DC Public Library Supporters Hoped to Sell 50 'Punk' T-shirts—a Few Months Later, They've Sold 7,000 (and Raised $100K)
What's more punk than the public library?
That's the question supporters of the D.C. Public Library System's Mt. Pleasant branch posed earlier this year. And while we can think of a few things—Henry Rollins doing a sick ollie while flipping Jeff Bezos the double bird, for example—the answer turns out to be far more family-friendly: a T-shirt.
But not just any T-shirt. This one actually has the very question "What's more punk than the public library?" emblazoned across the front. And after starting as a gag gift for Carlos Izurieta, president of Mt. Pleasant Library Friends, a nonprofit that supports the branch, the shirt has risen to Ramones levels of punk rock stardom.
According to The Washington Post, Izurieta loved the shirt, and the nonprofit began offering them shortly after, hoping to sell 50 and raise a couple bucks. Instead, they sold 7,000, raising over $100,000 since April and shipping to 21 different countries.
And look how fast they caught on. In just five days, this went from farmer's market to full-on merch store:
Hello Friends! We just got some new t-shirts in today! The are inspired by the amazing work the @dcpunkarchive & @dcpl do in our community!
The shirts will be available this Sat. at the Mt P Farmers market as well as at the DC Puzzle swap at Shaw on Sunday! pic.twitter.com/5O9fcUL8Gn
— Mt. Pleasant Library Friends (@MtPLibFriends) April 22, 2021
Hey friends! Shirts (and now tote-bags + youth sizes are now available online in our store for shipping anywhere: https://t.co/hku5Y4fyNI
Orders will begin shipping the week of May 3rd, 2021. pic.twitter.com/aajWgTIgUI
— Mt. Pleasant Library Friends (@MtPLibFriends) April 27, 2021
Part of the campaign's success is the great design that draws from punk's DIY (that's "do it yourself," for all the non-punks out there) ethos. It's so punk, in fact, that the design was actually inspired by a flier librarian Chelsea Kirkland created for her table at D.C.'s Punk Rock Flea Market.
That adds to the authenticity—real punks who happen to be librarians created this thing!—and taps into the apparently significant overlap between punk rock fans and library lovers. As Izurieta told The Washington Post: "People love punk. People love the public library. The combination of those things makes it successful."
But the other part is the fully realized execution. The shirts, which are made from 100% cotton and come in unisex sizes, include a nice printed "thank you" note explaining their impact:
— melody joy kramer (@mkramer) May 7, 2021
If you can't read the text in the pic, don't worry, we did the squinting for you. The card reads:
Thank you for your support!
These shirts were inspired by the D.C. punk archive, hosted by the D.C. Public Library. Your order has supported local library programming at the Mt. Pleasant Branch (3160 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20010) of the Washington, D.C. Public Library System.
We hope you love your shirt! We would love to see your shirt and hear your punk public library stories on social media.
It's a nice note that makes clear to the buyer exactly where their funds are going and what they're doing. But there's also a call to action to share the shirt on social media (accompanied by the Mt. Pleasant Library Friends social handle), which, judging by all the retweets on the nonprofit's Twitter feed, people started doing pretty frequently.
That simple touch, accomplished via printed product, drove the shirt's reach even further, to the point it got picked up by The Washington Post and other esteemed media outlets such as Promo Marketing—and to the point the nonprofit has raked in six figures worth of sales.
Not every merch effort, no matter how well planned, will go this well (or this viral). But with its clever concept and superb execution, we're not surprised that this one did. And we can now safely say that punk's not dead—it's just laying low at the public library.