Protests, which are the unequivocal cornerstones to American democracy, have been swelling across the United States since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Two weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of women poured into Washington D.C. to participate in the historic Women’s March, their rallying cries for equality echoing throughout the U.S. in demonstrations that stretched from Los Angeles to New York. Even throughout this week, airports across the country have been engulfed with protesters demonstrating against the recent executive order which seeks to halt immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and displace hundreds of refugees currently living in America. Indeed, it seems we are in the throes of a civil rights movement comparable to that of the 1960s.
And while Duke is quite familiar with the art of the protest, political resistance can be practiced in myriad ways. Madeline Halpert and Elliott Bolzan, two Duke sophomores, are proof of that fact—their recently launched online clothing store, Madeleine & Tartine, is a unique act of political defiance with a personal touch.
The motivation for the store arose from an inquiry into a French political movement—understandable, given the fact that Bolzan originally hails from France and Halpert has a matched passion for the culture and language—and the desire of the creators to “show people how [they] felt about things.”
“Madeline was interested in this French cultural event from the late 19th century called the Dreyfus affair,” Bolzan explained. “It was essentially a denunciation of anti-Semitic policies by a famous author and one of the things he said was, ‘J’Accuse…!’ or, ‘I accuse!’ We just thought we needed to get it on a shirt somehow.”
Getting the phrase on a shirt, as it turns out, was a relatively easy process. Bolzan and Halpert decided to use Shopify, an online commerce platform which drop-ships the attire as it’s ordered, to be a vendor for their items. Bolzan and Halpert make their designs in Adobe Illustrator when the inspiration strikes and can list it on their website as soon as it’s ready.
“Within an hour we can be selling a new shirt,” Bolzan remarked.
Madeleine & Tartine markets itself as a “French-American destination for attire inspired by leftist propaganda, conspiracy theories, aesthetically pleasing dead languages, and more” on its Facebook page, an appropriate encapsulation of the store’s eclectic collection of political and cultural clothing. Their t-shirts feature references to everything from “The Big Lebowski,” to French rappers and politicians. Their best-selling piece of apparel? A t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Defund Mike Pence” (“Before he defunds you!” the description reads).
“[The store] definitely started out as part political for us, but our shirts are about a third feminist slash hardcore political, and the others are film references or French references,” Bolzan said.
“We’re just very influenced by political issues,” Halpert admitted.
This political influence is most pronounced in Madeleine & Tartine’s Reproductive Health collection, from which they donate 50% of their profits to Planned Parenthood. It’s a form of resistance that’s especially salient in light of the new administration’s unyielding attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization which provides Americans with family planning and sexual health services across the nation.
“Maybe in the future we would consider other organizations, but we’re both interested in women’s rights and I think that Planned Parenthood is a very pertinent issue that we both feel pretty strongly about,” Halpert said.
One of the more farcical shirts in the collection is a manipulation of the Texas Longhorns logo, which resembles a reproductive organ more than a football team’s brand.
“Madeline always wanted this famous uterus sweatshirt but it was super expensive, like $200,” Bolzan said. “And I thought that we could totally make a uterus shirt that’s not $200… and so I was designing a uterus and I thought it looked like the Texas Longhorn logo.”
“We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Halpert added.
But the absurdity works–Madeleine & Tartine was able to break even on their profits after their first month selling attire online and they’re in talks with a Houston-based record store to sell their Texas Longhorn shirt. The two Duke sophomores aren’t necessarily in it for the money, though, as noted by Bolzan.
“Our profits are not huge, but one of the motivations for doing this—because we essentially got the idea right after the election—was doing something awesome and democratic and in line with our ideals. It’s not all about making money,” he said.
Because of the ease with which they can make their t-shirts and distribute them, and the added encouragement of profit, Bolzan and Halpert are only looking to expand with Madeleine & Tartine. Perhaps new collections are on the horizon (“I would love to donate to an organization working against gun violence,” Halpert mentioned) or their distribution will expand to new venues. But one thing’s for sure: attire for politically-active and French-savvy people just became way more exciting.
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