A surprise hit

T-shirts poking fun at Mennonite stereotypes prove to be popular at MCC Festival

October 8, 2014 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Young Voices Co-editor

It’s 11 weeks until Christmas, and if you’re looking to buy something for the fun-loving Mennonite on your shopping list, Jonathan Kornelsen has just the items for you.

Kornelsen is the creator of Menno Apparel, a line of T-shirts that poke fun at Russian and Swiss Mennonite culture. “Sure Mennonite girls can cook, but Mennonite boys can eat,” reads one shirt, while another is emblazoned with “I Love rock & rollkuchen.”

Kornelsen created the first piece of Menno Apparel—a black T-shirt with Menno Simons’ face on it with a slogan that says, “Menno Simons is my homeboy!”—for the 2011 Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Festival in Abbotsford, B.C. Last month, he returned with a variety of new designs and sold more than 300 shirts, with all of the proceeds going to MCC.

Kornelsen has now launched an online store at http://www.mennoapparel.com, as well as a Facebook page that has garnered more than 2,000 likes.

“As Mennonites, we love Mennonite stereotypes,” says Kornelsen, 31, who works as the associate pastor of students and young adults at Central Community Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Chilliwack, B.C. “It’s funny to have a shirt with a slogan on it that shows people this is our heritage and we can have fun with it.”

He and his brother had the idea for the “Menno Simons is my homeboy!” T-shirt when they were in high school at the time “Jesus is my homeboy” T-shirts became popular. They didn’t do anything with the idea for 10 years, when Kornelsen had a few T-shirts made just for fun.

He showed them to his father, who laughed and encouraged him to get a bunch made up for the 2011 MCC Festival in Abbotsford. Kornelsen sold nine shirts that year, and returned to the festival in 2012 with a “Make borscht not bombs” shirt.

Kornelsen and his wife Heather adopted four children in 2013 and did not attend the festival as a result. But he returned last month with new designs that proved to be a big hit. They included an orange shirt with a picture of a crokinole board and the slogan “Mennonites got game,” as well as a grey tank top that reads, “This is how Mennonites bare arms.”

“Our desire when we started making the shirts was, No. 1, that we were going to have fun,” Kornelsen says. “I think God’s given me the gifting of making people laugh, so we just made shirts that made people laugh.”

At the same time, he adds, the slogans tap into things that Mennonites hold true.

“Whether it’s about pacifism or food . . . the idea is to create conversation among people.”

Dora Hoeppner, the relief sale coordinator for MCC B.C., says she wasn’t sure how the shirts would go over at first, but was pleasantly surprised to see them become a big hit, especially among young people.

“I think everybody enjoyed Jon’s enthusiasm, and his excitement at being there to sell his shirts,” says Hoeppner, who has coordinated the sales for the past 12 years. “It was quite contagious.”

And she is thankful that Kornelsen donated the proceeds to MCC. “All the money goes to help disaster relief and provide for people who don’t have much, so everyone who’s willing to contribute to that is very much appreciated,” Hoeppner says.

Kornelsen didn’t originally envision selling the shirts outside of MCC festivals in B.C., but decided to launch an online store when he saw how popular they were. “It’s just gotten its own momentum and now I’m spending three or four hours a night on it,” he says.

There are eight designs available in a variety of sizes, as well as three different aprons. Kornelsen is donating $3.50-$4 from each item sold to MCC.

“Everyone’s going to know what rollkuchen is, everyone’s going to know what borscht is,” he says. “I think when you embrace your heritage, it’s fun.”

--Posted Oct. 8, 2014

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