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Rosa Loves T-Shirts for a Good Cause

Cause-related marketing from the avant-garde

Founded by an avant-garde group of artists-designers-developers, Rosa Loves is a proto-nonprofit charity that sells limited-edition t-shirts meant to raise money and tell personal stories of the dispossessed in North America, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

On the outside, the t-shirts feature art meant to illustrate the stories. Inside the t-shirts… placed over the heart… is a printed summary version of the story.

The wonderfully evocative t-shirt above illustrates the story of grandmother… raising three grandchildren alone… who lost her home of 27 years to fire.

The t-shirts are made in men’s and women’s fitted sizes in limited editions for $25. Sixty percent of the purchase price goes to the cause it illustrates. The edition is limited by the number of t-shirts it takes to reach their fundraising goal.

The t-shirts are sold online at and through select retail outlets.

The problem with these for-profit social entrepreneurs is that when it comes to the amount of money that they raise and distribute to the cause all you can do is trust that they promise do it the way they promise. There’s really no check on them besides self disclosure. Note that Rosa Loves says it has applied to the IRS for 501(c)(3) status. At which point it will be obliged by law to open its books to the public.

Until then, here’s what their website says on distributing the money it raises:
“Once and a while we try our best to mention the amounts as much as possible
whether it be in an announcement, news post, or newsletter, etc. We are working
on a more efficient and public way of constantly providing this information on
our website. For the time being, if you're curious about how much ROSA LOVES has
raised for a specific shirt (or all of them), feel free to e-mail Mike Fretto."

Your charity of choice or social entrepreneurship venture could do something very similar, although make sure you first learn all the lessons from Rosa Loves.
  • The art has to be very, very good.
  • Your audience must be tightly targeted. Remember, more people have worn a t-shirt than do wear t-shirts.
  • The story must be nothing short of riveting and personal. I have a hard time believing you could use a limited-edition t-shirt to depict an ECMO machine for which your hospital is raising money, for instance.
  • In the States in particular, you need to be careful about privacy issues when telling other people’s stories. Make sure you get signed releases.
  • You’ll have to watch your costs closely. The art, for instance, probably has to be donated or nearly free. Likewise, be prudent when it comes to building the website.
  • You need all the publicity and word of mouth you can get. Your best bet is to have in place a good list of likely buyers that you can actively market to.
  • If you don’t have the will to sit on the inventory until it sells without discounting, don’t try this at your shop.
  • You may need the internal capacity to do all the backend programming as well as the fulfillment in-house. Although you might be able to cobble together a system from separate vendors.
If you approach this circumspectly, this fresh idea from the avant-garde could work for your nonprofit.


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