'Keep Calm' and ... read on!

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

“Keep Calm and Carry On.”

This five-word saying has inspired plenty of personal takes on its message.

The slogan — or an altered version of the mantra — can be seen on everything from T-shirts to mugs to wall posters.

It transcends age groups, says Boston-based Mark Venezia, a senior vice-president for Spreadshirt, a German company with a branch in Greensburg.The company offers products that are custom-made. He noticed the popularity of the message about a year ago.

“People love to express themselves and are more apt to wear something that they custom designed,” Venezia says. “They want to do it their way.”

According to www.keepcalmandcarryon.com, which sells “Keep Calm”-related products, the message originated in Britain in 1939 during the second World War as part of a series of motivational posters. The messages featured the symbolic crown of King George VI. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster was set to be used if Germany invaded Britain.

It was never seen in public and most were thought to have been destroyed, but 60 years later, a bookseller from Barter Books stumbled across a copy hidden among a pile of dusty old books bought from an auction. A number remain in the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum in London and 15 were discovered on the BBC's “Antiques Roadshow.”

Today's customers often replace the original crown symbol as they adapt their design. Spreadshirt.com offers versions such as “Keep Calm and Sorry Girls I'm Taken,” with a photo of pair of wedding rings; “Keep Calm and Graduate,” with a graduation cap image; and “Keep Calm and Sing Soft Kitty,” with a cat icon.

“Once I noticed the sayings on our site, then I started seeing them everywhere,” says Venezia.

Venezia says customers are sometimes influenced by what they hear or see on television and if a celebrity is wearing or saying something, next thing you know it's being worn on a T-shirt.

“The thing about the Keep Calm saying is it is one that all ages can relate to, and you don't have to be a fan of a certain show or follow a certain celebrity to like it,” Venezia says. “Everyone can relate to it.”

Whatever is popular, people want, says Sarah Segal, spokeswoman for CaféPress (www.cafepress.com), a company that sells personalized items. Beyond the original message, the company has sold “Keep Calm and Carry a Crossbow,” with the weapon's image; the abbreviation “KCCO” with a crown picture inside the O; “Keep Calm and Pretend It's On The Lesson Plan”; and “Keep Calm and Call Mom,” with a telephone image.

“It is fun, and it is kind of a reactionary sort of thing where they see or hear something, and then they want it,” Segal says. ”It is always an interesting business to keep up with what creates a lot of traffic on the website. It's a cultural barometer about what's trending.

“Some people like to wear their heart on their sleeve, and a T-shirt is a great, inexpensive way to do that,” Segal says.

The “Keep Calm” saying is such an interesting phenomenon, she says. People in the United States are intrigued with what is going on overseas and vice versa. Look at the fascination with the royal baby, she says.

“It's about expressing your personality,” Segal says. “Some people will even abbreviate the saying. It's a universal saying. There are sayings that are more popular over here than abroad, but this one doesn't know any boundaries.”

Segal says she has seen a 100 percent increase in sales with the “Keep Calm” sayings in the past year. Venezia says the biggest seller is the one where people create the ending.

Of course, one of our favorites is the new black-and-gold classic” “Keep Calm and Raise the Jolly Roger.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at jharrop@tribweb.com or 412-320-7889.

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