It seems nowadays that t-shirt fundraising and activists go hand in hand to promote a cause but often where a t-shirt comes from can cause a marketing backlash if proper research isn’t done. After all, traceability is as easy as a quick Google search and with most major t-shirt companies being made by slave labor, it’s best to know the origins of each part of the promotional piece you’re selling.
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, and a new Trump presidency, there is a renewed sense in activism, and rightly so. Wanting to fight for our rights also means wanting to support the organizations that are out there doing good for people and planet. For example, it would seem counter-intuitive that we would sell products intended to help raise voices if those products are dependent on the suffering of others.
In fact, as I started scouting around, I found that it’s rare to see a “where do our t-shirts come from?” question on the various FAQ pages, and if you’re really looking to find the answer, often you have to work for it.
“We have noticed an increase in demand for ethically sourced and traceable apparel over the years,” says Heather Myers of Bonfire, a kind of hybrid of fundraising and print-on-demand that allows individuals and organizations to raise money through the selling of t-shirts. Bonfire is the company behind the official t-shirt of the Women’s March on Washington, printed on American Apparel t-shirts.
“Every one of our customers comes with their own set of values, and we’ve found that everyone expects something different in custom apparel,” says Myers. “With that said, we do know prospective sellers researching traceability that are seeking transparent information to provide their buyers with the most meaningful shopping experience.”
In other words: it is up to us as consumers to continue to demand transparency. We cannot expect change without demanding it. That means that if you are considering printing t-shirts for a fundraiser, start with some of the following questions:
-Where is the t-shirt company based?
-Do they have any history with labor, environmental or human rights issues?
-Are they owned by a larger company?
-How are they approaching sustainability and does it fit with our cause?
Image: TS Designs
For organizations and individuals looking to raise money, while at the same time sourcing products ethically and sustainably, there is no one right answer, but there are a handful of places to start. Because we believe that raising our voices and supporting causes shouldn’t come at the cost of others, here is a guide to companies transparent about their products.
We would like to continually update this list, so if you have others you’d like us to consider and possibly add, please let us know.
Ethically + Environmental Friendly U.S. Based T-Shirt Suppliers
TS Designs: TS Designs offers a variety of custom t-shirts and blanks. Their Cotton of the Carolinas shirt is grown, made and sold all within 600 miles and the company uses low-impact inks. They also offer a site to track your tee.
Farm Fresh Clothing Co.: Farm Fresh Clothing Co. offers blank and custom 100% organic cotton t-shirts made in California.
Portland Garment Factory: Portland Garment Factory offers custom garments cut and sewn in Portland, Oregon.
MetaWear: MetaWear offers GOTS-certified t-shirts made in Virginia. Custom t-shirts are printed with SeaInk, an ink that uses a seaweed-derived base.
Rebel Threads: Rebel Threads is a worker owned apparel cooperative founded in partnership with the Florida-based youth organization, the Dream Defenders. Made from Texas organic cotton and sewn at Opportunity Threads in North Carolina.
Bonfire: Bonfire is a print-on-demand service that allows customers to sell soft goods for profit or for a fundraiser.
Printful: Prinftul is a print-on-demand service that easily plugs into e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Big Cartel. The company offers t-shirts from American Apparel, including organic cotton as well as Alternative Apparel.
Learn more about ethical options and strategies by signing up for our Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool!