Retail Therapy: T-shirt sales benefit Fresno causes

FresnoNovember 2, 2013 

Buy a T-shirt, do some good in the world.

Those two things don't always go together, but they do with the recent launch of Leavesly.com.

The Fresno-based company sells T-shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops that promote a different cause each month. Each time a shirt is purchased, $8 goes to nonprofits working on the cause.

Last month it was black T-shirts encouraging people to adopt stray animals with the phrase "Rescue me" and a paw print worked into the design.

The three dogs in the picture are siblings who were rescued as puppies locally and adopted to separate homes. The female model in the picture, Brooke Lloyd, provided a foster home for the dogs and adopted one of them.

Such fundraising websites aren't new. The national website Sevenly.org — founded by Aaron Chavez, a 19-year-old from Dinuba — has been raising money by selling T-shirts since 2011 for causes such as feeding starving children.

But most sites benefit national organizations, which left Fresno mom of four Erin Backowski wondering if such a website could help local groups.

So she started one.

Leavesly gets its name from the effort to leave the world a better place than you found it, she says.

Ideally, each month a local organization and a national one with similar causes will partner with Leavesly, taking advantage of the bigger marketing abilities of the national group. Both organizations will get a portion of the sales.

The November campaign supports an end to human trafficking. A portion of the sales go toward Central Valley Against Human Trafficking, a program run by the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, and the national group Not for Sale.

The T-shirts feature sayings such as "Set Me Free" and "It's My Life." They range in price from $23 for a child's T-shirt to $44 for a fleece hoodie.

The shirts are designed by Nettra, a Fresno-based digital marketing firm.

Human trafficking is one of those vague topics that people are surprised to learn is a problem in the Fresno area, Backowski said. The EOC has identified 128 victims of human trafficking in the last three years.

Sometimes they are girls and young women forced into prostitution. The EOC uses the example of a young woman here who voluntarily became a prostitute when she was financially desperate. She was beaten when she tried to leave the lifestyle and was never allowed to keep the money she earned.

More often, victims of human trafficking in the Valley are immigrants who have agreed to work for someone — either as a maid or in the fields — in exchange for sending money to relatives abroad, says Sareen Bedoyan, marketing and communications coordinator at the EOC. That money is never sent.

"People just don't think it happens in Fresno," she said. "It happens."

Leavesly.com is a company, not a nonprofit. It was the best way to financially get started, though the emphasis is on the nonprofits and "we won't be making any money anytime soon," Backowski says.

Raising awareness is a big part of Leavesly's mission. Backowski noted that her mom and sister ended up adopting dogs after her involvement in the cause.

"It really makes you sit back and think, 'I can make a difference, even if it is giving somebody a piece of information,' " she says.

 

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter. Read her blog on fresnobeehive.com.

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