Heroes

Before you buy a new T-shirt, here are 8 things to know.

They're totally comfortable, always fashionable ... and not super-sustainable.

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Savers

It's one of the most famous — and ubiquitous — articles of clothing in modern history. So much so that you're probably wearing one right now.

It's the mighty T-shirt, and though it may seem simple and unassuming, there's quite the story in its humble threads. So, in honor of T-shirt weather, here are nine important things — good and bad — that you might want to know about this beloved article of clothing.

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald — you know, the author of "The Great Gatsby" — is credited with naming the T-shirt.


Sometimes the simplest product names are the best. Image via Ilan Sharif/Flickr.

Hold up a T-shirt, and it's easy to see the letter shape it forms. Fitzgerald thought so, too — he's credited with the first written appearance of the word "T-shirt." In his 1920 novel "This Side of Paradise," F. Scott Fitzgerald described a character's wardrobe as "provided with 'six suits summer underwear, six suits winter underwear, one sweater or T shirt, one jersey, one overcoat, winter, etc.'"

2. There's a Guinness World Record for the most T-shirts worn at once, because of course there is.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, yes, Joey, you could. GIF from "Friends."

When there are world records for the largest hockey stick (big ups to Duncan, B.C., Canada) and most eggs crushed with the head in 30 seconds, there absolutely has to be one for wearing the most T-shirts at the same time.

The holder of this very specific title as of this writing is Sri Lanka's Sanath Bandara, who wore 257 T-shirts at once to win it in 2011. Altogether, the shirts weighed more than 200(!) pounds.

3. 9 out of 10 Americans are probably wearing a T-shirt right now.

There's a matching T-shirt for every one of those hoodies. Image via iStock.

According to a 2013 survey by CustomInk, 95% of Americans wear T-shirts with 89% of them wearing one at least once a week.

4. James Dean and Marlon Brando looked so good in T-shirts that it basically defined their early careers — and started the T-shirt craze.

Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Image via Wikimedia Commons.

If you've seen the 1951 version of "A Streetcar Named Desire," there's probably one moment you remember most: Marlon Brando, standing in the rain in his ripped T-shirt, yelling for Stella. Ditto for "Rebel Without a Cause": James Dean, effortlessly cool, wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans lounging against a muscle car.

These visuals are iconic, and they helped make Brando and Dean into heartthrobs and superstars. Brando's T-shirt-wearing was particularly shocking because T-shirts were not meant to be worn on their own (they were called bachelor undershirts, meant to be worn under another shirt). But instead of hurting shirt sales, he boosted them big time.

5. Cotton — the most common ingredient in t-shirts — is a huge business.

Image by iStock.

In the United States alone, there are 35,000 cotton farms, employing about 170,000 people.

6. T-shirts take a lot of cotton to make. And even more water.

Making T-shirts is thirsty work. Image by iStock.

Most T-shirts are made completely or partly from cotton. America is the third-largest cotton producer in the world, harvesting almost 13 million bales, or 6.2 billion pounds, in 2015-16. For every acre of cotton harvested, fabric companies can make 1,200 T-shirts.

That's not a bad ratio — until you consider water use. It takes about 700 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for just one T-shirt. That's enough to fill an eight-person hot tub.

7. New shirts made from recycled cotton can make a big difference.

Image by iStock.

T-shirts made with recycled cotton look and feel identical to their non-recycled counterparts. There's one big difference: Their sale keeps tons of textile waste out of landfills every year.

8. Millions of T-shirts are donated at thrift shops every year. But even more end up in places like this.

Behold, the final eternal resting place of so many ironic T-shirts. Image by iStock.

Landfills are a depressing place for any object — let alone a favorite T-shirt that's a little past its prime. Many shirts will find their way to a new friend, but for those that don't, there's still a chance for a second life when you donate rather than throwing away ... just ask Macklemore.

Looks like Oscar's ready to pop some tags, too. GIF from "Sesame Street."

All in all, there's a lot more that goes into making and selling T-shirts than might meet the eye.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

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