How You Can Buy A T-Shirt & Help A Child In Need

Photo: Courtesy of Umano.
Aside from top-notch customer service and maybe a glass of champagne while shopping in-store, the only thing that can really make a brand better than its product is its give-back factor. To know that your money is actually money well spent — and could potentially change the life of someone in need — ensures a near zero percent chance of buyer's remorse.
Not all charitable brands are created equal, though. And everyone's modus operandi is different. Take Toms, for example, who ignited the "socially conscious fashion brand" trend with its buy-one-give-one mission with shoes, but has since expanded to coffee, which funds projects to supply clean water for developing nations (this is particularly interesting, since coffee dehydrates the body). Similarly, Kno Clothing sells tops and hoodies to supply those experiencing homelessness with clothing and housing.
Athens-based T-shirt brand Umano is also tackling philanthropic clothing — but in a less conventional way. Cofounders Alexander and Jonathan Torrey are children of teachers, so it's no surprise that their desire to fuse fashion and the power of education is the nucleus of their brand: For every T-shirt sold, the company gives a backpack filled with one year's worth of school supplies to a child in need.
But these aren't your average high-dollar T-shirts made by fashion school dropouts. The brothers actually lack an official fashion background (Alexander studied economics, Jonathan, finance), so in strokes of pure genius and heart, they decided to let the kids they meet design the artwork for the shirts. They call this part "raw confidence." The T-shirts are made from an uber-soft jersey knit that comes from birchwood trees (the brothers call it "omobono"), which explains why they cost anywhere from $42 to $64. But that's comparatively modest when you look at other charitable brands, like State bags and the aforementioned Toms, where products can reach up to $85 and $358, respectively. The major difference between Umano and these other brands, though, is how it connects its customers with its tiny artists: The website has a page dedicated to the artists, with a video per child, allowing you to get to know them and their story, making every wear that much more meaningful.
"What we learned about social entrepreneurship — the idea that you don’t have to choose between doing well and doing good — led us to think, This is what we were put on this Earth to do. This is what we're supposed to be doing with our lives," Alexander Torrey told Refinery29. "For us, we had the give-back mission before we had a business plan. We were like, we want to help kids. We want to focus on education and focus on the arts/creativity. So then we were like, what's the business? What's the plan? We had no idea, but that's what we knew we wanted to do."
Where Umano succeeds most is in its values; values that stretch all the way from the South to a place like Afghanistan, where Alexander spent a year working for the CIA. It was this experience that not only lit his passion to find help, but also inspired him to put in his two weeks and cofound Umano. "We thought, While not every place is like [Afghanistan] — thankfully — there are places like this, and there's so much we can be doing. We can do this cool brand. It can be successful, and we can do some good," Alexander continues. "It takes out all of your excuses and makes you think, Why are we not doing this?"
Albeit small (for now), the secret to Umano's impending success isn't really a secret at all. And when the brothers reflect upon their own mission, one that sees the faces of children in need instead of dollar signs, the future looks awfully bright: "Our big-picture goal is to give 10 million backpacks by 2020. In the U.S., there are 20 million kids living in poverty, so our goal is to say we at least took care of half of that." Umano has given approximately 20,000 backpacks so far.
Click through the slideshow ahead to see the brand's best sellers. We swear their creators, a group of young kids, are inspiring enough to tug anyone's heart — and wallet — into the right place.

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