For me, t-shirts are all about what’s printed on them: the message.
But what if the t-shirt itself — this blank thing of cotton cloth and thread — was also a message? Like, in the words on that little tag that’s sewn into (or printed on) the inside collar.
If that sounds twisted and strange, it must be political. It does. It is. And the tag is important because t-shirts have street-level political power that no campaign commercial ever will. I will explain:
I have a Bernie for President t-shirt from the 2016 primaries. From time to time I slip it on and wear it around town. Six months, a year, three years later, even after Sanders wound down his campaign in 2020: people still react.
“I like your shirt,” someone shouts from a car. A careworn transient flashes me the “hang loose” sign. “Nice shirt,” says the grocery cashier. Every time.
Political tees have power — maybe not to reach a million people at once. But enough to reach one person very intimately. Some pols care about that power; some don’t.
But if you do care, and if you’re a Democrat, and especially if you’re from California: you need to care about one more thing: where it was made. What it says on the collar tag.
Does it say “Made in USA?” If you’re selling the tee from your online campaign store, it had better say that. You do NOT want to be Mitt Romney, with a flimsy presidential campaign tee that bellows “Believe in America” but whose collar tag mutters “Made in El Salvador of USA Fabric.”
Is this a small thing? Sure. But symbolism counts. It shows respect: like wearing a tie to a job interview at a company where no one wears them.
If you’re a Democratic candidate for high office, you get your t-shirts from a U.S. company that did not fire their US workers and move production to Latin America as soon as NAFTA made it practical. In fact, one company started making tees in American after the competition moved abroad.
And that’s why conscientious Democratic candidates buy Bayside-brand tees. Bayside is a clothing line of AST Sportswear of Orange County, California. Bayside t-shirts are quality: heavy duty, well-constructed. They look good. But what really matters is that they are “The True American-Made Tee.” Says so right on the collar label.
Not all shirts with Obama or Clinton’s name on it were USA-made. Various supporting and party organizations and independent vendors make candidate’s tees, too — they’ll use whatever is cheap.
But the ones that count, that the presidential candidate themselves did sell you… They’re Baysides.
Hilary Clinton’s flagship presidential campaign tee from 2016, the black-and-white job you see farther up, was a Bayside. Aside from making her look like a stylish ’30s hero populist — which she is not — it’s quite striking.
And inside that fine shirt, you find the heart of the matter: a neck tag telling you that you’ve bought “The True American Tee — MADE IN AMERICA.” It tends to repeat itself.
Especially if you flip up the tag with your thumb and look at the next tag: yes, there are two. I told you that Baysides were special. This second tag enumerates all the things about the tee that were “Made in USA.” The cotton. The thread. The cloth. The dye. Everything.
Yes, a Bayside screams, “I’m on your side, average working stiff!” Whether you are, or not.
After I understood Bayside’s role in politics, I searched my t-shirt collection and found a pile of Bayside campaign tees. Remember John Kerry’s campaign in 2004? A Bayside. The tees from the Obama campaign committee? Baysides. A California “vote the Democratic ticket” t-shirt? Bayside.
Obama’ absolutely had to use a Bayside, or something like one. After all, conservative ‘birthers” questioned whether he himself was “Made in the USA.” .
So his committee put out this printed Bayside tee that flat-out said it: showed his picture captioned with “MADE in the USA” in big letters. And with his certifcate of birth on the back. (And a union bug underneath the picture.)
Could you possibly print that message on a Made-in-Nicaragua Hanes tee? As a Democrat? Some Fox and Friends commentator with a big jaw and low forehead would be on you in a second.
If you’re a California politician, or a liberal political institution, or especially a union, you use Baysides too. I’ll sprinkle a few California Bayside tees (and others) throughout the rest of this post.
California pols and labor leaders who want complete righteousness have their Baysides screen-printed at Alliance Graphics in Berkeley, California, the only unionized t-shirt screen-printer in California. You get yourself that union bug on the shirt and you are good in the extreme, sir.
So, who is Bayside? Are they the only source of American-made tees? And why have you (probably) never heard of them?
Well first, AST Sportswear markets only “to the trade:” to screen-printers, not the general public. They sell t-shirts, and also hoodies, polo shirts, sweat pants, and anything that can be imprinted.
You need a resale license to buy from AST or one of its distributors, even online. You can buy them retail on Amazon, but the price is not low.
And yes, there are other American-made tees. Donald Trump claims that the Trump/Pence tees from his official online store are American made. Though I haven’t been able to confirm that, and I’ve tried.
But Bayside is special: first, it’s of best quality. American Apparel was all over the Made-in-America niche before it went belly-up. But their shirts were — well, lightweight. I won’t say flimsy. Okay; I will.
Second, AST Sportswear absolutely guarantees that every bit of the product is American-made. The Bayside/AST clothing mill is a high-efficiency, vertically-integrated manufacturing operation that controls every part of the process. They call it “dirt to shirt.” Cotton yarn enters one end of the process. Clothing emerges from the other.
You remember the Bayside t-shirt tag? All the things that were done in the USA? That’s because AST weaves the cloth. AST cuts the cloth. AST sews the pieces into clothing. AST dyes the clothing. They have complete control. Whatever you want, when you need it — the entire company can turn on a dime. All 500 of them. There are no tardy suppliers to wait for. And no chance — zip, nada — that anything was subcontracted out to Nicaragua.
Besides, Bayside is a Great American Success Story, founded on hard work and innovation. When the rest of the sportswear industry dropped the ball, they picked it up
The year is 1995. The NAFTA treaty has freed clothing manufacturers to make clothing outside the US without tariff. All the major t-shirt manufacturers move all labor-intensive work to the Carribean, Mexico, and beyond. Immediately. American textile plans shrink down or shut down everywhere.
Which left four brothers in Orange County with an opening. They wanted to sell t-shirts to the screen-printer market, to the people who imprint the tees and sportswear that people buy in head shops, from sports teams, from political campaigns, from concert promoters, are given out at conventions, and more. Screen-printing firms need fast turnaround on large quantities of specific types of tee, and it’s hard to do that from a plant in Jamaica.
So the brothers decided to fill that fast-turnaround niche. They started their own small outfit in Orange County selling tees directly to the American screen-printing market. All made in America. Not the cheapest, but — always right there when Shawn Screen-Printer needed them.
And bit by bit the brothers built their company up into a hyper-efficient t-shirt and sportswear-making monster. Selling in bulk as they did, at high quality and efficiency, they could still complete in the USA. While the others fled.
The “Made in America” gimmick is a big part of Bayside’s success. Except: it’s no gimmick. AST Sportswear is making American goods in America, and making a profit. How much more creative — and American — is that than, you know, just looking for the cheapest oversea supplier?
So who are these all-American entrepreneur heroes, who built wealth not by financial manipulation but hard work and ingenuity. Well…
Meet the Rashid brothers: Mohammed, Ali, Abdul, and Omar. They’re from Diamond Bar, California, and they are the founders and owners of AST Sportswear and the creators of the Bayside line.
The Rashids are building an empire while reinvesting in American workers, American jobs, and American know-how. USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! You American-born MBA middle-managers who won’t get your own hands dirty: get with the program!
This leaves one question. Remember the Bernie for President shirt? What kind of shirt did Bernie use?
Well, here’s the tag: the UNIONMADE label, complete with eagles and stars and “UNION MADE IN THE U.S.A” in bold letters. Bernie Sanders strongly supports unions, and so would have nothing but a union shirt. Bayside-brand tees are not union made, I’m sad to say.
And yet… web searches for the UNIONMADE brand kept dumping me on the Bayside website. I searched every page until I found a small link for “Union-Made Clothing:”: a small selection of tees at slightly higher prices.
Inside the compact AST empire, there exists a small all-union shop: 50 cutters and sewers from the Teamsters who make tee shirts for people and organizations that want to support unions to the max — or at least, want the credit for supporting unions. The tag on those shirts reads UNIONMADE, not Bayside. But it’s really Bayside.
Yes: Even Bernie bought Bayside.