If you have something to get off your chest, maybe the best strategy is to put it on your chest.
Tee shirts today are a kind of wearable mission statement — a way to show what you value without saying a word. Sure, you could opt for sports teams or designer logos, but why spend with those billion-dollar brands when your tee shirt could do something good and say something worthwhile at the same time?
For many nonprofits, tee shirt sales are an important revenue source plus a key marketing strategy. Every wearer becomes an influencer who helps to spread the word about the mission, so every sale is like a gift that keeps on giving.
If you’re ready to up your tee shirt game, the hardest part might be knowing where to begin. From AIDS to zoos, you can literally plug your favorite cause into a search engine, add the words “tee shirt,” and find dozens or hundreds of results.
It can be a little overwhelming, so we asked three mission-area experts to curate a few of their favorite tees, based on three of the big mission “buckets” we use for Cause Consumer stories.
Cause: From poverty to incarceration to chronic health conditions, research clearly shows that some of life’s most devastating trajectories begin at a young age. When kids are unconnected and under-resourced, they often establish patterns that are hard to break — but early interventions can pay dividends that last a lifetime.
Curator: For almost 120 years, Children’s Home Society of North Carolina has worked to provide every child with “a permanent, safe, and loving family.” With more than 20,000 clients a year and a 99% success rate (defined as families that remain intact after placement), CHS is a national leader in foster care and adoption services. Matt Anderson, VP of Programs and Business Development, is a champion of social enterprise — and the perfect curator for youth-focused tee shirts.
FosterStrong. FosterStrong represent something we can all relate to. We all experience adversity and know our struggles become our strengths. FosterStrong is a national organization of young adults who experienced foster care and are now changing the narrative of what it means to have grown up in care. Their mission is to empower current and former foster youth to reclaim their narratives by sharing their journey of trauma to triumph. Their tee shirt designs are super cool, and wearing one means you are UR strong too. (You’ll have to visit the site to understand that reference!)
The Possibility Project. I love this organization because they bring together teenagers growing up in some of the most difficult situations and focus their energy on possibility and positive action. They use the creative arts, primarily theater, to help kids heal from trauma, create social change, and entertain their community. Put their sweatshirt on and you will be instantly inspired.
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Everyone knows Wendy’s, but did you know that founder Dave Thomas was adopted? His foundation is solely focused on making sure older youth in foster care leave foster care to a permanent, safe, and loving family. Every child needs the love and support of family, yet far too kids in foster care are waiting. Wearing one of these tee shirts means you stand for family.
Cause: Hope comes from autonomy and independence – that sense that you have it within you to make tomorrow better, despite the pain and disappointment of today. For the most vulnerable among us – recovering addicts, returning citizens, homeless families, and more – hope is the rarest currency and the first step in building a better life.
Curator: The Kleinert Foundation funds projects that offer hope to trafficked women and other vulnerable populations in North Texas. But beyond their local grantmaking, Kleinert is focused on social enterprise as a sustainability strategy, and their annual gift guide has helped to put many social enterprises on the national map. We asked them to share their favorite tee shirts with a mission of hope.
Calyan Wax Co. We chose this “Kindle Dignity” shirt because we are huge fans of Calyan Wax Co. Their candles are amazing! Each purchase you make has an impact — they donate 5% from every purchase to combat human trafficking. To date, Calyan has donated over $61,000 to Traffick911, an organization in the Dallas area serving trafficked youth.
Bonton Farms. This organization is near and dear to our hearts. The farm, based in Dallas, is doing more than just providing nutritious food in a food desert area. They’re also providing hope, jobs, housing, and education in a severely under-resourced community. This “Bonton Chicks Rule” tee shirt supports all the efforts that Bonton Farms is doing in Dallas.
Homeboy Industries. We love this “Beautiful Words” tee from Homeboy Industries, because every purchase provides dignified employment to men and women who are coming out of incarceration in Los Angeles, CA. We’ve admired the Founder, Father Greg, for a long time, and are inspired by the messages of this shirt. The world could use a lot more peace, kinship, love and hope!
Thistle Farms. “Love Heals” is such an important message, and we love that Thistle Farms and this t-shirt serves as that reminder. This shirt provides dignified employment and wages to women who have been trafficked in Nashville. We have this shirt and wear it so much!
Cause: Traditional consumerism is notoriously hard on the environment, but mission-first companies are increasingly focused on creating products with a smaller environmental footprint and a give-back model to correct some of the harm done in the past. Tee shirts are kind of the perfect vehicle: a consumer staple with plenty of room for improved manufacturing, plus a miniature billboard for proclaiming your mission.
Curator: We previously profiled Magpies & Peacocks, the nonprofit fashion house working on zero-waste, upcycled solutions to the industry’s wasteful ways. Given their stylistic expertise and substantive mission, we thought they’d be the perfect source for tee shirts that help the planet.
Parks Project. Just a little bit of Greenwich Village + Haight-Ashbury District hippie spirit weaved with lots of fun childhood memories in parks, the tee shirts and sweat shirts of Parks Project should be a staple for everyone. Each sale supports preserving our beautiful parks with a charity give-back for partners like the National Park Foundation, Yosemite Conservancy, and National Geographic just to name a few. These tees are also sustainably made. Parks Project saves 24 million gallons of water a week with eco-conscious manufacturing methods that use up to 7 times less water than your average clothing manufacturer. Parks Project is definitely a project we support!
Tentree. Sustainably made, comfy feel and inclusive to all body types for both women and men, we have found the holy grail of tee shirts with Ten Tree. Add the beautiful yet stylishly simplistic artwork, and we’ve won the tee shirt lottery. Ten Tree plants trees around the world with every product sold, and the goal is 1 billion trees by 2030. Ten Tree even gives you a tree code when you shop with them to track your personal impact. Ten Tree’s beautifully made tee shirts are ethically manufactured and sourced with sustainable fibers such as hemp, recycled poly, organic cotton and TENCEL, which is something we can all applaud.
The Classic T-Shirt Company. More than your basic white, black or gray tee, the suave tee shirts from The Classic Tee Shirt Company are like pretty clouds of softness. Nailing simple glamour, these elegantly designed tee shirts are sustainably made from organic cotton using fair trade principles. While we are obsessed with these classic tee shirts, we are really impressed with their charitable give-back focused on safe water, tree planting, and ocean cleanup. With 1% of their total profits going back to these three areas of impact, they have helped organizations like Water For People, Armenia Tree Project, and The Ocean Cleanup. The Classic Tee Shirt Company is a class act in our books.
Magpies & Peacocks. From the coveted runways of London Fashion Week to features in major fashion magazines like WWD, Vogue and ELLE, Magpies & Peacocks (the nation’s only 501(c)3 non-profit design house) goes about activism from every angle! Our sustainable, up-cycled range of clothing and accessory perfection includes the ultra-popular Fashion As A Force For Good tee shirt. Not only is it made with 70% recycled cotton and plastic bottles, but it’s also WRAP certified for meeting the strictest ethical and environmental guidelines – and it’s even shipped to you via a carbon neutral carrier in a compostable package!
Patagonia. It’s safe to say we love everything about the OG of ethical + charitable giving brand Patagonia, but knowing that they make a 100% recycled tee shirt from plastic bottles grants them environmental rock star status. The Responsibili-TEE is made from 4.8 plastic bottles plus less than a pound of cotton scraps, using 96% less water than conventional cotton tee shirts. And did we mention it’s Fair Trade Certified Sewn? Patagonia’s charitable give-back and activism is legendary – including their self-imposed Earth tax, their Patagonia Action Works linking individuals to movements, and their direct grants to small-but-mighty environmental non-profits (like Magpies & Peacocks!).
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