Is There a Market for Godless Merchandise?

Karen E. Klein at Bloomberg BusinessWeek asks whether businesses that court atheist consumers have any staying power, noting that we’re nothing compared to the Christian marketplace:

Retailers who cater to evangelical Christians with items including books, apparel, gifts, and Bibles represent $4.63 billion annually, according to the Association for Christian Retail. Those who sell to nonbelievers tend to be small business owners who are true nonbelievers.

Anecdotally, anyway, I’d say she has a point. But at least one business has done pretty well…

“There are a growing number of businesses that cater to skeptics and the larger community of reason,” [JREF President D.J. Grothe] says, noting that [The Amazing Meeting] attendees make up a well-educated, well-off niche market. “This is a subculture that really is hungry and has money to play with.”

Many Americans “treat nonbelievers kind of like lepers,” says Gary Betchan, owner of EvolveFish, a $500,000, six-employee company that sells such merchandise as car emblems, bumper stickers, and jewelry that promote science and directly challenge religious belief. When he started the Colorado Springs business in 1992, he says, he was often turned down by suppliers and distributors who took offense to his product line.

EvolveFISH is an exception to the rule, though.

Most individuals I knew who post merchandise on online stores like Zazzle and CafePress might sell a lot of products, but that’s a far cry from owning your own business. Part of the problem is there are very few places to advertise your goods. Outside of conferences, atheists rarely gather in huge numbers. You can advertise online, I suppose, but I know I never click on ads on the websites I visit…

Another problem: When people buy Christian books, they can share them with their friends. When they buy Christian-themed clothing, they can wear them at church or youth group meetings. When they make popular Jesus-y music, there’s a niche market out there ready to buy albums and attend concerts.

When atheists buy godless clothing or jewelry, where are we going to wear it? Most of us aren’t attending conferences or meetups and it might be risky to wear openly godless apparel in public. There are just more obstacles to having a successful atheist business than there would be if you wanted to sell Christian goods.

It doesn’t mean there can’t be individual success, even if “atheist companies” may not thrive. If you can create something that has broad appeal — and you have some savvy marketing power to get the word out to people — there is, as DJ alluded to, a huge untapped demographic out there.

Case in point: Amy Davis Roth, through her Surly-ramics line. She has found a market for her atheist/science-themed creations, won over a lot of fans in the process, and turned her passion into a full-time job.

So, to answer Klein’s question — “Can the Godless Market Evolve Beyond Bumper Stickers? — yes it can. It won’t be anything like the massive Christian marketplace, but that’s ok. We do things on our own and we tend to like it that way.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=301700244 facebook-301700244

    The point is that the atheist community is, generally, a well-educated and intelligent crowd.  We have different interests and concerns than the unwashed masses (or at least we think that we do).  So, retailers might be more able to sell a product line that caters to the suburban/urban, middle-class professionals.  The things that would sell well are those items that are quiet reminders of what we believe (or don’t as the case might be), rather than an item that says, “Fuck you! I’m an atheist.”

    • SLJ

       I think this is largely true, though I now want an item that literally says, “Fuck you! I’m an atheist!” I don’t really like the sentiment;Ii want it for the same reason I want a leather wallet that says “bad motherfucker.”

      • 606

        Is that to announce that foul language is the preferred language of the atheists?

        • thorny264

          Ah sceptic/black sheep/agnostic  another name change, is it really needed? Also surely pretending to represent the devil is against your religion?

  • Revyloution

    The real problem is that the point of atheist activism today is to make atheism tomorrow a non-issue.   I imagine there is little market for atheist swag in Sweden where atheist make up 85% of the populace.  When atheism is the norm,  I imagine will will find much more creative ways of dividing up our culture, and the term ‘atheist’ will disappear into obscurity.

  • jdm8

    It sounds to me like the question is whether there is a significant market for atheist-oriented kitch. If people want to buy it, that’s fine, I just don’t see a big draw. Anyone with unique hand crafted items can sell on etsy.

    I try to avoid wearing clothing that has a message, I think it’s usually a bit crass, regardless of the message.

  • Walrus_Callihan

    I myself have sold a few Flying Spaghetti Monster sculptures and clocks on Etsy, so maybe? 

    • A3Kr0n

       That’s a pretty awesome clock!

  • Robyman4

    Evangelical Christians spend 4.63 billion dollars a year? Just in the U.S.? On what, exactly? On charity, the sick, the poor, the hungry, like their messiah told them to? Or just on items such as books, apparel, gifts and Bibles for themselves or their family members??? Surely the wonderful Christians of America do NOT spend almost 5 billion annually on themselves, right?

  • Renshia

    ” it might be risky to wear openly godless apparel in public.”

    I love living in Canada, I seldom get anything but compliments on the couple t-shirts I wear. And I have never felt threatened.

  • DougI

    Businesses have a need to advertise.  Religion is a business, always wanting new customers, Atheism isn’t a business.  So I can see why the religious do better on selling religion on their sleeve, so to speak.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Maybe the terminology is wrong.  Almost everything that I buy is godless merchandise.  Very little of it (perhaps none) is anti-god merchandise.

  • A3Kr0n
  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    I got my husband a “This is what an Atheist looks like” T-shirt.  He would consider wearing it out of the house if it were the right place, but regardless how open he is about his atheism (he has the offensive “EvolveFish” symbols on his car), he just can’t bring himself to wear it out of the house.  And that’s a shame.

  • K.

    I don’t feel the need for atheist clothing or jewelry any more than I feel the need for a necklace that tells people I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy or a shirt that says that Bigfoot doesn’t exist.  I have better things to spend my money on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RandyJReed Randy Reed

    Recently I have taken to wearing a Mjolnir (Thors Hammer) pendant.  When people say, “but what if you are wrong about god?”  The ol’  hedge your bet gambit, and so I tell them I am protecting myself, it’ s simply with the Norse Gods.  And besides, the Norse Gods were so much cooler and didn’t get all up in your business like, you know, that Christian one. And really, who wouldn’t want to go to the Great Hall and party with Thor and Odin all night?    Invariably, you get the “But he isn’t real!”   It’s just always such a win. :)


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