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RAYGUN Has a Shirt for That

Posted: September 26, 2019 | By: Morgan Garner and Will Follett Tagged: Blog

DES MOINES, Iowa — While so many companies are only just now finding their footing in an increasingly political society, one store has been not just operating on such a spectrum but dominating it for almost fifteen years. That store is RAYGUN. Opened in 2005 by Mike Draper under the name SMASH, the East Village business sells everything from artistic postcards to snarky coffee mugs and has become a staple of the Des Moines community.

Most famous, though, is their screen-printed t-shirt collection. The Iowa clothier has garnered interest for its political wears that have attracted Democratic presidential hopefuls such as Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard and the husband of candidate Pete Buttigieg.

“Candidates just pop in,” said Store Manager Aneas Burkhartsmeier. “Kirsten popped in during Pride, and it was great to see her…Hopefully, in the future, Pete comes around [since his husband came].”

About twenty-five percent of RAYGUN is dedicated to politics, whether it be from screen-printed shirts of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s face, buttons bragging about the Iowa caucuses, or shirts featuring Nancy Pelosi doing her signature clap. Many of the store’s other items focus on Midwest pride, but there are also sections for gay rights and women’s rights.

Erin O’Boyle, an employee who has worked at the Chicago and Des Moines store, believes that the store is popular right now because the store’s goods say what people are thinking.

“We’ve been very liberal from the beginning,” said Burkhartsmeier. “We have always been interested in free speech, especially with the Democratic Party, gay rights, and women’s rights.”

In addition to their sales operation, RAYGUN operates their entire design and printing business in-house in a second-floor studio at the Des Moines location, and many suggestions for clothing and other merchandise come from their 57,000 followers on Twitter who simply tweet at RAYGUN (@RAYGUNshirts) asking if their crazy idea or quote they saw in the news could be made into a shirt or mug. According to Burkharsmeier, oftentimes the suggestions are a great success.

“I would say our ratio is 50/50 our own ideas versus others. We get 25 percent of our designs from things in the media, and another 25 percent from gay rights & feminist ideas. And of course, if Trump says something stupid, we always make it into a shirt.”

While their most popular shirt is the one that reads “Des Moines: Hell Yes,” political clothing featuring the Obamas is also very popular, as is their “Nasty Woman” line, which stems from an insult Trump levied at Hillary Clinton during one of their presidential debates. 

When asked about the store’s plans going forward, Burkhartsmeier said they would just keep doing what they’re doing. The store is constantly growing, he explains, and said they’re not shy about being vocal with their beliefs. “It’s very much about being unapologetic, to the point, and addressing people directly.”