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Iowa T-shirt company writes about Midwest pride

Photo: Luke Nankivell

Mike Draper graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 2004 with a degree in history.  Three months later, he found himself “selling T-shirts out of a bag on Times Square.”

Almost eight years later, he is the founder and owner of Raygun, a successful store operating in five Midwestern cities. In collaboration with his faithful Raygun staff, the store is releasing their first book, “The Midwest: God’s Gift to Planet Earth.”

Draper commented on his first book as an expansion of the ideals of Raygun itself.

“We always kind of looked at the store as a T-shirt store, but the stuff we really loved were the slogans and motifs on the shirt,” Draper said.  “We wanted to expand it so that the slogans were at the heart of the business, but the mediums were different.  We do shirts and articles, and now a book.”

He explained that the atmosphere of Raygun, the same humor that makes the store a great Des Moines staple, is what drives the book.

Raygun is already known for its quirky authenticity and originality.

Zac Pace, a senior at Drake University, has frequented the store throughout his four years.

“I love that Raygun does something different,” said Pace. “In our contemporary society, it’s easy to pick up and go to Jordan Creek and buy something that is mass-produced, but there’s something really special about buying something that has been designed and produced in-house. They’re so creative and snarky that it’s oddly charming. Plus, where else can you buy a necklace that was hanging from a rake?”

First-year Iowa native Jordan Beard agrees that what makes Raygun unique is its ability to remain true to its ideals.

“Raygun is a super awesome store because all the shirts there are original and funny,” Beard said. “They’re really creative and if you’re from the Des Moines area they are super funny. They’re comfortable, cheap and it’s a great store.”

As a history major, Draper was interested in the history of his home state. But when he went to research, he found that there “wasn’t a whole lot written about the Midwest in particular. All in all, the amount of books on the Midwest was about a shelf long.”

He and his associates wanted to write a book that would be both informational and entertaining.

“We wanted it to be funny and observational, and actually something someone can buy and learn a few things,” Draper said. “There’s actually information in there that people can use. People always ask if its true, and it is.”

It’s obvious the attitude of Raygun and its particular home-style feel are what keeps it going. Draper was interested to find that many other companies use the same concepts in their stores.

“There are couple companies similar to us in St. Louis and Chicago, and its kind of interesting that there has been this resurgence of local pride going on,” Draper said.

The “local pride” found throughout Raygun is apparent in their new book, and the staff hopes their faithful customers will enjoy it as much as they already love the store itself.


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