Business

Raygun founder foresees expansions

Coming up with perfect T-shirt phrase not as easy as you might think

Mike Draper, founder and owner of Raygun, holds up one of his shirt designs made specially for the Cedar Rapids location with the slogan, “Cedar Rapids: Smell All Five!” (The Gazette)
Mike Draper, founder and owner of Raygun, holds up one of his shirt designs made specially for the Cedar Rapids location with the slogan, “Cedar Rapids: Smell All Five!” (The Gazette)

Mike Draper, founder of Raygun T-shirt company, thinks today’s political climate is great for an Iowa-based company known for witty and pointed slogans.

With stores in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Des Moines and Kansas City, Raygun’s T-shirts poke at the news and newsmakers of the day. When The Gazette asked the 34-year-old Des Moines-area entrepreneur what he’s thinking these days, his answer was “a lot.”

Q: Have any T-shirts come out of Iowa’s 2017 legislative session so far?

A: Even Don Quixote can only go after one windmill at a time. Do you start to lose an audience if you’re like, “this is a huge outrage. This is a huge outrage. This is a huge outrage.” Instead of going one (issue) after another, how do you build your case for what you’d like to see?

Q. Those meetings where you talk about T-shirt ideas, sounds like they get kind of deep.

A: Well, yeah. Coming up with even the simplest shirt that’s only six words, but packs a lot into those six words, does take a lot of imagination. You want something that’s short, easy to read, but ties into someone’s deeper feeling. An inside joke that’s not so inside so only a few people get it. We’ve thought a lot about different symbols and how we want to phrase things.

Q: You said Raygun was the first to print a T-shirt saying “Nevertheless, she persisted” referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments silencing Democrat Elizabeth Warren. How popular has that shirt been?

A: We jumped on it immediately because it was the perfect phrase. I almost want to send Mitch McConnell a $300 design inspiration fee. We do a “resist” shirt because requests for it got too overwhelming, but “resist” acknowledges your opposition, that they are driving the dialogue and you are opposing what they drive, which I’m not as into. Persisting is the perfect verb because it’s more tied into progress.

Q. You talk about avoiding right vs. wrong moral arguments. Does this apply to Raygun T-shirts?

A. You want to avoid attacking people. It’s similar to humor; you always want to punch up. You never want to feel like you’re going after somebody who’s beneath you. You can make jokes about the federal government because they’re always above you. You can make jokes about big companies, but not little companies. You want to come with positive messages. We always want to point out hypocrisy.

Q: How do you walk the walk as a business?

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A: Our shirts were custom cut and sewn in downtown Los Angeles. Our glassware is made in America and screen printed in West Des Moines. Our paper is from Wisconsin and printed by union labor on the north side of Des Moines. Ninety-two percent of what we sell in the store is American made. We have discovered the ethical decision usually makes good business sense.

Q: What is family life like now?

A: We have three sons who are now 8 and a half, 6 and 3. It’s amazing they get any food eaten during dinner with talking, running around and getting down from the table. Our furniture is doomed. I would have to be insane to want nice furniture.

Q: What’s in the future for Raygun?

A: We renovate the Cedar Rapids store in a couple weeks. We’re looking to expand the Kansas City store and then keep opening more locations. On the artistic side, this is even a better time to do what we’re doing than the last eight years. A lot of what you’re seeing is friction between two sides, age wise. Personally, it’s a cool time to have this store and be in this state.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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