By Lily Jackson
Reckon Staff Reporter
Merging apparel with political activism isn’t new. But Monroe Clayton, a senior at Auburn University, wanted to marry up two of his passions: Voting and lookin’ fly.
“In December, I was scrolling through my Instagram and all of my advertisements were from clothing brands,” he said. “My generation, well, we like to flex and stunt. We want to show what we have and what our styles are. I wanted to figure out a way to use that to do good in a broader sense.”
So Clayton birthed My Vote Matters Merchandising. He calls it an “inclusive apparel merchandising company,” striving to inspire civic engagement and voter awareness. In addition to apparel, Clayton wants to host presentations about voting rights and the Electoral College, as well as host voter registration events. Ten percent of proceeds from sales go to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other community-based agencies.
“I want to make it cool and hip to vote,” he said.
At 22, he’s been involved in voting activities longer than many of his peers. A North Carolina native, Clayton started volunteering as a poll worker not long after he was eligible to vote and soon became an election administrator.
During that time, he saw computers replace giant printed voter information books. Despite the technological advancement, he believes voting tools and procedures remain inefficient. He recalled one general election when the electronic poll database didn’t work for the first 30 minutes after polls opened, which could have impacted some people’s ability to vote.
This experience, Clayton said, solidified for him how much work is needed to remove obstacles to the ballot box and encourage more people to vote.
“I know education is needed. I was on the inside. A lot of people don’t know where to find what they need,” he said. “One of the biggest forms of voter suppression is making information hard to find. I want to bring information to those people.”
He believes the needle of change points toward fire branding and slick design. Dr. Laura McAndrews, an assistant professor of product development and design at the University of Georgia, agrees.
Historically, she said, humans use clothing to project messages, particularly during social movements such as civil rights marchers whom leaders instructed to wear their Sunday best to protests.
“It was their way of saying, ‘If you are going to beat me and spit on me, I want everyone to see that you’re doing it to someone that’s dressed as your equal,’” she said. “They dressed for themselves and the respect they deserved.”
In the same fashion — pun intended — the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement used graphic tees with anti-capitalist slogans to shame the nation’s wealthiest 1%. The Women’s March on Washington in 2017 blanketed the streets in hot pink “Pussy” hats. And since the beginning of his candidacy, Donald Trump has used “MAGA” merchandise to build his supporter base.
“If you think about the United State’s sports teams or the branding of patriotism,” McAndrews said, “we, as a nation, dress to show what team we are on.”
And Clayton, a soon-to-be college graduate, wants people just to play the game: Cast a vote; learn the system.
“We can’t just sit here and complain,” he said. “I want to empower young people to learn and vote. If not us, who?”