Image: Social T-shirts
Al Behrman  /  AP
Miami University students Jack Tench, left, and Kristin Elzey sell edun Live T-shirts on campus in Oxford, Ohio.
updated 1/23/2007 4:36:47 PM ET 2007-01-23T21:36:47

A clothing company founded by Irish rocker and humanitarian Bono and his wife has partnered with college students in Ohio on a business project they expect to roll out to other campuses around the world.

Students at Miami University's Center for Social Entrepreneurship buy blank cotton T-shirts made in Africa and resell the shirts to other organizations. The students make some profit and provide a market to help build trade and employment in Africa.

Bono, the frontman for the U2 rock band, has gained international attention with his efforts to assist developing countries, especially in Africa. He and his wife, Ali Hewson, founded Edun Apparel Ltd. in 2005 to produce clothing in developing countries, providing increased trade and jobs to those areas. The company, based in Dublin, Ireland, stresses that its message is "trade, not aid."

Final details are being worked out for the expansion of Miami's business model to other campuses, said Christine Driscoll, business development manager for edun Live, the sub-brand that consists of the T-shirt line. The company hopes edun Live on Campus, the Miami University pilot, will expand to least 40 campuses by 2011.

"We don't just vote and effect change at the ballot box," Hewson told students in a recent visit to Miami, a 14,385-student public university in southwest Ohio. "We can vote and effect change with the dollar in our pocket and how we use it, and you are leading the way."

Similar sentiments have led major companies to try to help developing areas through business solutions and universities to offer courses covering social responsibility. Starbucks Corp. participates with coffee growers in other countries in a fair-trade arrangement paying them prices aimed at providing a decent living and leading to more sustainable farming practices, and Procter & Gamble Co. developed a water-purifying product for developing countries.

The Miami students buy the T-shirts for about $4 each from edun Live, and resell them for around $10 each to campus organizations and other groups.

"We have the blank T-shirts that we screen-print with custom designs or imprint with the slogan, 'I know who made my shirt, do you?'" said Andy Mitchelides, president of edun Live on Campus.

Consumers can help increase trade and job opportunities in developing areas by buying the shirts, and others who see them may be prompted to question where their own clothing comes from, he said.

The core team of about 15 students has sold 2,600 shirts since the venture began in mid-October. The students make a profit of about $1 per shirt that goes to back to the center.

Brett Smith, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship who helped create the center at Miami, said the profits can be used to start other ventures, bring guest speakers to campus and take students to Africa — where they can see where the shirts are made and meet the workers who benefit from their efforts

"There are really a lot of socially conscious students out there who just need to be sparked by something," said Trevina Delmastro, 19, of New York, a member of Gamma Phi Beta. The sorority has bought the standard edun Live shirts and plans to buy more designed specifically for the sorority.

"Demand isn't a problem," Driscoll said. "We're getting letters from other schools wanting to know how they can get involved."

Leading scholars say social entrepreneurship began emerging in the 1980s as more people realized that government alone could not solve society's problems and more private initiative was encouraged. The concept has been gaining popularity over the past decade.

Business schools at universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Duke in the United States and Oxford University in England have expanded beyond courses in social entrepreneurship to also offer activities such as research and conferences.

"Miami is doing groundbreaking work as one of the few schools developing a strong undergraduate program for social entrepreneurship," said Gregory Dees, faculty director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

He said the training is spreading to schools of government, public health, education and engineering.

"I think our generation is determined to find ways of creating social change through sustainable business models like edun Live," Mitchelides said.

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