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The Lowly Promotional T-Shirt Gets a Philanthropic Lift

t-shirtThe T-shirt. It’s a basic staple that went from practical undergarment to fashion statement in under fifty years. We tie-dye them, rip them, fill them with glitter and studs. We mass produce them with funny images and hand paint them like works of art. You can buy one for $3 at Walmart or fork over several thousand dollars for a simple, plain, couture shirt.

But dig around in their closets and you’ll find that 44% of Americans own a promotional shirt that they probably didn’t even pay for. And why should they? Promo shirts turn the wearer into a walking billboard and now, those simple tops have a loftier goal – they’re raising money for charity.

Wearables magazine  editor C.J. Mittica, says, “the golden age of charity shirts has arrived, fueled in large part by digital word of mouth and lightning-quick turnaround times on printing and shipping that give donors an instant reward for their good deeds.”

Examples of the trend uncovered by Wearables include:

“Boston Strong” T-shirt creators and Emerson College students Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens sold 60,000 shirts, enabling them to donate nearly $900,000 to the Boston One Fund benefitting victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. “It’s always been about strength, obviously, resilience and that sense of community,” says Reynolds.

The “Eff Cancer” shirt created by Rachel Morell of Ramalama Enterprises to help fund treatment for Haley Bellows, a 21-year-old George Fox University student and cancer patient whose insurance was dropped. So far, the shirts have raised nearly $7,000. Click here for a video of Bellows shaving her head and click here to read her story in W earables.

The Montreal-based Yellow Bird Project (YBP) (see above) features T-shirts designed by indie bands along with charities chosen by the band. One $30 T-shirt designed by The National benefits Safe Space, a New York-based charity that works with disadvantaged children to keep them from entering the foster-care system.

The Advertising Specialty Institute says T-shirts represented $2.7 billion of the promotional products market in 2012, or 13.8% of the total sold. They also put together an infographic to tell you more about the promo tee.

wearables t-shirts

Impressive. But T-shirts aren’t the only kinds of promotional products that work. The one thing consumers love more than shirts are pens!

50% of US consumers own a branded pen. The folks in Philly love pens even more than the rest of the country, to the tune of 66%. Unlike the T-shirt, more women own logo pens than men and the only people to love branded pens more than Americans are the Aussies. Good on ya!

The one promo item that has fallen out of fashion is the cap. Only 19% of US consumers own a promo hat and they’re only popular with the over thirty crowd.

The best thing about promo items is the lifespan. ASI found that consumers continued to use the average promo item for 7 months – promo calendars, for obvious reasons, had an average lifespan of 9 months.

Look around your desk and tell me true – what promo items have you been hanging on to?