Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens were about to head down to the finish line of the Boston Marathon when they found out about the bombings. As the events of that tragic Monday unfolded, the two Emerson College students pondered a way to help the victims. The idea: charity T-shirts with the slogan “Boston Strong.” Cueing up Google for a T-shirt printer, they found Ink to the People, a Milwaukee-based decorator that prints user-designed T-shirts if a minimum number are sold. Reynolds and Dobens designed the T-shirt and set the minimum at 110. As of press time, over 34,400 have sold, generating more than $500,000 for The One Fund charity, set up by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
“The real story is these two college kids using this platform we built and being super successful with it,” says Marshall Atkinson, COO of Ink to the People. “We feel a little silly talking about our platform.”
The royal blue T-shirt features gold lettering that says “Boston Strong” in all capital letters. The colors represent the official colors of the Boston Marathon, and the name is a nod to the Livestrong charity and its widespread unifying message. “We came up with the phrase ‘Boston Strong’ as a way to show support to our community,” says Dobens, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in marketing. “We are grateful to be able to contribute and in our own way help the victims of this tragic day.”
Ink to the People agreed at the outset to donate 100% of the sales from the first 1,500 shirts sold to charity. After that, $5 of the $20 price point went to the printing of the shirt, with the remaining $15 given to charity. “When Nick and Chris approached us with their idea, their hope was to make a small mark and help those in need with their T-shirt fundraiser,” says Jay Berman, principal of Ink to the People. “This tragedy in Boston hits close to home and we wanted to help give back.”
Started last year, Ink to the People combines the principals of crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Groupon with the idea of T-shirt printing. Users can create an idea for a shirt, upload to Ink to the People, and then use social media to spread the word. If enough people purchase the shirt, Ink to the People prints the shirts and mails it out to the buyers. If the minimum isn’t met, the shirts aren’t printed and nobody is charged. Atkinson says the idea was to take away the hassle of upfront costs for a great T-shirt design. “The website is designed to take all that pain away from you,” he says. And not only is The One Fund receiving a massive donation, but Ink to the People is also receiving major media exposure for its innovative idea, generating coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and more. “It looks like an overnight success,” says Atkinson, “but we’ve been working hard for a year and a half on this.”