The Shirt On And Off Your Back

by Ari Bendersky
Selfless Tee, a philanthropic social media apparel company asks: What's Your Next Selfless Act?

Threadless, a Chicago-based T-shirt production company, works with artists and designers around the world to bring people together through creativity and social community. Selfless Tee aims to the do same, but with a higher purpose.

Where the designs voted on by the public through the Threadless site help get their creators exposure, a cash prize and Threadless store credit, the organizations that work with Selfless Tee to produce a T-shirt, hoodie or whatever, select an group or charity to receive part of the profit instead of simply pocketing it themselves.

It's like a bunch of do-gooders coming together to pay it forward. And that's what's so great about Selfless Tee.

The organization, started by Danny Bocanegra, a 24-year-old post-grad living in San Francisco, has yet to officially go live (its website and operation is nearly complete) and already it has plenty of buzz.

In March of 2010, Bocanegra, who raised $11,000 with friends in college by selling T-shirts to fund a philanthropic trip to Africa, won a Pepsi Refresh Project grant to the tune of $50,000. That money will mostly go toward completing the company's website, marketing and inventory. Ultimately, however, the goal is to have it pay off in much more emotional ways, like providing meals to 30,000 underprivileged children and other higher order objectives across the country.

The Africa trip was the first step in a discovery process for Bocanegra, a former all-star wide receiver at the University of Albany. While overseas, Bocanegra and his friends delivered 1,000 mosquito nets to African families to help stop the spread of malaria. They also worked with the Global Hope Network to build a school and an irrigation system to bring fresh, clean water to the villages. This experience spawned the idea for Selfless Tee.

"I went to Africa and wanted to figure out how to make this sustainable, to always give back to communities," Bocanegra said. "The only way I could think of was to make a for-profit company that was built to help people."

Once it launches, likely in April, Selfless Tee will work with various organizations and non-profit groups to help not only spread their messages, but to also raise money by selling branded products that Selfless Tee will produce. Their platform is designed to help groups gain exposure and facilitate giving back through social media.

Social media helped Bocanegra win the Pepsi Refresh grant. During the contest, he worked with student organizations and student ambassadors to help get the word out about Selfless Tee. Through social media, word spread and Selfless Tee's network helped gather between 30,000 and 40,000 votes in the 30-day process. As an added incentive, the ambassador who helped bring the most votes won $1,000 personally paid out by Bocanegra. The winner, Kelly Ann Janssen, promptly turned around and gifted the money to St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

This activity captured the attention of GOOD magazine, which has partnered with Bocanegra and a handful of other Pepsi Refresh Project winners to help inspire others to use social media to spread goodwill. On Feb. 22, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Bocanegra will reach out to a number of cool bloggers, student evangelists, and non-profits to ask them to send him a 15-second video clip answering the question: What's your next Selfless act?

Bocanegra will then pull this all together into a YouTube video and get the groups to help spread the word through social media methods. The group that sends the most traffic to the video will receive $1,000. GOOD and Pepsi, meanwhile, will document the day's experiences to create a how-to video helping others use social media in order to win their own Pepsi Refresh grant.

All this good will spread over social media may make your head spin, but it is effective and people have adopted these new methods to get their word out to help others in need. So before you post your next Facebook status about your lunch or tweet out what you're watching on Bravo, ask yourself: What's your next Selfless act?

  • Ari Bendersky eats, lives, plays, hunts and sometimes sleeps in Chicago. In addition to JACKarcher, he’s also the editor of Eater Chicago and has written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, the Associated Press, Out, Chicago and more.