Can a T-Shirt Change The World?
Introducing Allmade. T-Shirts you can feel good about.
I have a confession to make. I didn’t always love the t-shirt industry.
When I started in screenprinting, I was just a kid in high school making t-shirts to promote my punk rock band. Although my very first shirts were printed on high-quality fabrics I picked up at a retail store using water-based inks—as my garage operation grew, that model wasn’t exactly scalable. Soon, I found myself using thick, sticky plastisol ink on low-end cotton shirts that could be bought for less than $1 at wholesale. T-shirts that I didn’t really love to wear, but could be sold fairly easily.
My garage operation grew fairly quickly and by 2004 Ryonet was a full-fledged distributor of screen printing equipment and supplies. But at the core, much was the same. Our business catered to these same practices. Yes, I knew what we did; but I didn’t love why we did it, or the products that we helped people create.
At some point in the middle of the recession, as our business was struggling to continue forward, I took a look at our customers for inspiration. And what I realized was that while our business had been operating in pretty much the same way for years, their businesses had transformed. They were printing cool designs, they were using softer, more eco-conscious water-based inks, and they were printing high-quality t-shirts that (lo and behold) I absolutely loved to wear!
Over 10 years after I learned to print, I realized how lucky I was to be in a an industry full of creativity, entrepreneurship, art, design, and passion—all brought together with t-shirts! I realized that there was much more to this industry than volume and margin. That there could be a bigger “reason for being”. I traded in my button-down shirt, tie, and dress pants for t-shirts and jeans, and threw myself into the t-shirt world, serving the screen printers who served it.
As we kicked off the 2016 season at ISS, I spoke to our team. I can’t remember what was said exactly, but the gist of it was: “You may think that what we do doesn’t really matter. I mean they’re just t-shirts, right? But what we have to remember is that we have the opportunity to change the world of every screen printer we meet. And, who knows, the shirts they print also may change the world—creating new jobs, promoting a movement, or transforming an industry!”
At this point in my career, I knew I loved being part of the t-shirt business. And I also knew I wanted to do more, but I kept asking “How?” Like kismet, later that very day, a young man named Zac McCarthy walked up to me and brought all the pieces together. He awkwardly held up a shirt to me and said, “We make these shirts in Haiti to help orphans. Would you be interested in helping us make more?” I knew instantly that this was the answer I was looking for.
Zac worked for GOEX, a division of the Global Orphan Project. He told me about the scope of the worldwide orphan issue. How the children they supported in Haiti were just a small fraction of the 600,000 orphans worldwide, many of whom were victims of financial hardship, rather than the death of a parent. How, in places like Haiti, where the average worker makes less than $3/day, families were often broken apart for this very reason. Then he told me about what they were doing to solve the problem: paying Haitian workers a living wage to make t-shirts.
His mission piqued my interest. Most screen printers know that Haiti is a hub for garment manufacturing. Many of the 2 billion t-shirts produced every year are produced in Haiti, under deplorable conditions, for measly wages that aren’t enough to live on or support a family, using fabrics sourced under terrible conditions from abroad. The GO Project promised to pay Haitian workers 5x the average wage. A real game changer. But, what about the fabric they used?
Zac and our team went back and forth for about 6 months. We didn’t want to invest in a partnership without knowing the full impact had been considered in the production of the t-shirt. But, solutions soon started to emerge. We learned about a facility in the Carolinas where we could procure 100% U.S. grown cotton to sew from. We started investigating a method that allowed us to produce polyester from recycled bottles, keeping them out of landfills. And we explored modal, a sustainably-produced fiber, as an alternative to rayon. With that part of the puzzle solved, I signed up to take my family on an exploration trip to Haiti with the GOEX team in August, 2016.
What came out of that trip not only changed my entire mindset, but also opened up a world full of possibilities which we are now excited to share with you.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Allmade, a collaboration between Ryonet and ten founding partners to give you a better choice in blank t-shirts. Allmade connects industry, people, children, nationality, printers, and the environment. Allmade with fabric that’s derived from U.S. soil, from recycled bottles, and from sustainable natural fibers. Allmade by makers in Haiti who earn living wages that support, on average, 8 family members. Allmade to change the pattern of exploitative manufacturing, support local economies, and keep families together. Allmade to care for orphans, to create jobs that give those aging out of the system valuable vocational skills that will carry them into adulthood.
In December, 2016, Allmade’s partners made this venture official with a kickoff trip to Haiti. This picture perfectly captures the spirit of that week. Mel of SandiLake Clothing with Cholia, an orphan living within a community outside of Port au Prince. Cholia is wearing a hand-crafted garment produced at the GOEX facility, where Allmade t-shirts are made. Two people from different places connecting, smiling, laughing, and loving.
We’d like to invite you to join us in changing the world—one t-shirt at a time—as one of our first customers. We’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to fund our first production run of 67,000 t-shirts, which will help create 40+ jobs at the GOEX facility in Haiti.
Allmade t-shirts are made better. And they feel better to sell, buy, and wear. Every Allmade t-shirt purchased helps the environment; creates living wage jobs; keeps families together, and changes the pattern of exploitative manufacturing in the garment industry.
You can learn more about the project, and Allmade, on our Indiegogo page. We’re excited about the opportunity to drive real, meaningful change within our industry, and for the world. We hope you are too! Together, we can make it better.