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Getting it on their chests

These aren't your mom's hippie shirts, says David Rosen, cofounder of an upstart clothing company called Reason8.

No flower power here; no "Make love not war."

Reason8's dark and thought-provoking T-shirts bear statements such as "WMDeception," and "got democra

cy?" a spoof on today's milk ads. While the style looks like clothing worn by rockers at a Nine Inch Nails concert, the messages on them hark back to an age of protest and political unrest. "Fashion is at the core of what we do," said Rosen, the 44-year-old designer.

Reason8 shirts and tank tops first hit the streets last year, as the war with Iraq began to unfold. At a protest rally in downtown Boston, Rosen talked with Michael Kanter, owner of Cambridge Naturals, a grocery store that has sold political T-shirts for years. They talked about the war. They talked about what they could do. Then they approached activist Paul Peckham, head of a local health food distribution company. And just weeks after the United States fired missiles at Baghdad, the trio launched Reason8.

Rosen's modest Brighton apartment serves as the headquarters for Reason8, where he designs garments he describes as "Wearable Mass Disruption." The black cotton shirts feature sharp designs such as a paranoid set of eyes looking upward above the phrase "One Nation Under Surveillance" and a television set with the word "numb" written across the screen.

It is not the first time Rosen has woven political statements into his fashion designs.

In 1985, his designs were banned in his native South Africa for bearing antiapartheid slogans. The following year he moved to New York, where he worked in the fashion industry for a decade, racking up press clips from Elle magazine and a portfolio of work that reached stores like Bloomingdale's.

Reason8's website (www.reason8.net) features black-and-white pictures of the shirts taken by local DJ and artist Addam, who goes by his first name. "I think the magical thing about R8 is that the designs are so progressive as to leave behind issues of `Republican vs. Democrat' and `Coke vs. Pepsi', or to need to resort to name-calling," Addam says. The Reason8 shirts have been selling well at the Garment District, a vintage clothing store that also carries the handiwork of other local labels. "People were calling about them, and we're sold out," said Garment District manager Liz Donovan. "They're simple and everyone seems to like them."

The shirts can also be found at health food stores such as Cambridge Naturals and Harvest Co-op Market because, Rosen says, "if you're concerned about your body, you're concerned about the world, and you're concerned about politics."

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.

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