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 89. 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 man is struggling to keep up with orders for hisBernie 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 its merch search, Seven Days couldn'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.
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."
Bernie Cuz Fuck All This Fucking Bullshit! Bag (above)
$28 (50 percent of profits to the campaign) Etsy.com, Kayci Wheatley
The Bernie Cuz Fuck All This Fucking Bullshit! makeup bag stumped us. The line had a familiar ring to it. Was this what President John F. Kennedy said when announcing the Apollo moon missions? Ronald Reagan denouncing the Berlin Wall? Lincoln at Gettysburg?
We asked the designer, but she didn't respond. She did, however, make one thing clear in a message printed on the underside of the bag. "Political ad not endorsed by Bernie... Just so you know. Altho we think he might like it. Just sayin.'"
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."