Michigan received more than its fair share of bad press over the last year as it struggled with foreclosures and layoffs. To add insult to injury, the state’s auto industry became the focus of a contentious national debate, which was followed by negative press and criticism.
Sick of the constant Michigan bashing, Terri O’Brien and Lisa Burnia came up with a plan: a t-shirt with a sassy slogan that would not only defend the state but unite Michiganders in a common cause. “We were so sick of everybody having something negative to say,” said Burnia of the team’s inspiration. While there were undoubtedly cast-off ideas (postable and otherwise), the pair decided on two slogans for their t-shirt: MichiCAN, after which they named their new company, and Don’t Mess with the Mitten.
Of course, it only made sense for the team to use Michigan talent to design the decals: Scott Pryer of Ann Arbor. The t-shirts were also bought and printed locally. To further prove their devotion to the state, the pair decided to donate $1 from the sale of each shirt to one of three local charities, including Gleaner’s Food Bank, Bridgepointe, Schoolcraft College Foundation.
The shirts were initially offered for sale at Plymouth’s Art in the Park and the Ann Arbor Art Fair, where the Don’t Mess with the Mitten shirt sold well and attracted attention. While most of that attention was positive, the sentiment brought out bitterness in a Michigander (or two) and confusion in people visiting from outside of the state.
For those who may not understand the “mitten” reference, it refers to Michigan because the state’s lower peninsula does, in fact, resemble a right-handed mitten. Turns out, Michiganders get the reference automatically and almost universally use their right hand as an impromptu map of the state.
The shirt is available at several stores throughout the Metro-Detroit area, including Dancing Eye Gallery in Northville, After the Rain in Milford and City Style in Berkley. It is also available online, where out-of-state orders dominate sales.
“We’ve had fun with it,” said Burnia of the t-shirt project. “We’d love for [Don't Mess With the Mitten] to stick.”