These Devoted Polish Designers Are Making Catholic Cool
Designers in Poland are giving religious T-shirts and other products a hipster makeover, mixing pop culture with the Bible to create a uniquely 21st-century look.
WARSAW — “Good wine. Designation of origin: Cana of Galilee. 100% pure water” is just one of the 20 Bible-inspired slogans put on T-shirts by a Warsaw-based couple who decided to get their version of Catholicism out on the market.
About a year ago, a former religion teacher named Natalia, and her graphic designer husband, Maciej, founded rokokoko.pl, an online shop that sells Catholic T-shirts. Their idea came about thanks to their growing irritation with the kitschy esthetics in devotional art and design.
“When I taught children about religion, I used to compare saints to superheroes,” says Natalia. “They were all very enthusiastic about the idea until they came across the corny 19th century pictures.”
As a theology expert, Natalia checks the accuracy of the designs with the Bible, while her husband is in charge of the creation of projects. Maciej has collected T-shirts since he was a child, but could never find any that expressed his beliefs in a “subtle” way: “I got fed up with the ‘I trust you Jesus’ all over the place,” he said.
Today, Rokokoko’s collection has more than 20 different shirts, including one that has the weather forecast for the next forty days on Mount Ararat where Noah’s ark moored, according to the book of Genesis, and another that has a real estate ad for the “House on the Rock” with a “life-long guarantee that it will withstand any storm.”
“Some people are into TV series or computers, but we’re into the Bible,” says Maciej. Though he stipulates that being so open about their religion is not aimed at indoctrinating others. “We want our products to be like Game of Thrones T-shirts — by wearing them we really don’t mean ‘if you don’t watch it, you’ll go to hell!’”
Their Catholic designs may be just a one-season trend but the couple is not worried about the future of the brand as they have a powerful ally on their side. Recently a monk from the most famous Polish monastery liked their designs so much that the success of their company for the next 25 years was prayed for in daily Mass!
On another level
Dorota Paciorek, a Ph.D student from Krakow has taken religious T-shirts one step further. Her label Dayenu,Design for God, sells all kinds of products: from breviaries with images of baby Jesus that says “Come on, baby, light my fire!” to blindfolds decorated with quotes from the Bible. She even has an exorcist among her clientele — he keeps his exorcized salt in one of her Biblically decorated salt cellars.
When Dorota converted to Catholicism three years ago, her friends were afraid that she would begin wearing long skirts and “Jesus loves you” T-shirts. “For many years, that kind of esthetic discouraged me from the Church,” she says.
Last summer, she went on a journey to various monasteries throughout Greece and Spain to look for inspirations for Christian industrial design. She was disappointed with what she found. “I saw the same 3D pictures with Christ on the cross and fluorescent rosaries everywhere — and all of them made in China.”
Upon her return, she decided to create her own brand. By calling it Dayenu, which means “enough” in Hebrew, she wanted to protest against the omnipresent religious kitsch. “I am as addicted to reading Bible as much as I am to Facebook,” she adds. “Why not celebrate this joy in everyday objects?”
The greatest challenge of her work is to find a balance between pop esthetics and religious correctness, as she does not want to offend anybody. Hostile reactions do happen though, like the ones toward a picture of a pin-up girl with a quote from Nemehiah 8:10: “Drink sweet beverages.”
“Cartoons that my child watches are more sexualized than that,” says Dorota resentfully.