In a politically fraught landscape, Biden-Harris-branded tie-dyed t-shirts might be the feel-good merchandise voters are craving. Six weeks ago in late August, TieDyen4Biden popped up on Instagram offering a custom tie-dyed Biden-Harris shirt in exchange for a political donation of $25 or more to the Biden campaign. Since then, the effort has blown up in popularity; the account boasts more than 8,200 followers and recent posts have garnered hundreds of comments and over 1,000 likes for its currently sold-out items.
TieDyen4Biden is the brainchild of Emily Simoness, who runs an artist residency program and organic farm called Space on Ryder Farm in Brewster, N.Y., her husband Michael Chernus, an actor, and their friend Hannah Myers, an actor and director who also works with Simoness. When a socially-distanced tie-dye party celebrating the workers at Simoness’ farm left the group with a surplus of dyeing supplies, they conceived of the idea for t-shirts in support of the Biden campaign.
“What went from a backyard party joke turned into a thing overnight,” says Chernus. “Tie-dye is by nature inherently optimistic—it’s inherently goofy and positive. Anybody can do it and it’s brought a lot of enthusiasm, joy and hope to what has been a very bleak and depressing year.”
Since its August debut, the self-funded TieDyen4Biden is meeting orders for 1,300 shirts and has plans for as many as 2,000 more in periodic merchandise drops. The most recent drop sold out of 170 shirts in two minutes. Simoness estimates that well over $67,000 has been contributed to Biden and other Democratic campaigns as a result of customer donations, where many give more than the $25 minimum.
“The interest was clear from the jump—it’s gotten way more frenetic,” says Simoness. To that end, the group, which counts a half-dozen other staff members in New York, expanded to include 12 tie-dying outposts from volunteers around the country. Jacquard Products, a dye manufacturer, recently donated supplies, and several dyeing artists and smaller retail shops have reached out for giveaway projects and collaborations. Early on, TieDyen4Biden was using hand stencils and customers could choose their dye colors—now shirts are screenprinted en masse to meet demand.
The group has tapped into the growing fashion trend of tie-dye at a time when consumers are looking for more color and whimsy in their anxious lives. Popular in the '60s and '90s, tie-dye has enjoyed a resurgence in recent months particularly with the do-it-yourself crowd. Pinterest data shows that searches for “tie-dye techniques videos” doubled in the five weeks ended June 23 compared with the year-earlier period. And the trend hasn’t faded in more recent weeks. According to a spokeswoman for Etsy, the craft marketplace has seen a 392% increase in “tie-dye” or “shibori” items in the last three months compared with the year-earlier period.
TieDyen4Biden is a homegrown, creative effort amid a sea of more typical campaign merchandise like pins, water bottles and glasses. While President Trump’s campaign merchandise includes pricier items like cuff links, Biden’s taps into trends like Zoom backgrounds and hand sanitizers.
Along with TieDyen4Biden, other new shops have popped up with their own unique Biden-Harris offerings, which were recently profiled by New York Magazine’s The Strategist. Hot Merch for Biden, another grassroots effort, includes products from various artists in support of the democratic campaign. Profits are split evenly between the artist and Biden’s campaign.
Due to the scarcity of the TieDyen4Biden items, some consumers have been looking elsewhere. Funky Biden is selling its own tie-dyed limited-edition T-shirts from two artists in the Bay Area. Buyers are given the option to choose the level of “funkiness” for their shirts.
Yet unlike other efforts, TieDyen4Biden is not selling its shirts outright—it's taking proof of donations instead.
“We wanted to inspire people to give to the campaign and didn’t want to deal with giving to a super PAC,” says Simoness, who, as a nonprofit executive director has researched different fundraising models that resonate more with people. “We felt it would incentivize younger folks to give—we wanted people to start giving in a grassroots way to the campaign.”
While the presidential election is just a few weeks away, TieDyen4Biden is already planning to put their new tie dye skills to use after Nov. 3 by replicating the effort for various organizations.
“It’s exciting to have this community being built,” says Myers. “Whatever the next phase is, it feels like it could transition for us immediately to keep supporting a variety of causes.”