BOSTON — American sports involve many strange rituals. One of them happens so quickly after a championship game ends that you’ll miss it if you get up to grab a fresh beer from the refrigerator.
It’s that moment when a team of overjoyed, confetti-covered, weeping players stop being merely the newest champions of their sport and transform into a collection of human advertisements for championship apparel.
And retailers have learned to have products ready for jubilant fans within moments of the final whistle.
The problem with that strategy is obvious. Only half of the championship merchandise manufactured before the game will be in demand after it ends.
The other half — in the case of the NFL Super Bowl, it’s around 100,000 T-shirts and hats which, in an alternate reality, would fetch more than $2 million in sales — gets turned into aid packages. Literally.
This year, the NFL partnered with an organization called Good360 to distribute those “back-to-back champs” T-shirts — the ones Seahawks fans were aching to wear — to communities in need.
Emily Coccia, the director of corporate donations for Good360, told GlobalPost that, so far, the charity has received “approximately 1,000 units” of discarded goods, which includes “T-shirts, towels, and hats.”
This is the first year that Good360 has distributed the losing team’s apparel. Previously, the NFL worked with another charity, World Vision. Over the course of their 19-year partnership, obsolete championship apparel was delivered to many countries around the world, including Romania, Rwanda, Mali, Zambia, and Mongolia.
World Vision told GlobalPost that they received around 120,000 items after last year’s Super Bowl. Approximately 75 percent were T-shirts, 15 percent were baseball caps, and 10 percent were hoodies. While a small percentage of the merchandise came from the NFL itself, the rest came from licensed retailers, according to the group. The items went to El Salvador, Lesotho, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zambia. Five thousand units have not yet been distributed.
Good360 functions as an “umbrella organization,” which works with more than 40,000 charities to deliver needed items in both the US and abroad.
So what could be wrong with sending brand-new T-shirts to people in need?
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First of all, it’s not a great way to deliver foreign aid, according to people like Saundra Schimmelpfennig, an expert on foreign charity and the author of the blog “Good Intentions are Not Enough.”
"Shipping unwanted goods overseas is … not smart aid," she wrote of the NFL/World Vision Partnership in 2011.
"This partnership is a win-win for both World Vision and the merchandisers. The merchandisers get to print 100,000 unneeded T-shirts every year without having to shoulder the full cost, and World Vision gets $2,000,000 worth of 'program costs' to improve their expense ratios. And they both get free PR with photos and news stories of happy people receiving the unsellable T-shirts."
But for some critics, the problem isn’t so much about the post-game distribution as it is about the impulse to produce the losing T-shirts in the first place.
Speaking to GlobalPost, Amy Dufault, communications and digital content director at the Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator, pointed out that “the average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste yearly, and of that, about 15 percent is recycled.”
“So to consider the amount of textile waste generated from one evening … is just moronic in 2015. I mean who do we think we are that we think we have unlimited resources just so that we can wear a T-shirt?” she said.
Writing for the Guardian, DuFault argues that what is known as “fast fashion” — the sort of trendy, cheap clothing produced by companies like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 — has helped produce more “textile waste,” which is then redistributed as secondhand clothing to developing countries like Haiti. The practice not only has a detrimental environmental cost, it also threatens the local textiles industry.
“Some of these unwanted textiles, which make their way to Haiti, have fueled the ‘pépé’ — or ‘second hand’ — markets that have grown to dominate the country's textile industry, shrinking the market for locally made clothing,” she writes.
But Coccia says that Good360 doesn’t allow goods to go to waste, and requires their partnering organizations to “follow the life of a product.”
“We only distribute products where communities indicate that they need it. We have partners that work on the ground in 95 different countries,” she said.
“Ultimately, our non-profits are tracking the way that they’re distributing.”
She also stressed that Good360’s partners are “on the ground,” and work closely with the communities that they serve to determine their needs.
What is even more problematic are the products that don’t even make it to groups like Good360. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, only 15 percent of the 25 billion pounds of textiles purchased by Americans per year gets recycled.
“We buy because we are told that anyway, we can throw it away, it’s so cheap, it doesn’t matter,” says Orsola de Castro, founder of a UK-based green label called From Somewhere, and co-founder of Fashion Revolution.
But de Castro says that “there is no ‘away.’”
“As Antoine De Lavosier [the father of modern chemistry] said ‘in nature, nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, but everything is transformed,” she said.