Shirting the Issue 

Local T-shirt designer delivers message of hope and solidarity.

Two years ago, local designer Ian Lemmonds launched his line of Memphis Threat T-shirts with familiar punk and rock band logos altered to read "Memphis." Now he has his sights set on a different demographic: the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Lemmonds moved here from Seattle about 15 years ago, after seeing Jim Jarmusch's film Mystery Train.

"It captured Memphis and didn't look like any other city. It was almost post-apocalyptic with this gritty feeling and a dark history. I don't think there's another city that even comes close to Memphis in terms of being unique," Lemmonds said.

Not long after arriving here, Lemmonds noticed what he considers Memphis' outcast persona.

"Anytime I would go somewhere, as soon as people found out I was from Memphis, this look of horror would cross their faces," he said. "I would sort of jokingly call it the Memphis Threat."

"The threat is that we're cool and we're competition," he said. "I wanted to raise the self-esteem of the city and keep that grittiness."

So he began designing mash-ups, taking emblems of familiar gritty outsiders and adding a street art vibe and the word "Memphis." Examples include a shirt with the Misfits' skull wearing Mickey Mouse ears, another with a modified Memphis version of the Wu Tang Clan logo, and one that reads "Memphis" on a Star Wars storm trooper helmet.

Now Lemmonds is branching out to a different kind of outsider. After reading about the Philip Parker, the 14-year-old Tennessean who was pushed to suicide by anti-gay bullying in January, Lemmonds decided to design a T-shirt in solidarity with the LGBT-rights movement.

"I read that tragic story about Philip Parker, and I remember telling my wife that I wanted to make something tough and reactionary," Lemmonds said. "I wanted to come up with something that was more about power to the people."

The result is an image of a raised fist, one often associated with the black power movement but which Lemmonds points out has been used throughout history as a symbol of solidarity in the fight against the status quo.

"It's not a unique symbol," Lemmonds said. "What I tried to do is adapt it to a kind of union logo to add to that level of solidarity. Even if you aren't in the LGBT community, it would be a shirt or a symbol you would wear in solidarity."

Lemmonds doesn't want to stop at printing T-shirts.

"I had the idea that we'll sell these shirts, and we'll take the money and make stickers and posters and give those away. We'll try to spread it across Tennessee to be put up in as many places as possible, so hopefully we can make this a brand campaign," Lemmonds said. "The idea is that for everybody who feels different to know that it's okay. Not only is it okay, it's cool to be different."

Memphis Threat shirts are available for $20 each at www.memphisthreat.com.

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