In 2008, Shepard Fairey created what The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl called “the most efficacious American political illustration since ‘Uncle Sam Wants You,’” the depiction of then-Sen. Barack Obama, his face shaded in patriotic hues, captioned “HOPE.” The inescapable image—found on everything from the mundane, like T-shirts, to the risqué, like condom packaging—was immediately iconic, and it arguably helped to increase Obama’s face-ID and propel him to the White House. It only makes sense, then, that 2016 contenders should try to repeat the phenomenon. And so we have “Rand Paul Swag: Take 2016 in Style,” a website that sells products emblazoned with a silhouette of the junior senator from Kentucky’s head. (The website’s logo is a silhouette of Paul’s much-discussed hair.)
Rand Paul Swag was created in 2011—as Ron Paul Swag, to support the then-congressman and presidential candidate—by Trey Stinnett, a 29-year-old self-described “serial-entrepreneur” from Austin, Texas. After the elder Paul was eclipsed by his son, Stinnett rebranded.
“It’s my belief that the left—the Shepard Faireys—has a pretty good hold on art and design, but the right and libertarians don’t,” Stinnett told The Daily Beast. Appalled by the swag selection at Tea Party gatherings (he used to identify with the movement), Stinnett decided to try making his own designs, and he quickly zeroed in on Ron Paul, for whom he used the tag line “Make Liberty Sexy.” “It’s not just swag as in gear and stuff, but it’s swag as in swagger,” Stinnett explained.
In 2013, ahead of the Conservative Political Action Conference, Stinnett’s nonpolitical screen-printing company, MassHQ, was contacted by the people at Rand Paul’s Political Action Committee, Rand PAC. “Rand PAC wanted some kind of T-shirt at CPAC, and they had, like, four days to make it happen,” he said. “They called us on Friday evening, and they were like, ‘We need T-shirts by Wednesday in D.C. So we spent the whole weekend going through designs, and I designed the silhouette.”
The design seemed to work as intended. At this year’s conference, it was hard to walk down the hallways without encountering a gaggle of young people clutching cherry-red “I STAND WITH RAND” signs, his silhouette in the “D” of “RAND.” (While Stinnett proudly takes credit for the design, he is quick to note that he did not come up with the slogan.)
On Rand Paul Swag’s website, T-shirts and posters with various designs can be found, including the silhouettes, the White House with the caption “RAND PAUL FOR PRESIDENT TWENTY SIXTEEN,” and a somewhat trolling design that looks an awful lot like “I’m Ready for Hillary” but says, of course, “I’m Ready for Rand.”
“We did lighters with the Ron Paul people, but I think they might have been lighting something other than cigars.”
But the swag does not stop at posters and T-shirts. For just $19.99, you can be the proud owner of a Rand Paul mask. Creating the mask, Stinnett said, was no easy task: “We actually had to hire a sculptor to figure out what Rand Paul’s face looks like and then cast the mold, and they’re all hand-painted with airbrush and stuff like that. It was a little bit of a process…Beginning to end, we probably spent two to three months, just back and forth with the sculptor and the manufacturer.”
It was trial and error. “The first version looked exactly like Rand, but he was about 50 pounds overweight,” Stinnett laughed. “We called him Jolly Rand. The Jolly Rand mask wasn’t going to market.”
Helpfully, Stinnett provided The Daily Beast with images of the clay mold of Jolly Rand:
“We had to have them trim him down a little bit and get him a little closer to his leaner self…The most important thing was the hair.”
“I may be jumping the gun a little bit for this Halloween,” Stinnett conceded, considering Paul is not yet quite a household name. “But hey, if it happens, I’d love to see people out there wearing them.” Then Stinnett laughed, “I’m not sure if those are going to end up in conservative or liberal hands.”
Stinnett plans to introduce a wide range of products as 2016 approaches. “Ron Paul Swag, which is what Rand Paul Swag will kind of become, sold everything,” he said. “And by everything, I mean we sold polos, golf balls, cuff links, I had a Ron Paul bobble head, buttons, pins, magnets, vinyl, wraps—everything you can imagine. We’ll be doing that again with Rand, for sure…Hillary’s got dog shirts on her Ready for Hillary PAC website, so I guess I have to do dog shirts to keep up with the competition, and maybe a lighter. We did lighters with the Ron Paul people, but I think they might have been lighting something other than cigars.”
In the Rand Paul Swag store, there are sections for women and children—but they do not feature any products. “Historically, the don’t sell nearly as well,” Stinnett said. “I think part of that’s just because demographically, most of the libertarians who were Ron Paul followers—especially the ones we were picking up on Facebook and sending over to our website—were males between 18 and 34.” Stinnett added, “But we’ve definitely got girls saying, ‘Where the heck are our shirts?’”
Stinnett said he wasn’t sure how much swag he had sold for either Paul to date, but he guessed that for Ron Paul, it was at least tens of thousands of T-shirts, and for Rand Paul, he had sold more than 1,000 so far. Neither Rand Paul nor his PAC are associated with Rand Paul Swag, and the proceeds do not go to support the would-be candidate. But Stinnett promised he would be maxing out his donation.