Wear the Change You Wish to See in the World

We’ve all heard the saying “be the change you wish to see in the world.” But what about “wear the change you wish to see in the world”? It’s amazing how something as simple as a t-shirt can help make a huge impact. And the Coup Tees Artist Shop is one of the latest shops making a difference one tee at a time. Started by Ben the Illustrator earlier this year, the COUP shop is full of ‘charitees’ featuring designs by various artists that raise money for a charity or cause of the artist’s choosing.

We talked to Ben all about how he staged this COUP for a brighter and more positive future. Check out the interview below!

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Tell me a little about the COUP cause! How did COUP Tees get started?

“George Simkin in aid of Read Foundation”

It all started last year. There’s been so much hate in the world, with Trump and Brexit especially, and people are supporting hateful leaders. Of course, we all took to Twitter to complain, but I felt like that wasn’t achieving enough. We needed to start a rebellion against hate, a rebellion of love…we needed to stage a COUP. If our governments aren’t going to bring any love to those who need it, then we will! I started thinking about charity projects and decided that t-shirts were a perfect medium for artists to spread messages and for the public to buy a tee, support a charity, and then carry that message with them.

How do you curate the artists, artwork, and causes?

The artists are pretty varied; some are big names, some are just starting out. Essentially I’m just asking people who I think would design a super t-shirt design, and they’ve been responding! Each charity is chosen by the artists themselves. Some are causes which are very close to the artist’s heart, some are just great, well-known charities.

“Ewan Brock in aid of SAMH” (buy it on Threadless!)

Tell me a little bit about the COUP Artist Shop!

“Ed Davis in aid of Mind”

It’s been great working with Threadless to bring my vision together. I’ve been adding t-shirts in collections, so we started with t-shirts in aid of children’s charities, we have some human rights charity t-shirts, and just this week we’re launching some really super mental health charity t-shirts, which ties in nicely with Mental Health Awareness Week.

Are all of the designs only available for a limited time or are some going to hang around longer in the Artist Shop?

Originally I was going to focus on everything being limited edition, but after trialling that, it seemed like a better idea to build up a store of t-shirts with something for everyone. So as it stands, they’re actually all staying online and available for the foreseeable future.

“Now is a great time for artists to be able to express themselves politically, inspire others to make changes, and share messages of hope and love.”

– Ben the Illustrator
“Matt Johnstone in aid of UNICEF”

What impact and influence do you think art can have on hope and changing the world?

Huge, absolutely huge. Shepard Fairey’s “HOPE” poster is one of the most seminal pieces of art we have seen this century, and Jean Jullien’s Eiffel Tower / Peace sign illustration is perhaps one of the most shared images online. Across everything else from street art to editorial illustration, now is a great time for artists to be able to express themselves politically, inspire others to make changes, and share messages of hope and love.

What’s the reception been to the COUP project so far?

“Marylou Faure in aid of Make a Wish”

It’s been great, albeit still on a very small scale. I’m pushing to get it promoted more online however I can. It’s one thing to have a lot of artists who want to contribute wonderful designs, but if we don’t sell t-shirts then we’re not serving our purpose. With the shop building up and the number of designs growing, I am hoping it can gain more and more attention for the good it can do and people will want to write, blog, tweet and vlog about it.

Will we see any Ben the Illustrator original designs in the COUP shop?

Yes, I think so! I didn’t want to drop my own design right at the beginning, I’m not doing this for self-promotion! But later in the year I will be designing a t-shirt for a charity of my own choosing.

One of Ben the Illustrator’s pieces for the New York City Department of Transportation for an Earth Day series (photo via NYCDOT).

Are there any causes you’re hoping to work with? How do you hope to keep growing the shop?

There are some really great causes that I’m looking forward to supporting; a few more niche ones that I think really need the support and a few more fun, creative charities who will bring a different audience to COUP.  Originally I said I would do COUP throughout 2017, but I’m starting to think it can grow beyond that, evolving for different causes and events in the world. I’ll say it now, my dream would be to have some actual t-shirt stores, build them in my favourite cities; London, Melbourne, NYC and across Europe, with every t-shirt supporting a charity.

“Bubi Au Yeung in aid of Make a Wish”

That would be amazing! What’s your art design and philosophy?

“Sean Sims in aid of Tackle Africa”

Generally, it’s to bring the colour! For my commercial work I do like it to serve some kind of a purpose, giving information or expressing an opinion perhaps. I have always turned to art and music when I needed it. It can fill the day with energy, and that’s something I like to put into my own work: some kind of energy that can affect people positively.

What advice do you have for fellow artists and designers wanting to help out a charity or cause?  

As far as making/selling products – and this may sound soulless – but I think the key is to make something that will sell well. You can target people with specific taste, but don’t restrict yourself to the point that there are no customers that want to actually buy your charity products! Alternatively, I’ve found that most charities need art and design work, so put yourself out there, even for paid work with bigger charities. I’ve been commissioned by Greenpeace and various educational charities on good sized paid projects while also creating branding, illustrations and artwork unpaid for smaller causes. Your time and skills can be very valuable to causes that might need them.

“Team Kakow in aid of Womankind”

Anything else you’d like to share, including more about how people can help and spread the word?

We’d love anyone to keep following and supporting COUP, to buy t-shirts and share their purchases online. I’m also very keen to hook up with any influencers, bloggers, magazine writers, anyone with a YouTube following, etc. who would like to help us spread the word, whether it’s for the COUP store as a whole or just one t-shirt. Plus of course if anyone is interested in designed a t-shirt for a cause they support, give me a shout.

Don’t have an artist shop? Start one now!

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Carlyn Hill

Dad joke aficionado, cartoonist, & contributor for sites like HelloGiggles and The Mary Sue by night. When I'm not writing or drawing, you can find me in my cave of a room hanging out with my boyfriend, Netflix.