Charity T-Shirt Campaigns Raising Money and Awareness

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( — June 20, 2017) — If you’re anything like me, every time you see someone wearing a t-shirt with a charity slogan the first thing that crosses your mind is, “What good will that do?” Then, if you’re exactly like me, you’ll come home, do some research, and write up a thinkpiece on the subject.

From “This is what a feminist looks like” to Red Nose Day, charity t-shirt campaigns have been around so long, it feels like they predate the concept of charity itself. These t-shirts help the wearers demonstrate that they are ethical, caring people, but what do they do for the charities?

This is what a successful charity t-shirt campaign looks like

Following the 2016 Presidential elections, fundraising for causes set to be cut by the 45th President (or as I prefer to call him, P45) has gone into overdrive. A case in point is the t-shirt which followed Republican Senator Mitch McConnell’s silencing of Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren earlier this year.

McConnell had essentially found a legal loophole that allowed him to tell Warren to shut up without actually saying it. He justified his actions saying this: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

You don’t need to be a professional Social Media Manager to recognise the mountains of meme potential in that statement, and one t-shirt designer decided to use the new slogan against the Republicans. He made a “Nevertheless, she persisted” t-shirt, sold over 30,000 of them and gave all of the profits to Planned Parenthood—an organisation that not only helps a lot of women, but was marked for death by the GOP. The amount raised at the time the story was covered by Time was $300,000.

Since the Red Nose Day t-shirts are made in collaboration with different retailers, it is even more difficult to find out how much money they make. Sainsburys may have raised £11,612,117 for Red Nose Day, but we don’t know how much of that came from their tie-in t-shirts and how much of that came from staff dressing up and shaking buckets at the door.

Regardless of how much these t-shirts made, they definitely served one purpose: they raised awareness. Absolutely no one has Red Nose Day marked down in their calendar every two years. Red Nosers have to rely on adverts and t-shirts to clue them in on the return of their beloved comedy/charity crossover event.

What’s more important: raising money or raising awareness?

Gender rights group The Fawcett Society’s “This is what a feminist looks like” campaign was very high profile, with political heartthrob Ed Milibabe wearing it in the halcyon days of peak Milifandom and the then-Home Secretary unconvincingly sporting hers long before the onset of Theresa May-nia. The organisation only talks in vague terms of how much money was raised, but they do ensure us that the campaign will help them continue their work.

Perhaps the awareness these t-shirts raise could be more important than the money they can make. Emma Watson aside, not many people have “fight for the rights of women today” written in their calendar (though maybe they should). But when they see Ed Miliband walking by in his favourite feminist t-shirt, they will likely remember the importance of the message.

In a meta twist, t-shirt manufacturers themselves have pointed to charity t-shirt campaigns by the likes of Planet Money, who campaigned to raise awareness for the way clothing is made and sold. Each t-shirt came with a QR code that gives wearers detailed information about its journey from cotton to clothes store. Regardless of whether they raise any money, campaigns like this are valuable in raising awareness for their causes.

So is there any need for all the cynicism?

Yes, if only because there’s always room for cynicism. The “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts began getting the wrong kind of attention, following a Daily Mail expose which claimed the shirts were manufactured in a Mauritian factory that mistreats its workers.

Since even Wikipedia has decided the Daily Mail cannot be trusted for facts, it is best to take this with a pinch of salt. It emerged that said factory was relatively ethical by the clothing industry’s frankly shocking standards. Speaking on the scandal, an activist from Labour Behind the Label told the Guardian, “If what you want is a quick turnaround T-shirt that you can sell in your shop then trying to buy one ethically is a more or less an impossible task.”

Campaigners should support ethical manufacturing and collaborate with organisations like Labour Behind the Label to make sure their manufacturing is as moral as their cause. That way we might see what the perfect charity t-shirt campaign looks like.