Making tees with a political message with Sarah Wasko

Using tees to broadcast a political or social message has a long tradition, from Katharine Hamnett’s infamous ‘Choose Life’ T-shirt, to punk band tees and more – and we’re proud to have some amazing ones in our collection too. But, while making a tee with a message might seem as simple as choosing a good font and punchy slogan, there’s an art that goes into making one that truly stands out. Multidisciplinary designer and illustrator Sarah Wasko has built a practice committed to “using storytelling and creative work for the common good”,  and working with clients who do the same, so it was only natural (pun intended) that for their Everpress campaign they chose a message close to their heart: urging people to step away from unnaturally manicured lawns and support plants, pollinators and the environment from their very own backyards. Sarah’s ‘Kill Your Lawn’ tee has fast become one of our bestsellers, so we asked them about their inspirations, design practices and making a tee with a message.

Your work is driven by a commitment to “using storytelling and creative work for the common good”. In what ways do you think T-shirts are a useful canvas for a political/social message? 

T-shirts have a long history in political movements.  They are a great canvas for political messaging because they’re accessible, and history has shown us that we can use T-shirts as an effective medium for being subversive, spreading a message, or fighting stigma. I have a pretty extensive political T-shirt collection of my own, the profits for many of which fund grassroots groups that align with my values. And then you get to be a walking advertisement for movements you care about which always feels good. 

Had you designed garments before launching the ‘Kill Your Lawn’ tee? If not what drew you to Everpress/what interested you about launching a T-shirt campaign? 

I was drawn to Everpress because of the campaign model and the ethical and environmentally-friendly printing practices. Everpress’s commitment to becoming climate and water positive is super exciting. It would be silly to create a T-shirt whose production is in conflict with its message of sustainability.

Obviously it’s great not to have to handle any of the logistics. It is hard to get to a point where you want to share something you’ve made, so it’s great to have one less hurdle to getting your work out into the world. 

What’s your design process like? What are some of your signature techniques? 

My design process feels different every time I sit down to work, but there are always lots of throwaway sketches and bad ideas before I land on something I feel good about. Even though I work primarily digitally, I still manage to make a mess in my working files. I think getting “messy” in digital files is underrated. Just because you’re working digitally doesn’t mean you can’t throw stuff around and experiment, and forget about all the technical stuff and how files are ‘supposed’ to look. Don’t force it. Who cares! 

For this shirt, I had the idea for the language before the design, so that’s where I started. I liked the idea of a graphical flower that also had some tactile texture.

What do you think are the most important factors to pay attention to when making a tee with a message? In other words, how do you bring alive a message with good design? 

If your design involves copywriting, it’s always good to get a second and third opinion. If you’re going for concise, make sure the message is easily understood by a friend who’s seeing it for the first time. There’s almost always room for iterating on copy. I think my shirt is successful because it’s a little spicy and then sweet; ‘Kill your lawn’ is confrontational and then it pulls back and says, essentially, ‘instead, plant flowers for the bees and the birds’. I added a little blurb at the bottom with more info to add some visual interest but also to give a little more context, which is kind of fun because it mimics a poster and wouldn’t typically be on a T-shirt, but why not? 

I also like that the messaging is all on the back, so it’s ‘choose your own adventure’ in that way. You can wear it with a layer on top and you’ve got a fun T-shirt with a flower on it and you don’t necessarily have to be making any kind of statement that day. 

Who/what are some of your inspirations for the work you do? 

I was living in the Bay Area of California and a lot of people had great native and drought-tolerant landscaping, but others had these sad lawns. Some even had fake turf which I always find bizarre. I dream of having my own yard to design and plant, so I tend to take it personally when folks waste their opportunity! As with anything creative, I think it’s best to create what you know. This is something I care about, so that will come through in the design and it will speak to others who share the same disdain for manicured lawns.

Explore our Creator Toolkit to learn more about the process behind our most successful designs, from going from architecture to art with Alexander Khabbazi, to finding your signature style with Grace Kao