Isis Thornton-Saunders, director of annual giving for the Boys & Girls Club of Salem, models Causewagon's "glitch" t-shirt (Courtesy/Boys & Girls Club of Salem)

When Dave Pluister thinks back on a year of teaching high school students graphic design over Zoom, one word describes the whole experience.

“This whole year has just been glitchy,” Pluister said, seconds after inadvertently turning off his camera on a video call.

The idea of an educational “glitch” inspired the latest design for Pluister’s Salem apparel company, Causewagon. The shirt shows a graduation cap over the number “2021,” stylized with a red and blue outline to make it appear the image and text are mid-glitch on a screen.

Pluister, who teaches at South Salem High School, wanted the shirt to honor the work students have done in school over the past year. He said he created it to counter fears about “learning loss,” as well as to give credit to the ways teens have adapted and learned new skills during a difficult year.

He said it's likely true students haven't covered all the same material or mastered the same skills they would have during a normal year of school. "But at the same time, I just don't want to label this generation as a lost generation when they’ve adapted, they’ve learned," he said.

Pluister started Causewagon several years ago as a “side hustle” to pursue his passion for design while raising awareness and money for local nonprofit organizations. He’s titled himself the company’s “chief optimist.”

He donates $10 per shirt to a partnering nonprofit, which vary by project. The “Glitch” shirt design will benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Salem.

The idea for Causewagon grew out of the number of T-shirts he saw being designed and purchased for student clubs and other activities.

“I just started thinking about how much of a profit margin there is for T-shirts, it's pretty ridiculous. And so my idea then is just, ‘How can I take that profit margin and share it?’” he said.

He incorporated the company in 2018 and screen prints shirts in his garage, focusing on eco-friendly materials.

Past designs include a “Love Oregon” shirt and hoodie which allows the buyer to select from several organizations to receive proceeds, including Isaac’s Room and Family Building Blocks.

Pluister typically sells his shirts at events, though Covid has put much of that on hold, as well as through his website. He’s hoping to sell at Made in Oregon stores and the Oregon Capitol shop as well, he said.

The “Glitch” shirt came out several weeks ago. Kari Roberts, the Boys & Girls Club director of marketing and communications, said the club appreciated the message behind the shirt and the chance to raise extra funds to support programs.

“Every little bit helps, and so much of our club is covered by the local community and donors ... that it does make a difference even if it’s not a huge part of our budget,” Roberts said.

Pluister said the year posed many challenges for him and his students, including learning graphic design on school-issued Chromebooks that were never designed to support much of the software he typically uses in class.

Out of those challenges, he said he’s seen students rise to the occasion, making web apps and learning in spite of difficulties.

“We’ve all gone through this together, and that is not to discount any of the really, really hard times,” he said. “When we look back on it, from an education lens, I think it’s just going to be a glitch.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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