A Tale of Two Kickstarter Campaigns, and the Selling of Identity by Artworktee

by Patch O'Furr

Is your identity a stretch goal?

On Flayrah, Sonious wrote two articles about Artworktee, a popular furry t-shirt company with many happy customers. In May 2019, he wrote a positive story about their charity benefit campaign. Now in November 2019, a shirt selling campaign is not so positively covered. The difference — no charity this time.

After being asked to write, Sonious felt conflicted about giving them “blatant advertisement” as news. It could have been turned down, but wait; there’s more. He found reasons to criticize their campaign launched on October 22: “Furry and Proud Shirts! Show your furry pride with ArtworkTee’s new line of LGBT+ shirts!” On Kickstarter as I write, it has 396 backers pledging $24,758 — likely in the top few percent of furry crowdfunding.

The article digs into the ethics (and sincerity) of selling things to special communities, and who reaps the rewards. The problem is, the campaign sorts sexual identities into money tiers/stretch goals, letting popularity rule who is included. Demand gets more and more divisive the more obscure the identity is.

Imagine sorting by race, or other legally protected class (a specific list that excludes politics) and leaving out the least numerous. Many places in life need separation from market demand — what if this was dividing LGBT medical care by popularity? Luckily it’s just shirts, but it’s a jump-off point to bigger topics.

Of COURSE discrimination isn’t the intention of Artworktee (assume good faith). But arguably, it shows a profit motive that isn’t about identity or pride at all. They could be selling flavors of soup, or rare Pokemon cards just the same, and who likes being a token?

Fursona Pins: “Your identity is not a stretch goal.”

Sonious will be interested to see the angle he found has been taken seriously by other businesses.

That’s the case with Fursona Pins. In February 2019, I was asked to do a news article about the business; and I also avoided advertising by reposting their own story, and did an informative Q&A instead. (Business news is news.) Fursona Pins went on to launch an LGBT furry themed Kickstarter campaign in June 2019.

Pride Pins became “the #1 most funded enamel pin Kickstarter in history, and the most funded LGBT project live on Kickstarter right now.” During its open month, 5,304 backers pledged $249,610. Whoah!  (I’m shocked I hadn’t noticed this already when I talk about high fursuit auction prices being a sign of fandom activity.)

Notice: the campaign unlocked tiers for animal mascots, not identities. They just got recolored to represent whatever identity is wanted with no limits on 15 flags. It came with a repeated promise:

Now I’m wondering if Artworktee saw the huge pledges to Pride Pins with dollars in their eyes, and rushed to get in the same game, but missed the point of it. A mistake… or part of a history? Sonious only touched ONE Artworktee campaign, not even getting to a lot of extra context behind it. That’s why I made a ANOTHER response on Flayrah, with another article’s worth of info (read on).

There’s nothing wrong with shirts, cool art, furries, or being LGBT of course. Some of Artworktee’s supporters and shirt models are friends I really love. My response isn’t a “beware” to tell you to stop getting shirts or supporting the company now. Please don’t cancel anyone; it’s to just make you think and look ahead, and ask, what business will you support in the future? And why does it matter? You can ask them to improve, and vote with your dollars.

In short:

  1. Furries have a history of going independent from the mainstream to be a subculture that resists commercializing. Instead it acts like a collective project, and a real community (not just a consumer group) where people pitch in together, and capitalizing on it too much is kind of cheating.
  2. Artworktee isn’t like other fandom projects, it uses aggressive tactics that look like bootstrapping, growth-hacking, or SEO targeting you’d expect from mainstream startups. Before it was Artworktee, it was “Drawponies,” an art operation involved in a scandal of tracing to crank up production. That was rediscovered and they did PR effort to fix things.
  3. Then Artworktee kept using shady tactics to farm followers, boost traffic, and push merchandizing with other accounts (Furrymemes, Awoonews).
  4. It’s a problem because of Part (1). This fandom isn’t just business, and what about hard work of small creators who don’t use those methods? Talking about commercialism can help them when there’s a market grab.

Commercializing of the fandom worries some because of the risk of outsiders coming to make a quick buck, while not caring what it’s about, grabbing market from those who do. It’s a good idea to watch out for the tactics here if you see them again.

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