Skip to content

Nobody wants your old T-shirts

UPDATE 4/28 10:45 am answering the “be a man” video: see end of this post

I guess our great Alanna Shaikh post “Nobody wants your old shoes” (2nd most popular post of all time) did not quite reach everybody. Or maybe the parallels between old T-shirts and old shoes were not widely appreciated (HT @texasinafrica)

A new clothing-themed charitable campaign from the guys behind lucrative social media marketing exercise I Wear Your Shirt is looking to get unwanted T-shirts out of your closet and onto the backs of a million people across Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Swaziland and South Africa.

The 1MillionShirts project, launched this month, is asking for used (but decent) T-shirts to be sent in with a one dollar bill to help with container costs. The shirts will then be shipped to Africa to help clothe folks in need.

The guy in the video also asks for $  from each of us because it is very expensive to send containers full of bulky low-value T-shirts all the way over to all those places somewhere in Africa. Test question: why might this fact help explain why this is “one of the worst advocacy ideas of the year” (in @texasinafrica’s words).

UPDATE 4/27 10:45 am: @iwearyourshirt posts an angry video attacking me and other “Internet trolls” for daring to criticize him, challenging us to come out from behind our computers to call him on the phone directly and “be a man.”

Laura has put up a constructive alternative suggestion to #1millionshirts in response to the, um, “be a man” challenge.

I of course completely agree with Laura.

As far as how to have the debate on 1 Million Shirts, it’s perfectly legitimate to have a public debate on Twitter or any other forum on a very public advocacy idea that is out there. That the only acceptable alternative for @iwearyourshirt is to get a personal phone call is to suggest that public debate is not legitimate and that the design of aid projects should be negotiated in private.

Sorry, pal, that’s not how democratic debate  and accountability works.  I’m sorry if you feel blind-sided by this debate, but the burden of proof was on you to check out your idea before you made it so public to a large audience.  To me, that’s what it means to “be a man”, oops I mean, “be a human.”

This entry was posted in Aid policies and approaches, Badvocacy and celebs and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Matt wrote:

    He’s calling internet critics out to give him a call. I’m voting for Bill to do it (and record it for the rest of us).

    Posted April 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  2. Matt wrote:

    oops forgot to include the link:

    Posted April 27, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  3. cooper wrote:

    I saw a post about this on “Mashable” and wrote the same thing. I can’t believe people are still doing this stuff.

    Posted April 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  4. So are Tom’s Shoes a good idea?

    Posted April 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Alanna wrote:

    Alex – Tom’s at least has a distribution plan and a system for targeting people to receive shoes. So I would not go all the way to good idea, but better than this, yes.

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:17 am | Permalink
  6. Stephen Jones wrote:

    The T-Shirts would get to Africa anyway. Most Africans seem to buy second hand clothes, whilst this would be unheard of in Asia (packets sent after the tsunami to Lanka were often left in the streets).

    What the second-hand clothing trade does is stifle domestic demand for garments, but this is one thing aid is innocent of, as it is free enterprise that has set up the markets.

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 1:44 am | Permalink
  7. avam wrote:

    I’m with Matt – how about someone calls him (hint hint – Aid Watch or Alanna) or anyone ? I’m not in the US, but if I was I’d try the phone number he mentions on the video (904 312 2712). It might not be real, it might have been changed by now (he did say it online…he must have had hundeds of calls by now!), but it would only take 5 min to try.

    From what he says – although, clearly, the idea is fundamentally flawed – he seems genuinely sincere in what he is trying to achieve. To that end, given all these dev blogs are essentially about changing aid for the better (or stopping that which is irrelevant or harmful) – and that dialogue is always better than none at all – how about calling him up? A two-way conversation is always going to be better than assumptions from either side.

    He says he’s being advised by “charities that work in Africa” – who are these charities, Have they really advised him? (they may have a different take).

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 7:01 am | Permalink
  8. avam wrote:


    To Alanna, ahhh – just read your excellent commentary on this on your own blog. Please ignore my comment about calling him up!

    Although, I fully agree with what you say (why should it be on his terms etc) and that he should be able to engage through the many online posts etc – I still think it would be interesting if someone near to where he is based gave the number a go.

    If he seems incapable of looking at online criticisms (or taking them on board) and since his scheme is a form of (bad) aid then I still think it couldn’t hurt for someone to call him – aidwatch? (if the number is even real).

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink
  9. Jason Sadler wrote:

    I have not and will not change my phone number. It’s 904-312-2712, please call if you’d like to have a conversation. I’m working on answering the questions/thoughts addressed in this blog post and the other.

    At the very least I ask you to respect my intentions to do good and to not write offensive and ignorant things.

    Thanks for taking the time to write about my cause.


    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  10. avam wrote:

    “it’s perfectly legitimate to have a public debate on Twitter or any other forum on a very public advocacy idea that is out there. That the only acceptable alternative for @iwearyourshirt is to get a personal phone call is to suggest that public debate is not legitimate and that the design of aid projects should be negotiated in private. Sorry, pal, that’s not how democratic debate and accountability works”

    …yes, please scratch all my earlier comments – you’re absolutely right. Even if he is ok with a phone call – the point should be about public discourse/debate.

    Jason – kudos to coming online and saying you will be answering the criticisms (out of interest, how many calls Have you had?!)

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  11. Erum wrote:

    Jason: you’re clearly an expert at marketing, and you take on projects that you believe will help the environment and raise social awareness.
    But you’re not the first to want to “help” the developing world: there’s an entire community of writers, dev. economists, journalists, activists who’ve been researching and writing about African countries and poverty for DECADES.
    The point is not that they should call you to tell you where you’re wrong, but that you should do your homework before unleashing the power of your privilege and skill on the world.

    You’ve got the right instinct; you want to reach out to those who are not-American. These countries’ problems are tremendously nuanced, but that doesn’t mean they cant use your expertise in other ways. Best of luck.

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  12. Kathleen wrote:

    Goodwill already sends millions of t-shirts to Africa every year. Boatloads. Most NGOs and aid organizations also give millions away as part of most of their projects. Africa is not short on t-shirts.

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  13. This is a fascinating conversation as it exemplifies so much that is wrong about the ill-thought-through ‘charity’ efforts by so well ‘well-meaning’ people. Jason tweeted as much to me – quote: “do you just hate people who try to help? Why are you so sarcastic? I’m trying to do something good.’ As has been pointed out, repeatedly, good intentions are not enough, and, in fact, dangerous in development.

    Because this is such a fantastic case study/lesson in ‘charity’, I would invite interested players to discuss in a PUBLIC and open-to-all conference call with you, Bill, @texasinafrica, @tmsruge, certainly Jason Sadler, and others who have weighed in. We are happy to organize the call. It would be good to actually DISCUSS this in a thoughtful manner in a direct dialogue that is respectful and public. It’s is just too good a learning opportunity for all to pass up! @Mashable, is, of course, invited as well :)



    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  14. Fiona wrote:

    Jason: Let me please add my opinion – probably as one of those people that would have been a prospective beneficiary of the shirts.

    In Kenya where I come from, we would frankly prefer the cash. Even that dollar can buy some seed for food. But thanks for the thought.

    I have also done some local advocacy work where we used T-shirts as human message boards. In fact long after the campaign is over, the t-shirts are still used. That is because we insist on good quality materials for the shirt.

    Contrast this with cheap shirts distributed every time an election comes up by politicians. These tear and fade within weeks. That is why maybe if you did send those shirts, the fact that they are 2nd hand would be a put off (at least in my experience).

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  15. Ana Pulido wrote:

    A link a friend just shared with me:
    it’s about a documentary on the impact of SHC in Zambia’s textile industry.

    Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

10 Trackbacks

  1. By uberVU - social comments on April 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bill_easterly: Bad advocacy ideas never die: nobody wants your old #1millionshirts

  2. By 1,000,000 Shirts « Tales From the Hood on April 27, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    […] much the fact that 1,000,000 shirts for “Africa” is a monumentally bad idea (it is: go read the AidWatch post), but the fact that @iwearyourshirt (also tweeting as @thejasonsadler) insists on trying to take […]

  3. […] Watch is on fire today. First PowerPoint Rangers and now old t-shirts. Bill Easterly asks why sending old t-shirts to Africa along with $1 to cover the costs of shipping […]

  4. […] heard of it, I thought it was an another well intentioned mess. The project is taking criticism for obvious reasons (if they’re not obvious, I’ll come back to them at the end of this post.) The consistently […]

  5. […] have real problems with this. It really bothers me. Check out this blog post: I get it, I really do. But is that the best way to approach it? I really don’t think so. […]

  6. By Aid projects and the wisdom of the crowd on April 29, 2010 at 8:40 am

    […] idea was discussed on twitter and on the blogs (including Aid Watch, Aid Thoughts, , Tales from the Hood, Amanda Maculec, Siena Anstis, Texas in Africa, and Project […]

  7. […] recent million t-shirts debate has shown the power of crowd-sourcing for appraising projects. Do you have ideas on how to improve […]

  8. By 1 million t-shirts « Open hands on May 2, 2010 at 10:18 am

    […] academics, and researchers responded vociferously to this idea. Take a look at these blog posts for more details, but for our purposes we can break it down to two reasons why 1MillionShirts is a poor […]

  9. […] idea of sending shoes (or t-shirts or yoga mats) as aid has been roundly criticized all across the interwebs and there isn’t much […]

  10. […] idea was discussed on twitter and on the blogs (including Aid Watch, Aid Thoughts, Tales from the Hood, Amanda Maculec, Siena Anstis, Texas in Africa, and Project […]

  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

    "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking." - H.L. Mencken

  • Archives