OPINION: The T-shirt industrial complex on college campuses must stop | Opinion

With the amount of new free T-shirts that appear every year at NC State, you’d think some of the endowment was invested in screen printing. Just as a warning, this article is not against anyone wearing a shirt they got for free from time to time. My problem is with all the event organizers and leaders who go through the logistics of an event and think “T-shirts, we need T-shirts”. Everyone already has more shirts than they’ll ever be able to wear, and every new shirt has both a fiscal and environmental cost.

Every stage of life brings a barrage of new T-shirts. You need a jersey for every club you were at, every event you volunteered for, 5K you ran, or candidate you voted for. This problem is exacerbated in middle school, where there are big events every week and hundreds of clubs. Not to mention the worst offenders, sororities and fraternities, which seem to make a new set of Panhellenic shirts every month.








It may be cliché, but nothing is free. Most of the shirts you can get for free on campus will come from one of the tuition you pay with tuition or club dues. It’s important to think about what else that money could be used for that is more valuable than a shirt. But when t-shirts are offered, of course people take them because they’re free, and who doesn’t love t-shirts?

Your padded pajama drawer doesn’t like t-shirts. The reality is that a person can only wear a limited number of shirts, or even will. The majority of shirts are worn on the day of the event and maybe a few other times in the outside world and then relegated to the pajama drawer because they have sentimental value so you can’t get rid of them this. By then you probably got a new T-shirt anyway. A few years go by until your pajama drawer is full and you decide to donate it.

Your local thrift store doesn’t like t-shirts either. As a frequent Goodwill shopper, I can’t tell you how many “Class of 2015” T-shirts and other personal shirts I see at rock bottom prices. Would you ever wear a band travel shirt for a school you didn’t attend and a band you didn’t play in? Probably not, and with all the daily donations to thrift stores, no one else does either.

This cycle has a terrible environmental footprint. It takes up to 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton shirt. That’s enough water to meet one person’s hydration needs for an entire year. Cotton also needs more pesticides and insecticides than other crops, which can pollute waterways and decrease air quality, according to the World Resource Institute. Most shirts not purchased from thrift stores can be recycled for insulation or furniture stuffing, but that doesn’t negate the initial low environmental impacts of the initial production of the T-shirt.

I don’t hate t-shirts. I have a lot that I wear all the time, but if I’m being honest with myself, I have enough shirts for the next 10 years. It’s fun to correspond with your friends and have a way to represent your favorite organizations, but with all the shirts I’ve seen offered on campus in the first month and a half, it’s probably true that most NC State students will never need another T-shirt for their entire college life.

I don’t think it’s the average student’s responsibility to limit the number of shirts they carry. At that point, the damage is already done. Campus organizations just need to be more aware of assessing the real necessity of ordering from Custom Ink. There are plenty of ways to build community that don’t involve taking up closet space afterwards.

Elizabeth J. Harless