It was business as usual in Westerly this year until pop star Taylor Swift came to town. The singer’s purchase of a $17 million mansion on the beach in exclusive Watch Hill added celebrity sightings and trespassing dramas to sandcastles, fudge and the usual seaside entertainment. At screenprinting company J. Mack Studios, owner Kevin Adams occasionally uses T-shirts as a creative outlet and decided to design and produce a Swift-inspired shirt in honor of his hometown’s new most famous resident. While Adams never found out what Swift thought of his shirt, he did hear from corporate protectors of the Taylor Swift brand who asked him to stop, setting off a David-versus-Goliath gossip-column sensation.
PBN: Some of the accounts of your brush with Taylor Swift’s people seem pretty sensational. What really happened?
ADAMS: I have daughters who are 15 and 17 and both are Taylor Swift fans. Honestly, it was pretty exciting to have a major celebrity buy a house in our town, and we like to try to have some fun as screenprinters coming up with creative ideas. I had an idea to make a T-shirt with her image on it pulled off the Internet. My graphic artist Ken Lowell and I brainstormed and found a good image and decided to make it pop arty by putting a kind of Andy-Warhol flare on it. We thought the image was great and put some text on it that was funny. We put “OMG Watch Hill?” with a look of excitement like we couldn’t believe she bought a house in Watch Hill. We did it for fun with no intention of selling it. We put it on our Facebook page and it generated a lot of buzz there.
So then I decided to make up some screens and print up a few. We made about four dozen and people wanted to buy them, so we sold a few and sold some to Woodees, a local retailer. And then The Westerly Sun picked up on it and called me up for an interview. But right before that I got a call from someone in Nashville who introduced himself as her brand representative and wanted to know if we were making this T-shirt. He told us to cease and desist. He was trying to throw his weight around to do his job, which I’m sure is to stop people from profiting off of Taylor Swift.