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I have a shirt idea.

It seems like summer is the season of t-shirts. You probably would be surprised at how often I hear from someone that they have a t-shirt design idea. It might be because they know I have been designing and having shirts made since I was in high school, but either way — it is a pretty regular occurrence. While you can enter “make t-shirts” into any Google search and come up with a slew of options, I figured I would share the behind the scenes on our process and what we do to make sure that our t-shirts are making a good difference in the lives of the people making them and our planet. The message on our shirts should be consistent with the experience of those engaged in their making, or said another way, the message on our shirts should be consistent with the story woven into our shirts.

Soooo, maybe you’ve got a small business and you’ve been thinking about having some tees made. Or you work for a Church or non-profit and you want to share a message that is near to your heart in a way that is truly good for all those involved. We’ve got you.

After you have your design, you are going to need to decide two things: 1, who is making your shirts? And, 2, who is printing the design on the shirts? There will be lots of other decisions along the way, but we are going to keep this simple.

1, Who is making your shirts? When deciding what shirts we will use, we look at two things: how people are cared for in the making and the shirt materials.

You don’t have to look far to find stories of the clothing industry offering employment that keeps families trapped in a cycle of poverty. Elizabeth Cline, author or The Conscious Closet and Overdressed, recounts stories of her college days in the 80s, rallying students to boycott the University’s merchandise because it was being made in sweatshops that relied on the exploitation of people and that made poverty the only option.

While today, there are a few non-profits offering audits in exchange for certifications and inclusion in their initiatives (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production and Better Cotton Initiative, just to name two) we have heard just as many stories of brands who have all the certifications and are far from ethical. The findings of an audit are only going to be true if everything was truly disclosed and we have heard way too many stories of brands who have a model factory where everything looks great and is to code, but their twelve others are modern-day nightmares.

For us at made, when it comes to our tees, we begin by looking for fair trade certification. Fair trade certification is not easily obtained and requires a very detailed look at everything within the brand. We see fair trade certification not as the end point but as the beginning. It simply helps us to know that a company values their people enough to even prioritize this kind of certification.
From there, we choose Known Supply for all our blank tees these days. Not only is the quality just a step above anything else we have found, but each tee is signed by the maker and is connected to their story. We are willing to spend a little more on each tee, because we know that lives are being enriched by the work of Known Supply all around the world.

As far as the shirt materials, organic cotton is generally our top choice, though we have chosen a few that are blended with polyester at times. We look to stick with organic and natural options wherever possible — organic because heavy pesticides is damaging to those farming the crops and to the planet and natural, because it will actually break-down and decompose after the lifespan of the shirt is beyond useable.

Another option we love when choosing blank shirts — secondhand. All our onesies come this way and it is such a beautiful way to give something a creative second life. Just a thought.

2, Who is printing your design on your shirts?

This is pretty simple. For us, we go local here with Parkway Print. My guess is you have a print-shop in your city that specializes in screen-printing.

Do a quick search and reach out. Go see if you can tour the shop and learn about all the different methods of printing. I still have lots to learn in this arena, but I trust the local company who prints our tees to help me choose the most eco-conscious option when it comes to the inks and chemicals used. Up to this point, we have kept things simple so that we can stick with water-based options.

You can absolutely have your screen-printer order the shirts for you, however I would encourage you to do your research ahead of time in regards to finding a shirt company that aligns with your values.

There you go, my friend. That is how we go from taking a shirt idea and turning it into something that makes lives better - for the customer, the shirt maker, and the local screen-printer. It matters.

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