If a Man's Roach Should Exceed His Grasp, Susan Wonderly's Studio Is Crawling with Cute Alternatives

updated 10/13/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/13/1986 01:00AM

To most of us, there's nothing commoner than the common cockroach. Its main purposes in life are scuttling into dark corners when a light is turned on and taking fiendish evasive action when a human foot approaches. Susan Wonderly's view is different. She sees the roach as a member of an oppressed species with a bum press. More to the point, she also sees it as a meal ticket for herself and her two children. Wonderly is the founder of Roach Ware of Marblehead, Mass., a new firm bent on bugging every college in the country with cockroach works. She has student reps in 27 states and says, seemingly with conviction, that she will have infested 1,200 campuses before school lets out, possibly with a shriek.

Wonderly isn't the first person to broach the roach: Humorist Don Marquis created the famous archy, a vers libre roach who typed out poems by hurling himself headfirst at Marquis' typewriter keys. But Wonderly may be the first to market roaches. Her symbol is named aloischus, and he graces polo shirts, sweatpants, laundry bags, notepads, T-shirts and underwear (called underbug wear). Can aloischus change the roach's image? "He's cuddly and funny," Wonderly maintains. "He bears no malice toward anyone, even though he knows humans stepped on his ancestors. He turns the other cheek. Roaches have cheeks."

Wonderly, who is 44, got her idea when struck by the contrast between bag ladies and youths with alligators on their shirts. "It seemed pathetic," she recalls. "I said, 'We should all be cockroaches'—it was the worst thing I could think of. That night I drew aloischus. He's not slick because he's a grass-roots kind of guy." Last spring, she added Roach Ware to Susan Wonderly Designs, which custom-makes clothing for women, and now has 63 campus reps, called Roachlings, who must pay $100 (for a starter kit) and swear to respect aloischus. In fact, Wonderly insists that hers is a roach with a social agenda. "He's liberal," she says. "He's a tough little guy, an anti-preppy. You just can't brush him aside." So if you want a roach of your own, you'd better step on it.

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