Have you noticed that social justice t-shirts have become a frontline tool for making the world a better place? From non-profits to social enterprises, shirts that support a cause have become a thing. There’s probably good reason for that. Everyone (mostly) wears t-shirts. For organizations and businesses, this is a product that has low overhead to create, high ROI potential.
For customers, it’s an easy foray into becoming a social justice warrior. You find a cause you like, snag a t-shirt with a good logo and cool vibe, and boom! You’re making a difference.
We love t-shirts that support a good cause. In fact, it’s a bit embarrassing how many have ended up in our closet! But…as these shirts have become more and more of a fashion statement and an “on trend” clothing item, it’s time to take a pause. Because sometimes a good thing can become, well, a bad thing. Here’s why:
It’s easier to give than to do:
When you bought that shirt (or any other social justice swag), did you feel like you were making a difference? In some ways you did. Your purchase helped a non-profit get some much-needed operating capital, thus advancing their mission. But what did you do? Make sure you’re taking opportunity to advance this cause that you say you believe in. True commitment should always lead to action. Wearing a t-shirt is easy. It’s the next step of taking action that is hard.
Life is more complicated than trendy sayings:
Do you really understand this cause you’ve decided to get behind? If you’re promoting, say, “Free food for the hungry,” have you taken time to learn the complexities behind this issue? Things aren’t always as straight forward as a snappy t-shirt slogan can imply, so if you truly care about an issue, seek to understand it well.
Charities still should receive due diligence:
Not all non-profits are created alike. In fact, some do more harm than good. (For examples of this, read Toxic Charity or watch Poverty Inc. ) Just because a t-shirt has awesome design and the charity puts on a good front, be careful. Ensure that they really are legit, really are engaged in using the funds constructively and are in this cause for the long haul. We’ve heard several stories of charities that raise money for a cause…and then later transfer those funds to another “more needed” area without informing the donors. Lack of accountability invites corruption. Even among do-gooders.
Giving directly is the most beneficial:
T-shirts get discussions started. They’re a way to dress ethically. They provide some fund raising value. But sometimes, the overhead on the t-shirt production is so large that if you’re wanting to support a cause financially, the best way might be to just give directly, no t-shirt involved.
Yes, social justice shirts are awesome. Grab some. Wear them. Raise awareness. But also be careful to not get swept away in the latest cause trend that’s all bark and no true justice “bite”. And now that we’ve said all this, here’s some t-shirts we love:
LiNK -Liberty in North Korea operates an underground railroad of sorts to rescue North Korean refugees trying to escape their regime. 100% of the profit from these well-designed shirts supports this work.
Mercy Ships Crew Shirts – Mercy Ships travel to places where medical care is extremely limited and provides life-saving surgeries to those who need it most. These shirts share that mission and support this work!
FreeSet – Create your own fair trade shirt through FreeSet! This India-based company provides employment to trafficking survivors, who hand screen print each shirt.
Forai LOVE tee – Forai, a social enterprise in St. Louis, provides employment to refugee moms. These shirts encourage us to love the refugees & immigrants among us (a message Americans need to hear!), plus provide funds for Forai’s work.