One thing I've become slightly addicted to as a result of my trip to New York (and largely in part because of the effortless style of my lovely host) is a wee bit more minimalism in my daily outfits. Not that I've given up my sometimes innumerable layers or oddly paired pieces, but I have toned down the volume a bit as of late and gone for more classic silhouettes. So instead of going for a more architectural dress to wear as a top, I've been reaching for an oversized tank to layer over another tank, and topping that off with a cardigan, for example. The easiest way to do minimalism, of course, is the basic t-shirt. Now I go through phases with this Western staple, especially as my wardrobe's short-sleeved cotton jersey quota has long since been filled with (usually black) shirts from the various concerts I've attended in the last decade. However, if it's done right (or if I haven't yet purchased a shirt from a just seen favorite band), I will buy a new t-shirt. And so, enter 1/2 Ration, the newest Etsy shop I've just bookmarked.
1/2 Ration is a Las Vegas-based t-shirt label from Tom Ayres, brother of kOs regular, Patricia Ayres. Tom's background in political sciences coupled with his Irish ancestry led him to take an interest in the experience of early Irish immigrants in America, as well as the Gaelic language. His shop contains t-shirts (many of which are Alternative Apparel) with screen-printed Irish text that is intended to start a conversation, as well as some fabulous distressed tees and scarves designed by Patricia herself with the '1/2 Ration' print that you may recognize from a previous ArtLab black linen dress. As we all know, I'm the curious type (and I like any excuse to talk about anything Irish), and so I sent a few questions Tom's way to find out more about his new label...
Why the use of t-shirts to start a conversation, and what kind of conversation do you imagine a 1/2 Ration wearer to have while wearing one of your pieces?
The t-shirt as a vehicle is just something that is ingrained in American culture. There is a reason that, when a candidate first declares their intention to hold a public office, there is always a group of supporters with him/her wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the campaign logo. It's like, yes, I'm going to run for town dogcatcher, better get the t-shirts printed. And of course we do it on a personal level as well - how many souvenirs from your last trip are t-shirts? (Well, Tom, two actually.)
We kind of lead with the t-shirt, such as 'oh, you were at the U2 concert too!' I just figured why not lead with something a little more conversational. When someone is staring at your shirt wondering just what "amharach" means (lucky, by the way) and they finally break down and ask, they'll remember that. Maybe it even becomes a story over the dinner table: 'hey, saw a guy wearing this shirt today...'
Some of our shirts like "amharach" are straightforward, but others like "cumhacht" (strength) or "creat" (justice) can live on a couple different levels, it just depends on your personal views and how involved you choose to get with the person asking about the shirt. I admit, I really geek at the thought of "creat" spurring the thought process to go one step further [than just asking what it means] and one guy asking the other: 'Do you think our justice system is fair? It seems like...' Those are the conversations I love being a part of (I couldn't tell you who got kicked off the island last night, I'm often oblivious during those water cooler conversations).
Is your focus more on the Irish immigrant's experience in North America, or also on their issues on their own soil? Do you feel that the Irish still face any discrimination of any kind in the States?
I was in Belfast during one of the last cease fires before the Peace Accord, and I gotta tell you it was a pretty intense experience. There is lots of political graffiti there (public political art is a more apt description), and as I walked through the city taking pictures, on numerous occasions I was approached by people in their neighborhood, demanding to know just what I was doing and whether I was Catholic or Protestant. As soon as I opened my mouth, everyone's demeanor brightened and they said, 'oh an American, what the bloody hell are you doing here? No one holidays in Belfast!' I narrowly escaped being arrested by the RUC there, but that's a story for another day...
Ireland, especially with the recent boom and bust in economic and immigration issues is certainly ripe for discussion, but I think people always focus on issues near to themselves and that is the Irish immigrant experience in America, even if they don't see it in that large of a picture. Nearly 12% of the American population have some Irish ancestry; the Irish really integrated into the fabric of America but still kept some strong Irish identity. Most Americans don't think of it in terms of immigration and integration, it's just about having some Irish identity and being proud of it. We've come a long way from the 1850's when you would see signs of "Help Wanted - Irish Need Not Apply". Certainly I hope that people look into their own past a little while they look forward to the shaping of immigration policy - empathy can be really beneficial.
And lastly, why "1/2 Ration"?
The name 1/2 Ration comes from an Irish food ration ticket that my sister acquired during design work she did several years back. She was looking for material for her fashion line and found what was left of the ration ticket, it was for a 1/2 Ration. It just seemed to speak to what we wanted to accomplish.
After picking up your own 1/2 Ration tee and/or a one of a kind piece designed by the lovely Patricia from Tom's Etsy shop, please come back here and fill us in on what kind of conversation you find yourself in! Slainte.