Kathleen Hanna Tees4togo | Kathleen Hanna t-shirts

[Photo courtesy of Kathleen Hanna and Tees4Togo]

Kathleen hanna drives the charge of the riot grrrl pioneer movement and orchestras conducted, including Bikini Kill, The Tiger and the ruin Julie. In addition to being a pioneer in the music community, she has also been a formidable political activist for over 30 years, taking a fierce public position against sexism, homophobia, transphobia and white supremacy.

Hanna’s latest project, Tees4Togo, is a brand of t-shirts launched in 2018 to raise funds for Sisters of Peace, a non-profit organization that helps educate girls in Togo, a West African country. Since its launch, the Hanna brand has curated over a dozen t-shirts featuring images of actors, writers and activists, developed in collaboration with a range of unique designers. Many shirts showcase notable musicians, including Grimes, Joan jett, Beastie boys MC Ad-Rock, Kim gordon of the lively youth and The Tigerof JD Samson. Through her work, Tees4Togo has raised thousands of dollars to help give women the freedom to shape the course of their own lives.

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Hanna doesn’t think there is a tension between her activism and her career as a musician. For the legendary rocker, art and politics are inseparable and part of a larger mission to make the world more beautiful and more inclusive. Or, as she puts it, “It’s actually the same fucking project.”

[Design by Seth Bogart]
One of your latest projects is Tees4Togo, a t-shirt company you started in 2018. You’ve been an advocate your entire career – what inspired you to create this brand?

I moved to Southern California and we rented a house. My landlady introduced me to her friend, Tina Kampor, who gave me a flyer to get to this event. It was in a very small shop. Tina got up and started talking about Peace Sisters, and I was extremely moved.

I grew up with a mom who had to stay in a bad relationship for economic reasons, and I really wanted to get involved in something that helped women have options. It seemed like the perfect thing. Without education, many women end up staying in relationships they don’t want to be in. When you can pay your bills because you have a job, because you have [an] education, it gives you the opportunity to leave a situation that does not satisfy you and to do things that make you happy. I made a donation that day. And then I was like, “What if I throw a party for you? [all]? And I kept getting more and more involved.

[Photo by Jason Rothenberg]

I actually had the idea of ​​starting a t-shirt business earlier. I have Lyme disease and am in remission now. And I wanted to do something to help other people with Lyme disease because health insurance doesn’t pay for treatment. In fact, I had already created my logo and everything for a t-shirt company, all the money going to a non-profit organization. And I was going to do Design Against Lyme, and I was really excited about it. I was about to throw, and I had my first 10 shirts. I realized I was going to have to do the press and talk about Lyme disease every day. It was too much for me, emotionally, and I just couldn’t bear to do it.

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Then I was like, “Wait, I’m already throwing parties for Peace Sisters.” At that time, I was going to board meetings, so I knew everything about the internal organization. I knew how tight they were and how much every penny meant to them. It was beyond control. I just transferred the idea, and it was a very natural thing that happened. It was so funny when I was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t do Design Against Lyme. And then I was like, “Oh, Tees4Togo, idiot.” So that’s how it happened.

Let’s talk about the shirts themselves. How did you get interested in designing t-shirts and how did you experience your experience when you launched the brand?

I started with a tee shirt of myself where I asked friends and fans, people who had just sent me designs of myself. There are about 10 people who made this shirt. I thought it was a good idea for the shirt, for me to be designed by friends and fans because I feel like a lot of the work I’ve done in the world was to be part of a community. So it made sense that mine would have other people’s drawings and be a team effort. I tried contacting a few people for the first two shirts, and they were all like, “Yeah, whatever you want to do, we’re down.” And so, I just started to create a logo.

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I enjoyed making the graphics for the T-shirts and enjoyed meeting some of the artists. I love doing these weird collaborations. It is also selfish for me. It’s a way for me to stay connected and to have to reach out. I do not know John Waters, [but] I got his email because he emailed me about something a long time ago. I had it on my to-do list for three months, [and] was so terrified. [So I said] “Fuck it” one day, and wrote to him and told him a bit about the project.

He wrote to me right away, and he said, “I never do that. I hate when people hack my face. But I just got your thing. I totally believe in what you are doing. And the John Waters shirt was born. During the pandemic, during so much racial hatred and white supremacy going on, for one of my idols, my all-time favorite artist in the world, to say, “I care what you do and I want it. support. And he went to make those phone calls to get there, and he barely knows me. It was incredibly touching and rewarding.

Most of the shirts in the collection are portraits of musicians, but you have also featured people from fields such as comedy, film, and television. Can you talk about the individuals you have chosen to highlight in the brand? What do they mean to you and why did you want them involved in this project?

When I started out, I wanted to pick people who usually don’t have shirts with them. I don’t know of Carrie Brownstein shirt. I didn’t want to cut their income, so if it’s a comedian already making a shirt, I tried to avoid that. And I tried to ask people in groups to take a picture of them. I tried asking people who could afford to cut their income or just didn’t have a shirt of themselves available. So that was part of my criteria.

In addition, they must be people whose work I like. It’s very boutique in the sense that the criterion is: “Would I wear the shirt?” Do I like the shirt? Am I proud of the shirt? And I’m really proud of all of them, and I love either the music, or the art, or the activism of everyone who wears the jersey. Hari kondabolu is my favorite actor. He’s done so many amazing things. He made this movie [The Problem With Apu], about Hank azaria, a white guy playing a stereotypical character on The simpsons. And, you know, they took that character out. Hank Azaria is like, “I’m not going to voice the character anymore.”

At first they didn’t even want to talk to him and laughed at him, and people harassed him about it, calling him a reverse racist. He’s as funny as hell. His stand-up is so awesome. So it was a shirt that really, really turned me on.

[Shirt photo by Sean Gustilo]
Tees4Togo is an effort that obviously engages people who are fans of music and comedy. However, the work also has a clear effect on the real world. I wanted to get a feel for your self-understanding, given that you’ve always worked between music and activism. Your music has often had a socio-political advantage. You have also been an activist throughout your career and have remained candid about recent issues such as electoral politics and the ongoing social movements that are growing around us, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the creation of equal opportunities and a safer space. for women, people of color and individuals from the LGBTQIA + community. Do you see a natural connection between your art and your activism, or do you think these activities serve distinct purposes?

It’s actually the same fucking project. It really is. When I was younger I went to hippie college [The Evergreen State College]. There was this real old-fashioned idea that politics is something you do by waving and going to a protest, and if you put politics in your art you somehow corrupt your art. It was in the late 80s. It’s a different landscape now, hopefully, but I’ve always been really frustrated with it.

I remember thinking it was the choice between doing something beautiful and doing something impactful. That’s when I got this idea in my head. I was like, “Do you know what I wanna do? I want to make a nice pot. [And] I wanted to decorate it so beautifully that I could look across the room and it would make me really happy and remind me that beauty exists in the world. But I also wanted to use it to transport things. And I wanted to use it to put a plant there that would oxygenate my space. I could use it to put flowers that a friend gave me. I could use it for something.

This is where I started to think of all my projects this way. I want my songs to have something beautiful and attractive, but also to be useful. And I feel the same about this project. I want the graphics to look good, I want the shirts to be something people buy and keep forever. But I also want it to serve a function. This is the common thread of all my projects: I want it to be beautiful, I want it to be fun and I want it to be used to do something positive in the world.

You can read the full interview in Alternative press number 393, available here.

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Daniel Lange

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