Ivory Ella: The Elephant in My T-Shirt Drawer

ivory-ellaI suppose I can blame Marie Kondo for this one. Or maybe it was Gwyneth Paltrow and her GOOP tutorial that sent me over the edge. I hate t-shirts. Even since I’ve started decluttering, I’ve been haunted by the sheer volume of t-shirts taking up prime real estate in my closet closets. Gulp. Sure, there was one ill-fated, fold-them-up-like-perfect-envelopes attempt to KonMari them into submission. But when I finally brought myself to unfold the cotton origami masterpieces, I found more wrinkles than I would have had I left them on the floor. You know what doesn’t spark joy? Ironing.

So there’s a simple solution here, right? Stop buying t-shirts. But almost every t-shirt I own is the direct result of participating in a work-related fundraiser or giving to a charitable organization. And I’m all for bucking the norm and setting myself apart, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do it and not look like a complete jerkface when the rest of my colleagues are rocking shirts for the local children’s hospital. What’s a woman on a mission to declutter to do?

There’s no debating this: I don’t actually want another t-shirt. In fact, I rarely wear t-shirts. If I’m going to work out, I prefer tank tops (noodle arms bringing the gun show). And if it’s the rest of my life, I’m usually too cold, I’m trying to dress professionally, or both. If the Marie Kondo criteria include happiness or utility, t-shirts bring me neither.

In addition to not wanting more stuff, I sometimes fear these tees do more harm than good. And I’m not just talking about the already-claustrophobic feel of my closet. The first problem that I see with these kinds of t-shirts is that they divert funds from the actual cause. Instead of giving $15 to the children’s hospital, food bank, or animal preserve, I’m only giving the proceeds. This model rings true for local events like neighborhood races all the way to big companies like Ivory Ella, who, as near as I can tell, has sold approximately 9 million of their t-shirts to my students in the past year and has donated $679,671.

In addition to giving less cash to the cause, I’m also really leery of how the shirts are made. If someone is selling a shirt for $10, you can pretty much bet the farm that they’re not made of ethically sourced or organic cotton. After we consider where the cotton came from, then we have to figure in the kind of labor went into making the shirts. How are the workers paid? How are they treated? Again, I’m skeptical. Of course, the alternative is that they really could be high-quality shirts priced at a screamin’ deal. But then what’s the profit margin? Lose-lose, right?

Maybe not.

When a shirt is emblazoned with a giant elephant, logo, or catchy slogan, there’s no denying the awareness that it brings to the cause. People can’t give to a cause if they’re not aware of it. When I ordered a Save Darfur hoodie in college, I vividly remember my dad asking me, “Who?” That shirt catapulted me into conversation, shedding light on a topic not just for my dad, but for anyone who saw me wearing it.

But awareness isn’t enough. Charities also need people to part with their money. So when yellow Livestrong bracelets show up on everyone’s wrist or (RED) gear fills all the racks at GAP, something that is charitable also becomes trendy. As far as peer pressure goes, this kind is tame* but effective nonetheless. The more items that are sold, the more people feel pressured–dare I say guilted–into joining the crowd. It’s one thing to resist the Joneses when they’re buying a Mercedes they can’t afford. It’s a whole different kind of willpower to say no to a $10 silicone bracelet. While this kind of one-upmanship plays out, the charity reaps the benefits.

So what’s the solution here? I’m not sure there really is one. Of course, my preference will always be to give a cash donation or to volunteer my time for a cause. But in lieu of that, I’ll be wearing a shirt alongside my coworkers, and I’ll be feeling both uncomfortable and generous at the same time.

So Tell Me…How many charity or race t-shirts do you own? Do you have a good workaround for my t-shirt troubles?

*Just ask middle-school Penny who had to have bangs despite having the most wicked cowlick you’ve ever see just left of center on my forehead. It was a great look.


Ivory Ella: The Elephant in My T-Shirt Drawer

16 thoughts on “Ivory Ella: The Elephant in My T-Shirt Drawer

  1. I wear the shirt for the event, then either donate it or dedicate it as a lost cause for painting or other dirty work. They’re also good as smocks for kids doing art projects or as bedding for animal shelters.
    It might be an anomaly, but I’m rarely asked to pay for the shirt specifically–it’s more often bundled into the price of the event and given for “free.”

    1. I like to use them as supports for plants in my garden. I cut them into strips and tie up my tomato plants.

      I see your point about the bundled cost of the t-shirt. But they have to be paid for somehow, right? Even if a company donates the shirts, couldn’t they donate to the cause instead?

  2. I have and wear the shirts. I mostly wear them around the house and to bed. I see your points here; it’s something I’d never before given much thought.

    And I tried Marie’s folding method. Though I love the concept, it only worked for a week. Maybe. I choose hangers. And no ironing.

  3. I wear the shirt for the event, but I’m pretty picky on the shirts I want to wear these days. They have to be soft and not have too much screen print. (because comfort, not style).

    I don’t know if there’s a better alternative for the event t-shirts, but I get your point that being a walking billboard may not be as effective in supporting a charity as an actual cash donation.

    1. I don’t mind supporting the cause at all. I just don’t know if I actually am supporting the cause less. Someone has to pay for the cost of the materials, right? I think about the ice-bucket challenge. What a great way to get the word out for the cause and still let all the money go right to the charity.

      1. I think you nailed it with supporting the cause less. I just did a memorial walk for colleague and we got all kinds of “goodies” – shirt, water bottle, bag – etc. that were all donated. I had no idea we were getting all of those things and we will likely never use them. If the companies who donated them could have donated the money for them to the cause – more good would have been done.

  4. If you stop buying the t-shirts, I bet you’d have all kinds of great material for a new Awkward Money post! Just imagine the looks you’d get when describing why you don’t want to buy a t-shirt for a good cause!

    On that note, I actually love t-shirts like this, but it’s because I wear them routinely. ALL THE TIME. I’m a frump though.

  5. I’m not much of a t-shirt wearer either, for the reasons you mentioned. I’ll sleep in old t-shirts, donate them, or put them in my rag bag. I’d rather donate the money directly than spend it on a cheap shirt, like you said. But I’m not sure what to do about the co-worker part–that’s tricky.

    1. Especially because we wear our shirts in front of students. So I don’t want them to think I’m not supporting a cause. I’m hoping that we’ll start to repeat charities, and I can just re-wear last year’s shirt or something.

  6. I’ve used more gallons of paint than I care to recall. Most of my shirts end up being work shirts. I wipe a fair amount of caulk and dry wall mud on them, so they don’t last too long. =)

    1. Ha! That’s my husband’s strategy with extra t-shirts too. He’s the painter in the family. Once I tried to help, and I rolled the roller right on the floor. Oops.

  7. I am super picky about my clothing. Most of those shirts I hate. I need soft things in bright colors and a feminine cut. I don’t want a regular t-shirt no matter how much I care about a cause. I mainly receive shirts via races and my sports leagues, but I’m in gay sports leagues and we take our shirts very seriously. They are actually cute and comfy.

    1. That gives me so much hope, ZJ. Can you teach our middle school fundraisers your awesome ways? I just learned of two more shirts I’m going to be buying this year. Sigh. It’s so frustrating to me, especially now that I’m trying so hard to declutter. I do not want to give precious real estate to things I do not want. Sounds like you have a much better plan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *