After the 2016 presidential election, Zach Rodvold was burnt out on politics. For 15 years, he had worked in political organizations and on campaigns for the likes of Paul Wellstone, Howard Dean, Amy Klobuchar, and Tarryl Clark. He also served as a staff assistant to Wellstone, and was Klobuchar’s state director.
Rodvold was ready to switch gears. One night in January, as he and his graphic designer wife, Emily, bathed their toddler son, Waylon, the couple discussed starting a politically themed clothing line.
The idea didn’t come completely out of thin air. On Election Day, Emily had gone to the polls wearing an iron-on “nasty woman” T-shirt that she’d designed. She took a selfie in it with her “I voted” sticker proudly displayed. The shirt garnered a lot of likes and inquiries on social media.
“There was this obvious demand. People wanted to wear their values and express their disappointment and anger with what had happened,” Zach says. “For some people, it’s the thing that’s the easiest to do to express how they feel.”
In February of this year, the Rodvolds founded Assist the Resistance, an online retailer of political apparel, yard signs, posters, bumper stickers, and magnets. The couple’s clever threads for men, women, and children are emblazoned with mottoes like: “Eat Sleep Resist Repeat,” “It’s Science, Dumbass,” and “Yas We Can.”
In addition to brainstorming original messaging for their apparel, the fashion activists co-opted language from conservatives and repurposed it as motivational (such as Sen. Mitch McConnell’s “Nevertheless, she persisted” remark about Sen. Elizabeth Warren) and paired Trump’s signature phrase “fake news” with a font and logo identical to that of FOX News.
Positive messages are the most popular. While much of the company’s sales come from Minnesota, ATR has customers in 48 states (Delaware and Mississippi are the holdouts) and 14 countries. Predictably, sales are higher in states with bigger progressive populations like California, New York, Washington, and Oregon.
The Rodvolds aren’t laughing all the way to the bank, though. When they started ATR, they were determined to give back to the movement by donating 30 percent of profits to progressive organizations. Unfortunately, that percentage was unmanageable. “There weren’t any profits,” Zach says. They changed their policy to 10 percent of all sales, which actually resulted in higher amounts donated.
The Rodvolds give those dollars to national organizations that represent and assist populations most likely to be under attack given the current administration: the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center. They’ve donated almost $6,000 thus far.
Another important mission of the company is to manufacture their products in accordance with progressive values; the made-to-order apparel is eco-friendly or, for pieces made overseas, sourced from Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)-certified facilities, which abide by ethical, humane, safe, and lawful manufacturing environments.
The Rodvolds also encourage customers to do more than just broadcast their beliefs through apparel. They also have a page on the company’s website with links to organizations that they believe are doing good work.
“We’re not replacing that or trying to replicate that part of it, but we are encouraging people that, once you get your shirt or your sign, if you have time to go join up with Swing Left or with Indivisible or any number of these other groups and take some action at the local level, that will make a difference too,” Zach says.
The action part is crucial, because the power of apparel only goes so far. “The impact it has on other people will remain to be seen," says Zach when asked if he thinks clothes can change people’s minds. "I’m not sure that anyone who sees an anti-Trump T-shirt is going to decide that they cast the wrong vote -- if they voted for Trump -- and are going to do better next time.”
Still, there’s no denying the value of visibility; it’s the first step toward positive change, and it’s powerful.
Luckily for the Rodvolds, political apparel hasn’t proved too controversial. Zach says there’s been no backlash or negativity aimed at ATR. “So far, the only people who’ve not liked it are the occasional Trump supporters,” he says. “There aren’t that many of them in Minneapolis, but there are some.”
As for the future of ATR, it remains as uncertain as the current administration. Right now Emily is busy with her small business Lift Creative and Zach is back in the political game as the campaign manager for the Dean Phillips for Congress campaign in Minnesota’s Third District.
“We don’t know exactly where it’s going to go,” Zach says of the company. “I don’t think that the energy and the activism sprung up since the election is going anywhere. I think it will evolve over time. Ideally, at some point, there’s not a resistance anymore, and we’re back to doing something positive and progressive.”