Hipsters to a T
Improving the world one T-shirt (made in China, sold in America, donated to Africa, then shipped back to the U.S.) at a time.
You’re a nonprofit in Boston, Lord help you. Youâ€™ve got talented people and an important mission â€” letâ€™s say itâ€™s educating girls in developing nations or delivering technology to African villages. Congratulations! Youâ€™re now one of the, oh, 4,237 deserving local charities out there chasing the same fundraising nickel. How are you going to stand out?
If youâ€™re Sean Hewens and Ross Lohr, youâ€™re going to dream up a process thatâ€™s so convoluted â€” and so beset with the strangest combination of do-gooder idealism and irony â€” that it just might be genius.
Hewens and Lohr run the local nonprofit groups Smallbean and Newton-Tanzania Collaborative, which have jointly created something called Project Repat. They recruit Western volunteers serving in Africa to visit marketplaces and buy vintage T-shirts â€” those killer PBR baseball tees or â€śNuns with Attitudeâ€ť ringers â€” that wound up in Africa after having been donated in the States. The volunteers spend about a dollar per shirt and then give them to Project Repat â€” which brings them back to the U.S., where they are emblazoned with the projectâ€™s logo and sold for $25 with a tag detailing their origins.
Odd as it all may seem, the T-shirts become what Project Repat calls â€śdouble heroes,â€ť making money for both the African merchants and the nonprofits Hewens and Lohr oversee here ($20 from each sale goes to aid efforts).
The organizers say their target audience is the one group that has both a bleeding heart and a bloody appreciation of irony: hipsters. And yes, they recognize the absurdity of depending on a group best known for being broke, disaffected, and lazy. Still, Project Repat has raised about $7,000 since January to help fund solar-powered computer labs as well as scholarships for girls in Tanzania â€” and there are plans to begin filming a documentary about the power of T-shirts this spring.
Hewens says the project can be hard to fathom from the outside, but hey, itâ€™s working. â€śItâ€™s definitely cheeky,â€ť he admits, â€śbut itâ€™s a way to get support from a demographic that otherwise didnâ€™t give a crap about what our organizations were doing.â€ť Hipsters giving a crap. Now thatâ€™s ironic.
Would you buy the T-shirt?
We asked and hipsters answered:
â€śIf it looks cool and Iâ€™d wear it out, then hell yeah, Iâ€™d buy it.â€ť â€” Eric Grava, 22
Â â€śI would buy the shirt, just if itâ€™s an awesome shirt and itâ€™s been through so much.â€ť â€” Ivy Ross, 19
Â â€śI guess it makes the shirt 5 percent or 10 percent more cool. I want to find out what the African people think about the shirts.â€ť â€” Ross English, 19
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2011/05/hipsters-to-a-t/