Greenpeace t-shirts: a retrospective in a whaling town

Feature story - June 10, 2009
A new exhibit in Aomori, Japan, gives a glimpse of Greenpeace history through one of our iconic communication tools: the t-shirt.

Mai Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan and Fanny Lee of Greenpeace China at exhibition of Greenpeace t-shirts in Aomori, Japan, where two Greenpeace activists are on trial.

Over the years, our campaigns have spawned many, many tees -- from the funny to the shrill, the plain and functional to the artistic.  

They have been used as action tools, as when activists aboard the Greenpeace ship Sirius were being escorted out of the Soviet Union, and in front of whirring cameras revealed the message "Stop Nuclear Testing" in Russian on the t-shirts  beneath their sweatshirts.  Or when activists in the high-security zone around a Star Wars missile test wore "Don't Shoot" tees -- messaging both the missile masters and the gun-toting guards.

They have been used as barter items with border guards, coveted and swapped among ships' crew, and sought after by collectors looking to create a complete timeline of the organisation in organic cotton. When our Japanese office put out the call to Greenpeacers around the world to empty their closets, they got nearly 200 examples of the art of the body billboard from every corner of the globe.

Organiser Mai Suzuki, activist and Greenpeace t-shirt collector, hopes to tell the public about environmental risks and Greenpeace's efforts to tackle them in a simple and interesting way.

"Many of us wear T-shirts every day. When you wear a Greenpeace T-Shirt, everyone can look at you on the street. It is a potent and direct way of communicating information," said Suzuki.

The exhibition also highlights the global support behind the Aomori communications centre, which was set up earlier this year to bring Greenpeace messages directly to people of the port city. Aomori is where Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki are currently on trial for intercepting a box of embezzled whale meat, with the aim of exposing a long-standing culture of embezzlement within the government-sponsored whaling programme.  

They succeeded in exposing the scandal, but are now on trial themselves for "theft", despite having given the whale meat to the public prosecutor as evidence for an investigation into the embezzlement.

The exhibition showcases a new t-shirt from Greenpeace UK, which was recently worn by activists during activities supporting Junichi and Tory, known as the "Tokyo Two", in London.  (Nudge, nudge -- you can buy a version of that t-shirt at our online shop.)

Suzuki hopes that the T-Shirts will show the Japanese public the passion Greenpeace has for its campaigns, and that it inspires them to take action themselves to right environmental wrongs.

"It is my wish that the public come and take a look at the T-Shirts, and realise that they have the power to change the world," said Suzuki.  

Take action

When you buy a Greenpeace t-shirt, the proceeds help keep us going. When you wear a Greenpeace t-shirt, you help spread the word about our campaigns.

Donate

T-shirts alone can't keep our ships at sea and our activists free. Please donate whatever you can.