Dan Gigante is going to make the goodest shirt ever.
He was wearing a chicken suit when he told me this – but in his defense, it was Halloween and the look kind of worked for him.
You And Who is a buy-one/give-one t-shirt company based in Buffalo, NY that collaborates with artists and designers in cities all over America to create limited edition designs for their shirts (Iron Octopi will appeal to any of my fellow sci-fi geeks in a very cool way). For every shirt sold they are donating clothing or meals to organizations that work with the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and at-risk youth in the hometown of that shirt’s artist. If you own a pair of TOMS shoes or glasses from Warby Parker you’re already familiar with this kind of business/giving model (and can I ever say enough good things about Warby Parker? I love their glasses – they’re the official eyewear of my face right now. Even Dan is rocking a pair in these portraits). Dan has grown the business from eight cities in 2010 to forty cities, eighty-nine charitable organizations, and over one hundred artists across the country in 2013.
Dan was watching an online talk by TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie when the idea for You and Who came to him, and the notion of creating a charitable company that also promoted the work of up-and-coming artists stuck with him until the urge to leave the web development company he had founded in 2000 was too much to ignore (and isn’t there something wonderfully cinematic about that? A catalytic moment followed by leaving the past behind to create something new for the benefit of others – this story is one t-shirt making montage and a synth soundtrack away from being a really good 80′s movie). Dan set out on his mission to make his job one that mattered “The idea that I could have a company in which every sale resulted in helping someone appealed to me. In my off time I used to sit on a lot of different boards, and I have always been a giving person, so to be able to combine that with my main job is kind of the ultimate – what I was able to do as my main job was also able to help people.”
They say to build a business it takes time, money or luck. Dan certainly puts the time in: handling production, fulfillment, travel, marketing, and working with the many artists and charities involved with the company (Dan seems to be a vague human shaped blur most of the time, as he moves amongst the seemingly limitless tasks of his business while making it look effortless – but I have photographic evidence of his existence now). As for money, the company has relied mainly on word of mouth and grassroots efforts to get their name out in lieu of spending a ton on advertising – they have been able to do a lot with their modest budget in three short years growing the company with revenue and not outside funding. Luck is the last factor, and You and Who had some good luck in its early existence, but in their case I see it more as preemptive karma. For their 25th anniversary the Crowley Webb agency decided to offer up the services of the their entire staff for one long 25 Hour Workday. Of the over 40 local startups that applied, You and Who was eventually able to use their social media skills to secure the vote and were entirely rebranded in one day by Crowley Webb – a brand they later launched at SXSW to national coverage.
The idea of the triple bottom line (profit, environmental impact, and social impact) has been a guiding principle of the business since its start, but after three years in business a global tragedy become an eye-opening moment for You and Who that is redefining how they create and source their products. In April of this year the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, killing 1,129 and injuring thousands more. The Savar collapse was the deadliest garment factory disaster in history, as well as the world’s deadliest structural failure. Though not the first garment factory disaster to happen in Bangladesh, this nightmarish global tragedy was a wakeup call for Dan “Our shirts weren’t made there, but they could have been. We realized that we needed to take control of where they were made”, Dan related in a recent fundraising video.
All plans for expansion were temporarily put on hold as You and Who underwent a major change after this Bangladesh incident. Dan sourced new fabrics, manufacturers, and dye shops that would allow him to move all of You and Who’s production to the US while providing a more unique home-grown product. “This is our shirt, our own custom pattern, made here.” It’s a bold move for a young and growing company that in many ways built its brand on selling design and goodwill, not custom garments, but bold moves have a tendency to pay off and be remembered. This new direction kicked off with an Indiegogo powered presale that brought in over $25,000.00 in shirt sales for the company, allowing them to make the shift to this new method of production – a shift that seems like a natural extension of You and Who’s philosophy and core values. not just in giving them more control over the ethics of their supply chain, but in contributing to keeping domestic garment jobs viable, and developing partners in their giving mission to make the goodest shirt ever.