Patriotic prints: The man behind these witty Putin and Lavrov T-shirts

Kirill Karavayev in his T-short with acronym MIR ('Peace' in Russian) - 'Made in Russia.'

Kirill Karavayev in his T-short with acronym MIR ('Peace' in Russian) - 'Made in Russia.'

Press photo
Young Russian designer Kirill Karavayev became rich at the age of 23 by creating unusual T-shirts with topical captions inspired by news headlines. Karavayev closely follows the news about Russia and promptly transforms the topical news agenda into political prints with a humorous touch. In an interview with RBTH, he reveals some of the secrets behind his success.

RBTH: When and how did you come up with the idea to create your own brand?

Kirill Karavayev: It happened in St. Petersburg. I was getting ready to go out, to a very popular music festival. The dress code was that you could wear almost anything as long as it was white. That day I went into a stupor: I could not find anything white in the shops that I would want to wear to the festival.

Literally a couple of hours before the event, I bought a plain white T-shirt and had a black-and-white picture of a Russian politician printed on it at a random print shop. I like T-shirts a lot and I wanted to go to the festival in a T-shirt.

After the event, when I posted pictures from it on Instagram, I was amazed to get dozens of comments asking where I had got that T-shirt from, hundreds of likes and reposts. That was when I realized that I was not alone in my fashion preferences and it was time to do something about it…

Russian designer Kirill Karavayev / Source: Press photoRussian designer Kirill Karavayev / Source: Press photo

RBTH: Could you tell us about your most interesting and unusual designs?

K.K.: For instance, one of our very first and most popular designs is Lukashenko the Hipster (we have called this T-shirt #LOOKashenko). We just took a picture of the Belarusian president and presented him in the hipster style. We dressed him in a shirt and a bow-tie depicting tractors, changed his moustache a bit and gave him a pair of fashionable glasses.

That T-shirt enjoyed great demand, including inside Belarus. Belarusians were saying that they had been waiting for a long time for somebody to make a well-meaning and imaginative T-shirt with their president as they had seen how popular Putin T-shirts were in Russia.

Another unusual but no less popular design was a print of Pushkin: We depicted him with pumped muscles and tattoos of an anchor and the name Natalya Nikolayevna [the name of Pushkin's wife], in a black T-shirt with TSARSKOSELSKI 1817 [his school and graduation year] written on it, with scenes of contemporary Petersburg in the background.

One of our most popular prints is “We Loverov”: We have simply combined the words “love” and “Lavrov” [the surname of Russia’s foreign minister] and attached that caption to a picture of Lavrov, standing with his side to the camera and smoking. It’s an incredibly cool picture of the minister; in my opinion, the best. Among other things, it generated a very popular hashtag. That T-shift is particularly popular at the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

Finally, our most popular design is a picture of Vladimir Putin in James Bond style, as he is adjusting his watch and looking far into the horizon. The caption says: "One and only." It was an absolute hit. I should say: All of our prints are somewhat unusual.

Valentina Tereshkova, the world&rsquo;s first woman to go into space\nPress photo<p>Valentina Tereshkova, the world&rsquo;s first woman to go into space</p>\n
Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister\nPress photo<p>Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister</p>\n
Vladimir Putin, Russian President\nPress photo<p>Vladimir Putin, Russian President</p>\n
Alexander Lukashenko, Belarusian President\nPress photo<p>Alexander Lukashenko, Belarusian President</p>\n
Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister\nPress photo<p>Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister</p>\n
Russian diplomats\nPress photo<p>Russian diplomats</p>\n
Vladimir Putin, Russian President\nPress photo<p>Vladimir Putin, Russian President</p>\n
 
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RBTH: Which of them are the funniest?  How were they created?

K.K.: The funniest print is definitely that of a very controversial figure, a boxer and at the same time the mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, with his catchphrase “Back to tomorrow.” We have photoshopped an image of a serious-looking Klitschko over a picture of the doctor from the “Back to the Future” film, looking at him in utter bewilderment. And above the two of both there is a caption: “Back to tomorrow.” The print became very popular as everybody wanted to make fun of Klitschko’s shortsighted pronouncements.

Yet the two most popular prints (out of the humorous ones) are: “Mi-Mi-Mi” depicting three Mi helicopters, and “One should not be embarrassed by one’s complexes” showing a Topol-M missile complex with Red Square in the background. We are very fond of our country and we have invented many such designs. We have a large collection of patriotic prints (many of them are available in our flagship store in GUM).

RBTH: What has been Putin and Lavrov’s reaction?

K.K.: We don’t know. But we very much hope that it’s been positive. Out of hundreds of manufacturers of T-shirts depicting the country’s top officials, we always try to create our prints with maximum respect and taste. We hold these people in very high esteem and create our designs for people just like ourselves.

We pay a lot of attention to the quality of our products: to how the T-shirts are made, to how the prints are made, even to how our (rather costly) T-shirts are folded and packaged. That’s why the price is 1,600 rubles [$16 – RBTH]. We have very high quality standards and, when making prints depicting the people that we depict, one has to be up to the mark. I know that a lot of people working with Lavrov love our products and are among our regular customers. Once we even set up a temporary stall inside the Foreign Ministry and the demand was great. Practically every student of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations has our WeLoverov T-shirt.

Video from Tina Kandelaki’s Instagram account featuring the journalist and TV presenter in "Don’t lecture me" T-shirt depicting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

T-shirts with the president are popular with practically everybody: from people working with Putin (even Ramzan Kadyrov has one) to a huge number of citizens of our enormous country to people abroad. I am convinced that our T-shirts also promote Russian top officials’ image abroad and are a very good litmus test of their rising popularity.

RBTH: Which designs are most popular with foreigners?

K.K.: Foreigners like T-shirts with Putin (One and only, “Putin in sunglasses”) and with a Khokhloma-style Russian matryoshka doll. Putin and the matryoshka doll are the best symbols of Russia (as far as foreigners are concerned) and I absolutely agree with this.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in a T-shirt reading: “We don’t abandon our friends.”

RBTH: Are you planning to open stores in other countries?

K.K.: Since our company was set up, we have received numerous proposals from different countries. Mostly from the U.S. and the UK, slightly fewer from Serbia and China. There have even been proposals from Austria, Germany and Mexico.

For the time being, I don’t plan to set up stores abroad because I cherish our brainchild too much and I don’t think anybody else could be equally concerned about the quality of our products and our very serious approach to design. That is why we have set up a good, modern internet store, which can accept orders from anywhere in the world any time of day and night. The future belongs to e-commerce and I think this store will be enough.

We have put a lot of effort into our website, which is much helped by our collection points in [Moscow shopping center] GUM and the Yevropeysky mall, which are also shops in their own right.

Read more: A war of words in U.S.-Russia relations>>>

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