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Fashion designs for responders

Rak Wear is on a par with leading fashion brands, but at a more reasonable price and offering designs focused on fire, EMS and police

A law enforcer and former EMT from the Tri-State New York metropolitan area has developed a line of apparel products for public safety professionals, launching a company called Rak Wear in 2010. We connected with Joanna Rak to find out more.

FR1: Your designs are serious — you seem to have made a conscious decision to provide something above ordinary T-shirts with a trite, cartoonish, appearance. How did you decide to make T-shirts with themes reflecting the work of responders?

Joanna Rak: I just couldn’t look at another graphic-designed shirt that had negative connotations. Why would anyone want to buy shirts that glamorized drugs or something else that was negative is disturbing? I looked at the shirts that represented police, fire or EMS, and they were so common. I saw the typical clip art or funny slogan shirts. So, I decided that I would give my brothers and sisters — and the people who support us — a shirt that was high quality and fashionable. Rak Wear is on par with Ed Hardy or Affliction but at a more reasonable price.

FR1: Where do you get your ideas for the designs? Are these real people?

Rak: Each one of my shirts has meaning — you can read the individual quotes that come with each shirt description. Take, for example, the ‘First Man-In’ shirt design. Granted it’s a hot design, but the officer going in first with the shield to cover the entry team — he’s your cover and he’s willing to sacrifice his life to protect his team.

FR1: Prior to becoming a cop, you were an EMT. Do you think that experience helps you create designs that resonate with men and women in EMS and fire as well as the stuff you’ve come up with for your LEO brothers and sisters?

Rak: Whether you’re in law enforcement, EMS, or fire services, the bond of ‘brotherhood or sisterhood’ is always there. Whether you’re career or volunteer, you’re family, and it never leaves you. For me, it was a natural transition going from EMS to law enforcement. Since you worked so closely with the various law enforcement agencies on jobs, you knew what the work entailed. The domestic violence calls, the motor vehicle accidents, the shootings, stabbings, the homicides, the only difference at the time was that I didn’t have to do the investigations or stay on the scene. Oh, and if I wasn’t afraid of heights, I’m sure I would have thought about applying to the fire department but a ladder two stories up into the air, well, I’ll leave that job to the select few.

FR1: Who does the artwork for your apparel?

Rak: I work with two outstanding artists, Vad_ns and Filip Zywica. Filip designed the company’s graphic lettering and logo, he’s an absolutely wonderful artist and extremely patient. Vad_ns is my lead artist and he’s taken my ideas and concepts and brought them to life. I was very fortunate finding such talented artists. They took the time and were patient with someone who had creative concepts, but could only draw stick figures and even those were questionable. Vad_ns also designed the Rak Wear website — a truly talented young artist.

FR1: The number of designs has grown since I first became familiar with the line. What’s next?

Rak: I receive a lot of email from people asking me if I will make this shirt design or that design. We have several designs in the works and before I expand on my Police Series, I promised that my EMS design will come out next. I don’t believe people realize how much time it takes and how much attention we pay to all the details, the drawings, the colors, the shirt quality, the “soft touch” print process that we use, and then the final hand detailing on all the shirts. You work hard and I feel that you deserve quality. I wouldn’t sell anything that I wouldn’t buy for myself.