More Than Just a T-Shirt: You and WhoNov 20, 2013
You and Who is out to “make the Goodest Shirt ever!” The steps to this goal are simple: sell a T-shirt and give a brand new T-shirt to a helpful organization, and support local economies in cities around the United States. In the winter of 2009, Buffalonian Dan Gigante was watching an interview of Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS — the popular footwear and eyewear company that donates a pair of shoes and a vision aid package (including medical treatment and glasses) for every pair of TOMS brand shoes and glasses sold. Inspired, Mr. Gigante developed a vision for his own company. The following spring, Mr. Gigante sold his stake in Clevermethod, the Buffalo-based web development company co-founded 10 years prior, to launch his new for-profit business venture: You and Who. Taking advantage of a JetBlue Airways “All You Can Jet” promotion — which allows customers to visit an unlimited number of cities during a one-month period — Mr. Gigante traveled to eight JetBlue hubs around the United States and developed relationships in each location with artists and nonprofit organizations. Mr. Gigante recognizes that “Every city has its own pockets of need.” The eight cities You and Who originally visited, and subsequently launched in, were Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and, of course, Buffalo. In two years, the number of cities grew to 32, and this past year the number has climbed to 40. In the future, Mr. Gigante wants to move You and Who into the top 100 metros in the country. You and Who reached out to artists in different cities via dribbble, a website on which designers showcase their creative work. You and Who offers artists $1 for every shirt of their design sold. All shirts are digitally printed in Buffalo at You and Who’s office, located in the mixed-use Tri-Main Center at 2495 Main Street. You and Who’s inventory boasts 105 shirt designs, printed on-demand, using water-based inks. When we met with Mr. Gigante, he was donning a New York City-designed shirt that was printed down the hall from his office only a few hours before we spoke. Beyond their day-to-day business model, You and Who has developed other program channels, namely, “Who’s Hungry?” This initiative provides shirts for business conferences and similar events and, in lieu of the usual shirt donation, meals are instead donated to the client’s food bank or shelter of choice at a rate of $2 per each shirt ordered; Buffalo City Mission lists the price of a meal at $1.98. In some cases that $2 stretches much farther: for example, The Food Bank of WNY calculates meals at $.18 each; each shirt purchased equals roughly 11 meals. You and Who’s shirts are currently sold online and in a retail store in Denver. In the future, Mr. Gigante expresses plans to expand his company’s presence in more retail stores. The shirts produced and sold are limited editions: there are only 1,000 prints of each design. Each shirt comes with a tag that provides the serial number (i.e., 1 of 1,000), the artist’s name, the city that benefits from the purchase and an ID number that allows the customer to choose the organization in that city that will receive the donation. Although You and Who is a national business, its work is hyperlocal. Artists in various cities received paid commissions, and the shirts designed by those artists go to their city’s nonprofits. For the city of Buffalo, these organizations include Altamont Program, a nonprofit entity of Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment that operates educational and vocational programs, job placement and provides housing services; Buffalo City Mission, a nonprofit that works to rebuild lives and end poverty; Compass House, a safe shelter for runaway, homeless and at-risk youth; Friends of the Night People, a charity that provides food, clothing and medical care to those in need, and Plymouth Crossroads, a safe home for young men ages 16 to 20. You and Who’s model matches creativity, paid work and benefaction. You might wonder if something like You and Who could be profitable: the short answer is “yes.” In an interview with Artvoice, a Buffalo newsweekly, Mr. Gigante summarized it well: “Certainly, an organization like You and Who can be both profitable and charitable because it essentially serves two purposes: providing clothing to those who need it, and to those who simply want it. The advantage of being a for-profit entity allows You and Who the flexibility and capacity to grow and continue helping as many people as possible.” Speaking of growth, You and Who launched a crowdsourcing campaign through IndieGoGo on Oct. 9 with a goal of raising $25,000. Once that happens, You and Who can afford to source their materials and manufacture their t-shirts exclusively in the United States. “We put a lot of time and thought into how to make this really successful,” Mr. Gigante says.