You’re Looking Pretty Cool in That AIDS T-Shirt

    When I heard they’d built a brand new Urban Outfitters in Pacific Beach, all that’s trendy in me couldn’t help but swing by for a brief tour.

    Being a self-loathing hipster of sorts, I’ll admit I hate myself for getting juiced about $30 hair clips and shorts that give me camel toe. My theory is that I’m drawn to the faux-alternative chain because I’ve been hypnotized by genius psychological marketing strategies for so long that there’s no more hope of resisting the establishment’s indie-chic pull.

    So I dropped by for a visit. And, as I was standing behind some spray-tanned PB rats in line for a fitting room — tapping my foot to the whiny sleeve-pop (yeah, bet you haven’t heard of that one) on the store’s omnipresent soundtrack — my eyes wandered to a mannequin in a black shirt.

    At first glance the shirt seemed typical Urban: slim-fitting, covered in colorful images reminiscent of a cooler decade and overpriced as hell. But a closer look revealed the graphic to be three grinning black kids hovering above funky block-letter text that read “HAITI.”

    My first reaction was to get pissed at whatever corporate slime decided it was chill to squeeze profit from the decade’s most devastating natural disaster. However, easily distracted by something covered in sequins on the fitting-room return rack, I soon forgot about it entirely.

    But once I’d officially evacuated the store — $100 poorer and high on consumerist thrill — I decided to do some sleuthing on the subject.

    Turns out clothing company OBEY partnered with Awareness and Artists For Peace and Justice to develop the trendy Haiti attire as a way to raise money for the country in turmoil. Apparently, when somebody buys one of the shirts, all profits go directly to the cause. Hipster gets his outfit, Haiti gets its money. Everybody wins, right?.

    Still, the idea that some trend-mongering kid would buy the T-shirt — probably because it matched his skinny jeans and made him look compassionate and informed at some Owl City concert — sort of makes me hate humanity.

    More and more, companies looking to capitalize on a charity campaign are making a big fashionable spectacle out of it. Bono may have intended to heal the world when he started his Product Red campaign in 2006 — sprinkling iPods and Starbucks cups with a sharp red label to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — but he also developed a way for corporations to profit from bourgie rich folks who want to look like they’re giving back.

    The Haiti shirt campaign is no different. No matter how much money is donated to the suffering country, it doesn’t change the fact that half the people who contributed to the cause didn’t give a shit about it. I guess it’s better than the profits going straight to another trust fund — but it’s still pretty embarrassing that our country’s current most popular form of philanthropy hinges on the American consumer’s bad sense of taste.

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