WASHINGTON – From Boston to Austin; From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been the undisputed queen of the totebag for left-wing Americans seeking to show support for women’s empowerment or opposition to former President Donald Trump.
But Trump is now removed from office and as independent bookstores, boutiques and cafes reopen to serve lattes and little impulse shopping after a year full of pandemic and politics, as well as Ginsburg’s death, retailers are looking for who will be the next to adorn kitsch.
Many up-and-coming politicians probably covet Ginsburg’s unique place in liberal hearts and chotskies. But according to the people who make and sell books and political trinkets, it’s unclear who will take his place – or if the Liberals even want to keep spreading their policy on their air fresheners and key chains after so many years of political consumption. devouring.
“I don’t think she’s been un-crowned at this point. I just don’t know who’s going to take up the torch as an icon of the independent bookstore genre, ”said Gavin Inverso, owner of Austin-based Illuminidol, which makes prayer candles and other trinkets featuring featured celebrities and political figures.
Leah Kenyon, the secondary buyer of Politics and Prose, the famous Washington bookseller owned by former speechwriter Hillary Clinton and her husband, said there was “no one at the level of RBG, although “people certainly buy a lot from (vice president) Kamala (Harris).”
On the right, there is no doubt who moves the most goods: Trump.
The National Republican Senate Committee, for example, sells t-shirts with pictures of Trump and messages like “Missing me yet?” And “still my president” even as the group prepares to defend senators against key potential challenges being backed by Trump, such as senator lisa murkowski, r-alaska, who voted to impeach the former president.
On the left, President Joe Biden is doing well, but is hardly dominant. Fauci had a moment, but he is no longer the scientific and emotional counterweight to Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Familiar figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Barack and Michelle Obama always do well.
But most have their eyes set on a group of women of color: Harris, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote a autobiographical picture book for children in 2018.
“New merchandise with the image of (Ginsburg) comes out regularly, and she’s probably the most prevalent figure I can think of,” said Cassie Swank, gift shopper at Austin’s BookPeople, Texas’ largest independent bookstore. . “Where we could have an AOC sticker, a greeting card and an enamel pin, there are probably five times the options of greeting cards and RBG stickers, three times the options of pins in enamel, then at least ten other categories to choose from. “
Being the inspiration for a fancy sock line might not get you elected president. But it’s a sign of political and cultural cachet in a world where the two kingdoms are rapidly merging and public figures vying for attention and fandom in the two.
“(Selling Merchandise) says your appeal translates and really pushes you out of the political sphere and almost into a pop cultural sphere,” said Erick Sanchez, a political consultant who runs a side business selling cushions with Dr Anthony. Fauci. “It’s a sign of understanding the emotional value of what Americans think about.”
The “notorious RBG” phenomenon was a mystery to Ginsburg during his lifetime. While Ginsburg’s political views were clear, his status at court allowed him to keep his robes clean from partisan flattery and punches and allowed him to retain an aura of intellectual and moral purity without the need for compromise or respond to the crisis of the day.
Mike Draper, founder and owner of Iowa-based t-shirt store RAYGUN, said Ginsburg was a merchandiser’s dream in part because she had the perfect mix of “serious but campy.” His store has become a staple for Democratic presidential candidates wooing voters in the First Primary State.
“You didn’t really expect this little old woman to have a workout routine and be kind of a badass,” he said. “She had these neck stuff that she wore so you could create RBG products without even using her face or her name. It has all the elements of something that is going to be marketable.
But Draper and others believe there may not be another RBG because people want a break from politics after four years of Trump and the pandemic.
When an image went viral of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Crossing his arms during Biden’s inauguration, Draper thought to himself, “This could be the last marketable political thing we’ve had in a while. . “
At Powell’s, the independent book mecca in Portland, Oregon, marketing coordinator Emily Brodowic said cultural figures with “more uplifting” messages have gained traction, such as pop star Lizzo, “Queer Eye” Jonathan Van Ness and tennis champion Naomi Osaka.
“The search for political heroes (RGB, AOC, Kamala, Biden) was at its peak under the Trump administration, and at least in Portland now people feel less threatened by the government than they are looking for icons outside of. politics, ”she said. .
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a Brooklyn-based maker of “smart gifts for smart people,” sells everything from “Freudian slippers” (understood?) And mugs containing Shakespearean slurs to “Trump’s little soap for hands.” “.
It has an entire product category dedicated to Ginsburg – finger puppets, mugs, stickers, “I disagree” pins, “judgesmints” breath fresheners and more – and Trudi Bartow, the company’s sales manager, has said RBG’s sales increase further when the Supreme Court makes an important decision, even though it is no longer on the bench.
“We can’t really predict what the next big seller will be,” she said. “It increases naturally and organically – you can’t make that kind of thing happen – you just kind of have to hope that you have the product when it does. “
There is no rule that requires quaint stores in quaint towns to sell political lip balm or shirts with leftist slogans.
But people who have chosen to open independent bookstores tend to lean to the left, as do people who tend to shop there, so they are often found in liberal areas, said editor John Mutter. of the specialized bookstore publication Shelf Awareness.
And “outlines,” as non-book products are known in the industry, have become a critical part of the bottom line because they offer better profit margins than books and can attract new customers or add a few dollars in. impulse buying at a sale. . “There are only a few independent bookstores that only sell books,” Mutter said.
Political margins usually make up a small portion of bookstore revenues, but during the Trump era everyone played the “resistance” game with “covfefe” mugs and “wicked woman” necklaces. But this boom could be headed for a collapse as no one wants Trump tweets on their t-shirts and toilet paper anymore.
“We’re just going through a cycle where people are just less interested in politics,” said Janie Velencia, a former Washington political reporter who resigned to focus on The Card Bureau, the stationery and gift company that she founded. “I think after people take a break they will start to engage more.”