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Doing Good One T-Shirt at a Time

This story appears in the May 2012 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The premise is simple, but the results are impressive. Every week, Fullerton, Calif.-based Sevenly sells one new, original design on T-shirts and hoodies and donates $7 per sale to its charity of choice. When the week is up, so is the opportunity to buy that particular design. The limited window creates a sense of urgency to purchase, says Dale Partridge, who founded Sevenly with friend Aaron Chavez.

Shirts emblazoned with "Awaken our hearts to end hunger" raised more than $11,000 for Relief International, a nonprofit that responds to humanitarian crises. "Girls are not for sale" helped Girls Educational & Mentoring Services provide safe haven and education for victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. And "It's time to listen / Care for autism" raised nearly $23,000 for Autism Speaks.

The numbers still surprise Partridge. When they launched their website in June 2011, he and Chavez figured they'd sell about 20 shirts, mostly to friends and family. They ended up selling more than 300 within 24 hours, and 860 the first week, raising more than $6,000 for International Justice Mission, a human-rights agency. Since then, sales of T-shirts and hoodies--priced at $22 and $35, respectively--have raked in more than $260,000 for various charities.

With 50 charities a week applying to be part of their campaigns, Partridge and Chavez feel the pressure to make good choices. The organizations' missions must fit within at least one of Sevenly's seven chosen categories: human trafficking and slavery prevention; access to potable water; medical causes; hunger solutions; disaster assistance; poverty relief; and a general aid category that includes assistance in areas like suicide prevention and homelessness.

The shirt design can make or break a campaign, so Sevenly's designers, called the "Type Team," are a critical part of the process. "If we have a really powerful design and a less emotional cause, the shirt would do better than if we had a great emotional cause and a poor design," Partridge says. Sevenly uses premium fabrics and water-based inks to capture fine artistic detail; the shirts are manufactured in Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production-certified child-labor-free facilities in Nicaragua, Peru and China.

In a survey of customers and social media users, 73 percent say they're more likely to donate to or volunteer for a charity as a result of Sevenly's efforts.

94 percent of respondents say they are more educated about causes because of the company.

51 percent prefer to support a cause by buying a product vs. donating directly to a charity.

Social media drives 85 percent of Sevenly's sales. Influencers with large followings spread the word about each campaign; some do so simply because they like Sevenly's charitable component, while others are compensated. The company has also launched a mobile-optimized site.

There are no plans to change the "lucky" business model of seven days, seven causes and seven charitable categories, but Sevenly may expand by selling other products, such as prints of the artwork designed for shirts.

Partridge and Chavez hope to raise more than $1 million for charities by 2013 and are on the hunt for venture capital. Partridge is also working on training programs, books and videos to help charities better harness the power of social media, especially for capturing younger donors.

"I don't think there's any person on planet Earth that gets a chance to work with a charity as intimately as we do every week," Partridge says. "By doing that, we have a chance to train charities so they leave our campaigns smarter than when they came in."

Still Making a Difference
We check in with some of our do-gooders from issues past

Drop In

Reef Re-creator: Ionature Christopher Wojcik.
Photo© David Lang

Visitors to the New Jersey shore town of Brielle might be shocked to see a giant horseshoe crab perched behind the Shipwreck Grill. Not to worry, though: The sculpted sea creature--made of steel rebar covered in concrete--will provide a home for underwater life when it's dropped into the ocean this spring, about five miles southeast of where it currently sits.

Christopher Wojcik, founder of Bay Head, N.J.-based Ionature, which designs and builds exhibits and habitats for zoos and aquariums, designed the reef--first featured in our May 2011 issue--to provide the right proportion of cover for young fish and crustaceans, surface area for encrusting organisms and interstitial spaces for other creatures.

Wojcik says he "can't wait to take people out there" and hopes the reef will soon become a tourist attraction for boaters and scuba divers. For photos and project updates, visit

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A Positive Spin
Since Peter Sprunger-Froese moved his free repair shop, the Bike Clinic, from the sidewalks of Colorado Springs, Colo., to a garage space, he has repaired and donated 14 bikes per week to those in need.

Inspired by Sprunger-Froese's efforts, which were highlighted in our October 2010 issue, employees of two other Colorado Springs shops--Criterium Bicycles, which underwrites the cost of the original Bike Clinic, and Old Town Bike Shop--helped Sprunger-Froese open a second location, the Bike Clinic Too. With expenses underwritten by the local chapter of Catholic Charities and a shop staffed with volunteer mechanics, the new outfit refurbishes and donates four bikes a week (keeping them out of landfills) and repairs another four to six, all for some of the area's poorest residents.

"We can't keep up with Peter's output," says Brian Gravestock, who works at both the Old Town Bike Shop and the Bike Clinic Too, "but we do pretty well for a bunch of volunteers working part-time."

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Bee Helpful
Teens Molly and Carly Houlahan had plans to sell honey from a family member's hives to raise money for cancer charities in memory of their grandfather. But when a beekeeper friend's death led to a bequest of more hives--and more honey than they knew what to do with--the sisters launched a honey business with an extra-sweet spin.

Featured in our September 2010 issue, Hives for Lives--which Carly runs while Molly attends college--counts Whole Foods Market and other groceries among its customers. The Houlahans and their "helper bees," as they call their 30 teen volunteers, have donated more than $200,000 to cancer charities.

These days Carly is also working on an online curriculum to create Hives for Lives branches at schools across the country. "We are just starting to create the lessons, but we're really excited about creating hundreds of other clubs," she says. "We're going to make it all about girls learning about social entrepreneurship."

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