How to host a Fair Trade t-shirt swap!

The Fair Trade t-shirt exchange at Penn State Brandywine was a huge success! During our journey toward becoming a Fair Trade University, we have worked toward raising awareness of the Fair Trade movement and our efforts on campus. As part of the process, we’ve committed to hosting several Fair Trade events on campus each semester. Our first big event was hosting Amanda White from Divine Chocolate (read more about it here), and our second event was Wednesday and Thursday’s Fair Trade T-shirt exchange. We hope that our experience can help other campuses learn how to best host a Fair Trade T-shirt Swap!

Fair Trade T-shirt Exchange - Day 1

Aimee Ralph, showing some Penn State pride! (photo via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

Our t-shirt swap was a two-day event where students could bring in a gently used t-shirt to exchange for a brand new, Fair Trade, Penn State t-shirt from Alta Gracia Apparel. Our 72 Fair Trade tees quickly disappeared, and we received 237 tees for charity in exchange! All of the donated tees were given to local Planet Aid drop boxes. We chose Planet Aid because we felt that their mission of global sustainability and recycling clothing complements the missions of the Fair Trade movement.

Here are a few of the important lessons we learned about hosting a t-shirt swap:

  1. Get the word out! Be sure to effectively use your campus’s social media and other forms of making announcements to make sure that everyone knows about the event. Everyone wants a free t-shirt (which is a huge draw for spreading the Fair Trade message), but on our campus, not everyone knew about the swap. If we had spread the word a bit better, we could have made a bigger impact.
  2. Set your date early, hold the event later. Setting the date early in the semester will help your committee spread the word, so that a t-shirt swap later in the semester will be successful.
  3. Apply for funding. You might be surprised at the funds your school will provide for you. We not only got our 72 t-shirts donated (with the help of our campus’s student activity fee), but we also got our student government association to provide funding for us for future activities on campus.
  4. Students first! If you are doing a two-day event, dedicate the first day to students only. On the second day, set aside the first half of your event for students and then give staff and faculty the opportunity to swap for a tee. Unfortunately, we ran out so quickly that some students who wanted to participate didn’t get a chance to snag a Fair Trade tee!
  5. Have an elevator speech & Fair Trade literature. Some students were confused as to why we were collecting old t-shirts to donate to charity when we had a slew snazzy new shirts to give out for free. “Why don’t you just donate those?” one student asked us. We realized that although we had a brochure that explained why we were doing the swap, and our posters all said something about Fair Trade, the cause of the event was lost on a lot of people. Be prepared with a 30 seconds-or-less “elevator speech” for the students who want to get their hands on free swag. Why are you doing this swap? What is Fair Trade? What are you doing on campus to promote the movement? In addition to the brochure, we handed out a half-sheet of paper that included links to our social media outlets and petition on

Fair Trade T-shirt Exchange - Day 1
Joe gives a Fair Trade tee to Director of Student Affairs, Dr. Matthew Shupp, while Sarah gets footage of the TrailBlazers in action (via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

Fair Trade T-shirt Exchange - Day 2 Bryan and Sara, packing up the donated tees… all 237 of them! (via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

Fair Trade T-shirt Exchange - Day 2

Sara talks to Matthew Bodek, Instructional Design Specialist on campus (via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

Fair Trade T-shirt Exchange - Day 2

The whole lot! Thanks PSU Brandywine, for your support! (via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

With a campus of about 1600 students, we were able to give away 72 t-shirts without a problem. For campuses with a larger student body, make sure you order enough tees! This is an event that will definitely bring success to your movement on campus.

Contributed by Sara Neville.

Divine Chocolate: empowering small farmers

I was excited for today’s speaker, Amanda White from Divine Chocolate, not only for the free samples our faculty adviser ordered for us (the toffee nut crunch is, well… divine!), but for the opportunity to engage in conversation with someone who is in the depths of this complex and valuable global movement.

After giving us the history of Kuapa Kokoo, the farming co-op in Ghana that began their own chocolate company in 1997, Amanda talked about the importance of the Fair Trade business model. Not only does it provide farmers with fair wages in the form of minimum prices for their cocoa plus a social premium, but it provides them with knowledge, power, and profits that enhance many areas of their lives.

Divine Chocolate seminar

Amanda White (Divine Chocolate) speaking at Penn State Brandywine, April 16, 2012 (via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

Empowering small farmers is at the root of the Fair Trade movement. Farmers learn more about their product by understanding the industry and having face-to-face communication with consumers, retailers, politicians, and activists. They have power over their own company by knowing exactly where their cocoa goes, how it’s handled and traded, and what contracts look like. With the knowledge and power that comes with owning their own chocolate company, farmers are swimming in profits that are not just monetary. The Fair Trade model gives farmers the ability the share in the profits they have helped create. So instead of using a lump of charity-donated money to build a school or a health clinic, their business practices allows for sustainability.

“It’s more than just a school or a health clinic,” Amanda shared with us. “It’s teachers and clinicians, too.”

Co-op farmers utilize this business model to build upon their profits. And with sustainable profit growth comes more knowledge, more power, and ultimately, the empowerment that the Fair Trade movement has set out to provide.

After her talk about Divine Chocolate (and a dozen or so chocolate bars later), Amanda fielded some questions and sat down with our committee to talk about the future of Fair Trade in the United States.

Amanda White and the Fair Trade TrailBlazers

Amanda White (Divine Chocolate) with the Fair Trade TrailBlazers, after her seminar on April 16, 2012 (via Fair Trade at Penn State Brandywine)

We talked about the many facets of the movement. Want to get involved? Study agricultural anthropology, economics, international business, nonprofit management, women’s studies, communications, environmental sustainability… the list goes on. Our conversation reminded me of what Billy Linstead Goldsmith of Fair Trade Towns USA said during a workshop at Temple University a few weeks back: “Fair Trade is kind of a meeting point of all the aspects of social justice.”

That is what makes me so invested in the movement. That is why I’m eager to continue learning about all that Fair Trade has to offer, about it’s successes and vulnerabilities, about finding a place and a voice in our society, and moving forward as a sustainable movement in our country, and ultimately, the world.

Many thanks to Amanda and Divine Chocolate for lending her to us on this beautiful spring day! Learn more about Divine Chocolate at

[View the story “Divine Chocolate speaks at Penn State Brandywine” on Storify, created from the live tweets during Amanda’s talk!]

Contributed by Sara Neville

HAE Now tees: a great step in a fair direction

Fair Trade Coffee by nyoin at flickr’s creative commons

So many organizations on college campuses find unity in wearing the same t-shirt, whether it’s for a sports team, a hobbies club, or a specific fundraiser. Students and faculty go through various types of t-shirt companies to design and purchase bulk orders of tees, but most of these companies do not stand for anything. HAE Now, an organic and Fair Trade t-shirt company, stands for environmental and social sustainability. HAE Now has partnered with Fair Trade USA, committing not only to protect the environment through their organic practices, but to care for farmers and their families as well.

Any organization on any campus has the opportunity to stand for something, too. By using companies like HAE Now to provide tees for their events, clubs and groups on college campuses have the ability to make change in the lives of those in impoverished areas. As Fair Trade USA says, “Every purchase counts.”

Read more at Fair Trade USA’s blog.
Like HAE Now on facebook!

Contributed by Sara Neville