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(Cafe)Press your politics and profit

A T-shirt for sale on CafePress.com reads '01/20/09: The End of an Error'



TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: Yesterday, lawmakers in Arizona voted to ban the sale of certain anti-war T-shirts. A Flagstaff company has been selling shirts that list the names of soldiers killed in Iraq. The state senate says that is not protected free speech since somebody's making a profit off of it. The company says it'll keep selling the T-shirts, even if the bill becomes law. T-shirts that make a statement have become big business online. Websites like CafePress allow people to design their shirts or coffee mugs or bumper stickers and then market them to the public. Sean Cole tells us more about the business model.


SEAN COLE: When President Bush won a second term in November 2004, Holly Hertzel was mad.
HOLLY HERTZEL: And what I wanted to do for Christmas was make mugs for my family that said, "Don't blame me, I voted for Gore and Kerry."

So she put together a design, uploaded it to CafePress.com, and voila: Blue state Christmas. (She lives in Seattle.) Anyway, her family really liked the mugs.

HERTZEL: And so a few months later I started thinking, well, maybe other people would like them, too.

And they did. People bought them. So she put the same design on a T-shirt.

HERTZEL: And people started buying those, and then I decided to make another T-shirt, and it kind of branched out from there.

Now she's got 3,000 designs up on Cafe Press. It works like this:

Cafe Press charges a base rate for each item. You slap a design on it, mark it up and keep the difference. And Cafe Press fills the orders.

Hertzel says she and her business partner made a five-figure profit last year on top of their day jobs.

HERTZEL: Our best-seller right now is a bumper sticker that says, "January 20th, 2009 — the end of an error.

And being psychic helps. Hertzel came up with a Tom Delay mug-shot T-shirt before the real mug shot came out. But you can't always predict what will sell. When Donald Rumsfeld resigned, in terms of E-commerce, it was . . .

FRED DURHAM: A complete non-event.

Thank you. This is Fred Durham, CEO of CafePress. He's not objective, but he says the website's a better indicator of public opinion than the news.

DURHAM: You know, people might vote a certain way in a poll. But when they actually pay for something, I think it's a much more honest indication that they really feel strongly about something.

And if they feel strongly enough they might even want that thing on a thong. That's right. Some CafePress sellers have their slogans printed on thong undies. And Holly Hertzel thinks thongs are icky.

HERTZEL: But then I did put a couple of designs on a thong for Valentine's Day, and people bought them and I thought, OK, what the hell. I'll just start putting things on thongs.

And since Hertzel contributes a portion of her profits to political causes, some of that thong money is going to the Democrats.

Blowing the lid off the latest campaign finance scandal. . .

I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.

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