Johnny Depp Trial Merch: Meet sellers making money with the new Etsy trend
Lyndsey Nelson, 31, opened her own Etsy shop, EchoCharliesApparel, during the pandemic, shortly after leaving government. She was constantly concerned about abandoning her children and she has been against Covid-19 vaccination and mask requirements, saying she suffers from chronic lung disease and wearing masks all the time “has made me sick”. For the most part, she sells fairly standard bleach-dyed graphic tees aimed at women, with slogans like “Hot Mom Summer” and “Fries Before Guys”; She also sells conservative-leaning clothing, like shirts with the phrases “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Trump 2024.”
Recently, however, she’s turned to something else: selling pro-Johnny Depp merchandise. For $24.30 you can buy a t-shirt of the actor, set in a glow of light over a newsprint background, with the caption “That’s hearsay I guess” – a meme that emerged from his ongoing trial, in which he sues his ex Amber Heard for defamation. Another shirt that Nelson is selling features a mix of memes that emerged from the process: “This is Hearsay Brewing Co.: Home of the Mega Pint,” the message emblazoned on the front reads, referring to a moment during of the trial in which Heard’s attorney counter-examined him by asking if he was pouring himself a “mega-pint of red wine” after an argument. The shirt features an image of a skull with an eye patch and headscarf – a nod to Depp’s blockbuster role as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise.
“I’ve been a fan of his all my life. My favorite movie of all time is Edward with the scissor hands,” Nelson tells Rolling Stone. “I feel so bad for him, everything that’s happening with the process and listening to him repeat what happened. I watched many clips of the process and found the “hearsay” hilarious. So I drew the design myself and stuck to it.” She posted the shirt on Wednesday night, less than a day before we spoke on the phone. She has already sold more than 10 copies.
Nelson is just one of the fan merchandise suppliers benefiting from the intense media interest in Depp’s defamation trial now taking place in Fairfax County, Virginia. Depp is suing ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million based on allegations she made about a former partner who physically assaulted her in 2018 Washington Post op ed. (Heard doesn’t name Depp in the op-ed, and Depp vehemently denies her claims.) Though the case is a simple defamation lawsuit, the details that surfaced at the trial — allegations of Depp’s alcohol and drug abuse, Depp’s polite banter with cross-examination during his testimony (Heard is yet to comment) and a bizarre claim that Heard defecated in Depp’s bed after an argument — have all become fodder for public consumption.
Heard and Depp married in 2013, and Heard divorced Depp in 2016 and successfully sought a restraining order against him amid allegations of physical abuse. The two reached a $7 million settlement in 2016, with Heard reportedly donating her proceeds to charity, though revelations from the trial have cast that into question. In 2020 during a defamation trial about the Sun A British judge who labeled Depp a “woman-beater” in a 2018 article ruled against Depp, finding that 12 of 14 allegations of physical violence made by Heard were “civilly proven”; That same year, recordings of conversations between Heard and Depp surfaced, in which Heard admitted to committing physical violence against Depp.
But despite the admittedly ambiguous circumstances of the case and the chaotic relationship between Heard and Depp, footage from the current trial — which has gone viral via Instagram, Twitter and TikTok — has clearly skewed public opinion in Depp’s favour. The hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp currently has 5.7 billion views on TikTok, and hashtags like #AmberTurd and #AmberHeardIsALiar have been trending intermittently on Twitter over the past few weeks. Perhaps the most quantifiable way of measuring public opinion was captured in a viral TikTok captured at a Starbucks drive-through showing two tip jars labeled “Johnny Depp” and “Amber Heard.” The Depp tip jar was full at the end of the video while the Heard tip jar was empty.
Intense media interest in the trial has spawned a cottage industry of true crime creators and conspiracy theorists focused on covering the trial on TikTok. But the pinnacle of the phenomenon of cashing in on the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case — and the bottom line of support for Depp himself — are sellers on Etsy who make T-shirts, stickers, mugs, keychains, and pins to show their support for the actor to express. There are currently 4,148 results for the search term “Justice for Johnny” on Etsy, and more are being added every day.
One seller who has also focused on selling pro-Johnny Depp merchandise is Bianca Padilla, 26, an art teacher in New Jersey who, like Nelson, opened her own Etsy shop selling hand-painted shoes during the pandemic sold. (She’s since launched her own website, Bianca’s Custom Canvas, to avoid Etsy seller fees.) Like Nelson, Padilla didn’t follow the entire process, only seeing the most viral moments captured in digestible chunks on TikTok and Instagram. But she, too, is a longtime dork-Stan who was fascinated by his tongue-in-cheek demeanor during the trial.
“When all the news broke, I didn’t believe her once,” she says. “Why would someone who is 50 years old suddenly start making allegations of violence? And when I saw the clips from the trial, I was like, ‘Look, this is great.'”
Four days ago Padilla started selling “Hearsay” stickers for $3.50 each. She’s since sold more than 100 copies, making the Depp merch her most coveted item since a sticker she got from Dr. Spencer Reid made criminal thoughts. Most of the feedback she’s received has been positive, save for an Instagram comment questioning why she would try to cash in on a trial that includes allegations as dark as sexual and physical abuse.
“It wasn’t my brain at all,” she says. “It was just, ‘He’s funny. It’s funny.’ As a business owner, you go with the trends, and that’s what’s trending right now. So I just thought, ‘Let me jump on it.’”
Part of the analysis of the trial focused on how many of Depp’s most staunch defenders are female, a fact that could speak in part to the strength of his star power and decades as a sex symbol, but also to a backlash against the #MeToo movement. particularly the claim that female accusers (who make up 85 percent of domestic violence survivors) should always be believed.
There is some concern among gender justice advocates like Farah Khan that the backlash against Heard could undo some of the achievements of the #MeToo movement by discouraging survivors from reporting, as she told VICE News: “I see a lot of ‘er is an artist’ , he’s eccentric, he had a drinking and drug problem.’ We make space for people who have trauma and people who use things to deal with it… But to Heard, she’s a “whore,” she’s the worst of all things. That’s why so many people don’t report abuse.”
Nelson, the owner of an Etsy boutique that makes pro-dork merch (who also says she’s a child abuse survivor), has no such concerns about the impact the trial might have on domestic violence survivors. “I’I won’t say I believe every woman who claims abuse. I’ve personally known people who have lied about it, so that influences my personal opinion on it,” she says. “[I] think it’s a big speculation. I don’t think just because this case happened it’s going to set a precedent for how these things are handled with or anything.”
When asked if the backlash against Heard could potentially discourage survivors from coming forward, Padilla is a little torn. “I could see how people would argue that way,” she says. “I would hope that won’t be the case. But at the end of the day, we fought so hard for let’s believe the victim, but we also have to recognize that victims aren’t always female. Instead of “Let’s only focus on female victims” it should read “Let’s focus on victims of all kinds”. I think it should be an allies moment.”
But with Fuck Amber Heard t-shirts and Everyone Is Welcome Except Amber Heard placemats saturating the market on Etsy, it’s unclear if the setting is set for this allies moment, though there are plenty of possibilities Business owners and content creators to capitalize on the discourse. “WAt the end of the day, we’re curious creatures,” says Padilla. “We want to be there, we want to be curious. And here is our chance to do it.”