How sororities on campus make those clever parody t-shirts

The Fyre Festival shirts that this university's chapter of Gamma Phi Beta sorority designed for their Moon Ball last semester, created by Miranda Alam and Lucy Wurwand (Photo Courtesy of Miranda Alam.)

You’re walking across campus to class, your apartment or the library, when you see someone wearing a familiar T-shirt. Maybe it’s a band logo, an iconic piece of art, some pop culture symbol. But when you look a second time, a little closer at the lettering, you realize the garment before you isn’t actually that band’s t-shirt — it’s advertising a sorority spring formal. What gives?

Maybe it’s an Astroworld-themed recruitment shirt, a ‘drew’ by Justin Bieber themed event shirt, or a Friends tee advertising some philanthropic event. Whatever the adaptation may be, pop culture references appear to be the norm within Greek life and their event-based culture.

Miranda Alam is a senior economics major and the apparel chair for her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta. Though her title is pretty self-explanatory, the process behind the final product is more complicated than it initially appears.

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Before they can even draw up a design, there are logistical hurdles that have to be considered. What event are the shirts for? How many does the chapter need, and what date does it need them by? Only after all of this has been determined are the chairs able to move on to the more creative part of the process.

Madi Bryant, a junior psychology major and the apparel chair for Sigma Kappa, described the details of her job as catering to her community. Bryant’s approach focuses on asking her fellow sorority members what type of items they’d like to wear and guiding the design process from that point on or helping the event chair decide on one.

Most sororities will work with apparel companies by describing their ideas and requirements before receiving a design they can tweak and send back for changes.

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Alam emphasized the importance of the legal standards and chapter laws she has to review before she can submit a final design. The shirts must be submitted and approved for licensing terms for the sorority chapter and any other groups included on the piece.

“If we were to make a shirt that … follows our guidelines but doesn’t follow another chapter’s, and we have them as co-sponsors, legally we cannot put them on the shirt,” Alam said.

The other legal challenges lie in copyright law. More reputable companies make sure to double check the copyrights for each design that is submitted to protect their customers. Some, however, may skip this step just to take the order. Bryant noted that the companies that print the shirts typically handle the licensing.

Ultimately, shirts in the Greek community aren’t just a fun form of commemorating an event or charity effort — they can be a valuable tool in recruiting new members or establishing their place on campus.

“The shirt you’re wearing leaves an impression upon people. And one of the goals of any sorority is adding new members … and being remembered,” Alam said.

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