T-Shirt Monster is a Canadian company that prints graphic designs on t-shirts and ships them out to customers on demand. For every t-shirt that T-Shirt Monster sells, the person who came up with the graphic design on the shirt gets a commission, making the print-on-demand model a good way for designers and T-Shirt Monster to collaborate. T-Shirt Monster gets some profit, designers get some ramen, and somebody in Ottawa gets some new duds. Sounds like a sweet deal all around, doesn’t it?
There’s one party I haven’t mentioned in this sweet deal, and that’s the person who actually makes the shirt. Not the person who prints the shirt — this is T-Shirt Monster’s job — I mean the person who actually makes the shirt. T-Shirt Monster makes graphic designs available for sale on a wide range of shirts. Some of these shirts are made in Los Angeles, USA by American Apparel in a legal, sweatshop-free environment. Some of these shirts are made sweatshop-free in Canada from organic fair trade cotton by the really interesting company called Me to We that gives half its profits to international children’s charities. And then some of these shirts are made in impoverished nations with poor labor standards and wage protections by producers like Hanes and Bella and Gildan. Coincidentally, even though there’s greater shipping costs, the t-shirts these latter companies make cost ever so much less. Can you figure out how that’s possible?
We have to keep this plant economically viable. In 1965, our T-shirts were advertised, a 5-pack for $4.99. Today you can go out to a store and find a 7-pack for $4.99. Those are the economics of the apparel business.
Although we really like the idea of American Apparel and especially the Me to We shirts, Irregular Times does not currently have any working relationship with T-Shirt Monster, and that’s because the T-Shirt Monster website doesn’t allow graphic designers to limit sales of their designs to particular shirts. If you want to offer a Free Speech Me to We T-Shirt, you also have to offer a Free Speech Hanes T-shirt. Given the recent history of Hanes production, if we have to decide to print on Me to We and Hanes shirts or no shirts, we choose no shirts.
In a Twitter post last month, T-Shirt Monster asked for feedback on a site redesign — and in private conversations, T-Shirt Monster staff have let us know that they’re looking for a way to let graphic designers control which shirts are being sold for their images. If you care about ethical sourcing of t-shirts and would like to increase designers’ control over the use of their images on products, send an encouraging e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and let the T-Shirt Monsters know how important this issue is to you.