10 Japan Relief T-Shirts You Might or Might Not Want to Buy

Are graphic tees the best way to raise money for disaster relief? Or a jarring mix of compassion and commerce?

japan_shirt_wide.jpg With low production costs and the ability to mass-produce in a pinch, graphic tee designers jump on the products-for-charity bandwagon quickly. Less than a week after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan, shirt design companies and individual people have already released their benefit wear to raise awareness and money for victims.

(Story continues below)

The more altruistic donate all profits to charities like the American Red Cross, while others make partial donations. Some take the opportunity to create intricate designs, showcasing their brand, while others go for simple (cheap) logos.

But even if a designer donates all profits, these sorts of shirts elicit some interesting moral questions. Are companies using misfortune as a branding opportunity? Should people need incentives, beyond compassion, to donate? Is it tasteful to waltz around in a shiny new tee evocative of death and destruction?

John Pavlus at Fast Company debates the role of fashion and other pro-relief products in these sensitive situations. As he analyzes a poster created by graphic designer James White—Japan's iconic rising sun emblem, cracked and surrounded by dust—he questions the morality of relief art:

Let's say I did buy one of these posters: what on earth am I supposed to do with it? Hang it in my living room like some overly aestheticized/sanitized symbol of a blindly horrific natural disaster that I had no direct experience of? Or, worse, as some sick, bragging monument to my own willingness to "help"? To be honest, the only sane thing to do with a poster like this might be to just burn the thing as soon as it arrives in the mail.

Sure, these products symbolize a "blindly horrific natural disaster," but that's the point. They're supposed to raise awareness, so that when we have moved on to the next cause of the moment, your graphic tee might remind someone that disasters have long-lasting effects.

And, even if the donation is driven by consumption, as Pavlus argues, these efforts are at the very least efficient moneymakers:

So maybe projects like these are just coldly efficient, making lemonade from lemons. Yes, the actual product is unavoidably, fundamentally grotesque if you look beneath its tasteful surface. But would that $7,000 have gotten to the Canadian Red Cross without it?

The motives behind buying or creating these designs are probably not entirely altruistic. But the money they generate helps those in need—and that counts for something.

Main image: SOA32

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In