Tee-shirts and lesbians tend to go hand and hand. It’s a marriage that will probably never go sour. Karima Manouzi, the mastermind mind behind WakeUp Call Tees, knows all too much about this. The 25-year old Chicagoan launched the lesbian based tee-shirt website a year and half ago. Today celesbians, such as Romi Klinger and Rose Garcia of the The Real L Word, have been seen on and off screen wearing WakeUp Call Tees.
Now that WakeUp Call is internationally known, the sky is the limit for Karima. Lesbians all over the world are wearing her fashionable line of tees, tanks, and hoodies. This fall she has some items up her sleeve, which will push the expansion of the WakeUp Call brand beyond tee-shirts. This business woman has big plans for lesbians and fashion. You definitely want to start (or expand) your very own WakeUp Call wardrobe; avoid being the last person to be “in the know.”
The L Stop: What is WakeUp Call? How did it come about?
Karima Manouzi: I launched WakeUp Call one and half years ago. I sold my first official tee about a year ago. I started this because it’s supposed to represent support and to inspire the life we live, proudly. I was at Pride, three years ago, and I saw those tacky rainbow vagina shirts. It looked like something that took no effort to put together. That shouldn’t really be the brand that represents girls on a 24/7 basis. I wanted shirts that speak for people because I feel that girls in the community don’t always get the opportunity to speak for themselves. It’s like, you can’t say what you really want to say. So I thought, I’ll do it for you through tees.
TLS: How did you come up with the name?
KM: I wanted to make a statement, in a way. I felt that WakeUp Call is kind of giving the world a wake-up call. It’s like we’re here. Here are our tees. And, here is what we’ve got to say.
TLS: You have a large international community in which you sell WakeUp Call tees. How did you get such a huge international following?
KM: I pretty much started the line and I teamed up with my friends from The Real L Word, Rose Garcia, Romi and my friend Dru. She’s on this season. They kind of just helped push it. I think it’s awesome because they back it up. They leaked it to people. It’s kind of like, people saw and from their followings, internationally, through the show it kind of expanded the line. I’ll give it to Rose, for sure. Rose hooked me up. It’s a great feeling knowing someone put trust in your brand.
TLS: And they wear the tees on the show?
KM: Yeah, especially this whole season. I linked up with Romi and we came up with a collection. We did this whole shoot, and you’ll probably see it sometime on this season.
TLS: Did you know the girls before the show or after?
KM: I knew of people because I worked with people in Los Angeles. It’s as small as it is out here, the community. Everyone knows everyone, except there it’s worse because everyone knows everyone times 150 drama scenes. [laughs] So, the girls kind of just saw it. I sent them some stuff and we became friends through that.
TLS: I heard a lot of lesbians saying they don’t care too much for The Real L Word.
KM: Out here they don’t, but in LA they do because everyone wants a camera in their face. It’s funny because I try to bring the girls out here, for events and stuff, and people are like, who are they? In Chicago people are doing their own thing and are laid back, which is why I don’t really sell as much here. In LA, it’s different, because you can get away with wearing the shirt and, kind of, be seen. Out here girls are more secluded. They’ll wear it one day or if they’re at Spin. That’s kind of why I want to push it because you shouldn’t have to hide yourself at all times. I feel like a lot of my friends are teachers and with something like that you have to hide it. It’s kind of how life is out here. But even if you wear it to bed I want you to feel badass about it. But, it’s weird because I’m born and raised here and I sell the least amount in Chicago, out of any where in the world.
TLS: Do you think that you will ever sell the tees in shops?
KM: I’ve tried but it’s kind of like, I don’t want to devalue it. I don’t want to sell them at whole-in-the-walls, so they can sell it for nine bucks. To me it’s not about the money. It’s about me wanting you to get the look, the feeling, and quality. I don’t want it next to some clearance vibrator. [laughs] That’s why I haven’t really pushed it out here.
TLS: Do you plan on staying out here or foresee yourself in LA?
KM: I want to do a boutique kind of thing because I feel I need the space. Eventually, I’ll be in LA. I want a team. I want a bunch of girls working together. I feel that in Chicago it really wouldn’t expand. So, I’m sticking with the online thing and seeing where it goes. So far it’s doing awesome.
TLS: Did you ever see yourself getting into fashion?
KM: I’ve done graphic design my whole life. It’s something I’ve always been passionate about. I feel like through art you can really express yourself and through a tee-shirt it’s not only you expressing it but you see your art walking down the street. I never thought this would be the market I’d be doing. I never, for a second, thought I’d come out with a huge lesbian equality tee-shirt line. But, the second I saw those shirts at Pride it hit me and I was like, these shirts suck. You should not have to wear a shirt with the word vagina because you’re a lesbian. I wanted to bring girls style, comfort and fashion. I feel like a lot of people see lesbians and think that they don’t have a lot of fashion sense. That’s kind of why I wanted to do this line and came out with shirts, v-necks, tanks. Stuff that makes you feel sexy and comfortable but represents who you are.
TLS: Do you see yourself going beyond tees?
KM: I kind of want to do some cool jeans and stuff like that, but I’ll keep it all casual wear. I’m not trying to do formal dresses or anything like that. And I want to keep it true to who I am with stuff I’d wear.
TLS: Will you ever do caps and hats?
KM: Actually, the beginning of this fall we’re coming out with snapbacks, skateboard decks, beanies, sporty shirts, and a bunch of new hoodies. A lot of international girls love skateboarding. So I’m coming out with custom equality girl on girl skateboard decks and stuff like that. It’s a lot of work. It’s just weird because I do it all. I design them all. I run the site. Ninety percent of the time I’m the one processing your order. It’s my baby, and I just don’t want to leave it for someone else to do. So, I basically do it all.
TLS: Do you have a favorite hang out spot in Chicago?
KM: We’re probably always at DS Tequila. Lesbians have taken over that place. [laughs] We started spreading the word and people were like, wow this is actually better than going to Spin. I was there a week ago and was like, whoa, there are no men at all. [laughs]
TLS: I looked at your website, www.shockofreality.com, and saw you do photography too. Did you get started in photography first or graphic design?
KM: It’s funny because my sister would never let me hang out with her and her friends except if I had a camera because I would get to be the video girl. I had this huge old school camera and I was like, yeah, I’ll tape you guys. I’d edit the footage and stuff. So, they’d let me do that because they wanted the cool movies. From that I started doing video stuff, photography, and then it turned into graphic design.
TLS: And now from graphic design you’re a tee-shirt designer.
KM: I would always make hand made tee-shirts for my friends when they played sports. When I look at these shirts now I’m like, these are so lame. [laughs] It kind of reminds me that I really did want to do this. It’s not like something I just did for the money or something like that. I honestly did it because I love it. I started this, and it’s going to sound so cliché, but I really started this with like fifty bucks. I bought a few shirts and tested it out. I put up the site. I did it all on my own and it ended up working. I feel that you have to give to get. You have to go all out if you want to make a name for yourself.
TLS: Your newest line of shirts are the WPP tees. What exactly are these, for those who don’t know?
KM: [laughs] I get so embarrassed when I say the P word. I blush. I’m like, I don’t want to do it. The WPP shirts are from The Real L Word. Rose and Romi were randomly at dinner and instead of saying like GTL, Rose came up with Work Party Pussy. I feel like this is my dirtiest tee. There are no sensors. It’s straight out there. When Rose and I were designing it she said, “It has to take a bold girl to wear it.” Guys have shirts that say everything and more. So, why can’t a girl have that too? You shouldn’t have to hold back.
TLS: Do you have a favorite, or favorites, from your line of tees?
KM: I look at them all day long, and I, kind of, love them all. I feel that each one represents something different. I put so much time into them that I better love them all. I’m just such a perfectionist that I don’t ever want to sell someone something that’s not the best of my abilities. Which is why I always focus on quality. I want you to put on my tees and I want people’s jaws to drop when they see them; which they will.
TLS: Do you ever see yourself being on The Real L Word?
KM: Umm…no. When I was out there I was there for three days being shot, for the photo shoot I was doing with the girls. Who knows what they used in the edit. Our photo shoot for the Romi tee was all filmed. Something like that is fine, but I’m not trying to be in the limelight. I love to show the world what this brand is doing and what we’re capable of doing aside from the stereotypical lesbian scene and the drama. This brand is positive and I want to positively impact people. I don’t mind that being shown. But to focus solely on me? No. I can’t see myself doing that.
TLS: Ultimately, where do you see WakeUp Call years from now?
KM: I feel like it’s being more accepted even though, obviously, it will be a most awesome day when everyone accepts who we are and what we’re doing. So, I just want to keep going. It’s a take over. I hope everyone is ready for it.
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Growing up Erica knew she’d be one of two things: 1. A lesbian 2. A writer. Lucky for her, she turned out to be both! After graduating from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Creative Writing, she moved back to the Midwest. In Chicago she found a community, a home, and her wonderful wife. Besides writing for The L Stop, Erica spends her time script writing. She hopes to, one day, write and produce good quality films and plays. If you ever see Erica around, feel free to say hi. She loves meeting new faces.