claimed that he would get the device implanted in his own head at some point in the future. (The Verge)
Bob Iger’s Disney return: 5 far-fetched (or are they?) megadeal scenarios. Like, say, a merger or acquisition by Apple? (Hollywood Reporter)
Banks are developing controversial technology to identify potential mass shooters, according to a CEO backing the push to get credit-card companies to more closely track gun purchases. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that violent extremists inside the United States pose a “persistent and lethal threat” to the LGBTQ, Jewish and migrant communities. (Law.com, NBC News)
The cost of gasoline is falling so fast that it is beginning to put real money back in the pockets of drivers, defying earlier projections and offering an unexpected gift for the holidays; filling up is now as cheap as it was in February, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and GasBuddy projects it could drop below $3 by Christmas. (WashPost)
With the Mauna Loa volcano continuing to erupt on Hawaii’s Big Island,local officials and residents are keeping an eye on the lava flow as it creeps closer to a major roadway and making plans for the possibility that access to the highway could soon be cut off and have a major impact on daily life. (CNN)
Continuing the Star Wars theme from yesterday, here's a June 1977 article about how the fact that the movie played in only one theater for a while in Washington, DC (the Uptown, an old favorite of mine), wreaked havoc on the surrounding residential neighborhood. One resident: "I'm just dying to see it ... But with all the neighbors complaining, I can't tell anyone that I actually want to see the movie." (WashPost, I think you'll skip a paywall with this link, let me know.)
French referee Stéphanie Frappart became the first woman to take charge of a men’s World Cup game on Thursday as she blew her whistle to start Germany’s game against Costa Rica. Both of her assistant referees were women, too. As for upcoming matches, here's one: the U.S. plays the Netherlands tomorrow at 10 a.m. ET. I will be watching. In keeping with our t-shirts theme, here's a Photoshopped version of what Christian Pulisic was wearing under his jersey in an earlier game. (The Guardian)
Thanks for reading. Go USA! Photo credit: Me, via Placeit. I’ve written about some of this before at Inc.com. See you in the comments!