Lyndsey Nelson, 31, started her own Etsy store, EchoCharliesApparel, during the pandemic, shortly after quitting her government job. She was constantly worried about leaving her kids, plus she was opposed to Covid-19 vaccine and mask mandates, saying that she has chronic lung illnesses and wearing masks all the time “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-oriented apparel, such as shirts with the phrases “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Trump 2024.”
Recently, however, she’s pivoted to something else: selling pro-Johnny Depp merchandise. For $24.30, you can purchase a T-shirt of the actor ensconced in a halo of light over a backdrop of newsprint, with the caption “That’s hearsay, I guess” — a meme that emerged from his ongoing trial, where he is suing his ex Amber Heard for defamation. Another shirt Nelson sells features an amalgam of memes that have emerged from the trial: “That’s Hearsay Brewing Co.: Home of the Mega Pint,” the message emblazoned on the front reads, referencing a moment during the trial in which Heard’s attorney cross-examined him by asking if he poured himself a “mega-pint of red wine” after an argument. The shirt features an image of a skull with an eyepatch and a bandana — an allusion to Depp’s blockbuster role as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
“I have been a fan of his my whole life. My favorite movie of all time is Edward Scissorhands,” Nelson tells Rolling Stone. “I feel so bad for him, everything going on with the trial, listening to him rehash what happened. I watch a lot of the clips of the trial and I thought the ‘hearsay’ thing was hilarious. So I drew the design myself and went with it.” She posted the shirt on Wednesday night, less than a day before we talked on the phone. She’s already sold more than 10 copies.
Nelson is just one of the fan merch purveyors capitalizing off the intense media interest in Depp’s defamation trial, which is currently unfolding in Fairfax County, Virginia. Depp is suing ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million based on allegations she made about a former partner physically assaulting her in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. (Heard does not name Depp in the op-ed, and Depp vehemently denies her claims.) Although the case is a simple defamation suit, the details that have surfaced in the trial — allegations of Depp’s alcohol and drug abuse, Depp’s suave banter with cross-examiners during his testimony (Heard has yet to take the stand), and a bizarre claim about Heard defecating in Depp’s bed after an argument — have all become fodder for public consumption.
Heard and Depp wed in 2013 and Heard divorced Depp in 2016, successfully filing for a restraining order against him amid allegations of physical abuse. The two reached a $7 million settlement in 2016, with Heard reportedly donating her earnings to charity, though revelations from the trial have thrown that into question. In 2020, during a libel trial over the Sun referring to Depp as a “wife beater” in a 2018 article, a U.K. judge ruled against Depp, finding that 12 of 14 allegations of physical violence made by Heard were “proved to the civil standard”; that same year, recordings surfaced of conversations between Heard and Depp, in which Heard admitted to committing physical violence against Depp.
Yet despite the admittedly ambiguous circumstances of the case, and the messiness of Heard and Depp’s relationship, footage from the current trial — which has gone viral across Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok — has had the effect of significantly turning public opinion in Depp’s favor. The hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp currently has 5.7 billion views on TikTok, and hashtags like #AmberTurd and #AmberHeardIsALiar have been intermittently trending on Twitter for the past few weeks. Perhaps the most quantifiable method of gauging public opinion was captured in a viral TikTok taken at a Starbucks drive-through, which showed two tip jars labeled “Johnny Depp” and “Amber Heard.” The Depp tip jar was full by the end of the video, while the Heard tip jar was empty.
The intense media interest in the trial has spawned a cottage industry of true crime creators and conspiracy theorists pivoting to covering the trial on TikTok. Yet the apex of the phenomenon of profiting off the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case — and the groundswell of support for Depp himself — is vendors on Etsy making T-shirts, stickers, mugs, keychains, and pins expressing support for the actor. There are currently 4,148 results for the search term “Justice for Johnny” on Etsy, with more entrants being added every day.
One vendor who has also pivoted to selling pro-Johnny Depp merch is Bianca Padilla, 26, an art teacher in New Jersey who, like Nelson, started her own Etsy store selling hand-painted shoes during the pandemic. (She has since launched her own website, Bianca’s Custom Canvas, to avoid Etsy vendor fees.) Like Nelson, Padilla has not watched the entirety of the trial, seeing only its most viral moments as captured in digestible chunks on TikTok and Instagram. Yet she too is a longtime Depp stan who has been captivated by his tongue-in-cheek demeanor during the trial.
“When all the news broke, I never believed her once,” she says. “Why would someone who’s 50 years old suddenly start having violence claims? And once I saw clips from the trial I thought, ‘See, this is great.'”
Four days ago, Padilla started selling “hearsay” stickers for $3.50 apiece. She has since sold more than 100, making the Depp merch her most hot-ticket item since a sticker she made of Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds. Most of the feedback she’s gotten has been positive, aside from one Instagram comment questioning why she would attempt to profit off of a trial involving such dark allegations as sexual and physical abuse.
“That wasn’t where my brain was at all,” she says. “It was just like, ‘He’s being funny. It’s funny.’ As a business owner, you go with the trends, and that’s what is trending right now. So I was just like ‘Let me jump on this.'”
Some of the analysis of the trial has centered on how many of Depp’s staunchest defenders are female, a fact that may speak in part to the strength of his star power and decades as a sex symbol, but also to 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 intense backlash against Heard could undo some of the gains of the #MeToo movement by dissuading survivors from reporting, as she told VICE News: “I see lots of ‘He is an artist, he is eccentric, he had an alcohol and drug problem.’ We make space for people who have trauma and people who may be using things to cope … Yet for Heard, she’s a ‘whore,’ she’s the worst of all these things. This is why so many people don’t report abuse.”
Nelson, the Etsy boutique owner making pro-Depp merch (who also says she is a survivor of childhood abuse), does not harbor such concerns about what impact the trial may have on domestic violence survivors. “I’m not gonna say I believe every woman who alleges abuse. I have known people personally who have lied about it, so that affects my personal views on that,” she says. “[I] think it’s a large speculation. I don’t think just because this case happened, that will set a precedent for how these things are handled w or anything like that.”
When asked if the backlash against Heard could potentially deter survivors from reporting, Padilla is somewhat torn. “I could see how people would make that argument,” she says. “I would hope that won’t be the case. But at the end of the day, we have fought so hard for ‘Let’s believe the victim,’ but we also have to recognize victims are not always female. Instead of, ‘Let’s just focus on women victims,’ it should be ‘Let’s focus on victims on all kinds.’ I think it should be a moment of allyship.”
But with “Fuck Amber Heard” T-shirts and “Everyone Is Welcome Except Amber Heard” placemats saturating the market on Etsy, it’s unclear whether the stage is being set for that moment of allyship to take place, though there are plenty of opportunities for business owners and content creators to capitalize on the discourse. “We’re curious creatures at the end of the day,” says Padilla. “We want to be involved, we want to be nosy. And here’s our chance to do it.”