Buy a panda T-shirt, help earthquake victims in China

Auditi Guha

Buy shirts. Wear shirts. Help people.

That’s the motto two men came up with for Pandashirts – a local social enterprise raising money for the Chinese earthquake victims in Sichuan.

Somerville resident Hao Zhang, who moved to the United States from China when he was 8, was shocked to hear that the May earthquake in China affected five million people. The sheer numbers made him feel that he really wanted to do something about it. He began by starting a $1 fundraiser at work. Within a week he and his colleagues had collected $10,000 in aid money.

"I thought: wow, it’s so easy to make something happen,” Zhang said. “But I knew that after the disaster, the awareness dies down. I wondered what I could do to sustain it.”

He contacted his childhood pal Ben Provan of Brookline and they came upon the idea of creating panda T-shirts. Their mission is simple – to raise money to support the Chinese earthquake victims, and to create comfortable, great-looking shirts that people love to wear.

Two months into the project, they have sold about 150 and sent $1,000 to the Red Cross in Sichuan, the district most hard hit after the earthquake. The money goes to the China Earthquake Relief Fund.

“We reached out to friends and family and a lot of people helped,” Provan said. “Now we are trying to expand beyond our personal circle.”

With a Facebook page and a Web site up, the two are hoping for more business, a strong online community and “more panda sightings.”

Zhang had visited Sichuan district in 2007 where pandas are endangered and an indigenous species. He saw people trying to repopulate the pandas and help release them back in the wild and thought a panda would be a great logo for the cause “because everybody loves pandas.”

“The panda is a national treasure in China and well connected to the Sichuan province,” Provan explained. Since it’s an original design made by a friend, he doesn’t believe they’ll face copyright issues from the World Wildlife Fund.

Available in grey, pink and blue, the T-shirts are made by American Apparel and are being sold at $20 per item. “It’s not a design on a cheap T-shirt that you’ll wear just once. We wanted good quality material,” Zhang said. “It captures two things – a good product and a social mission. And they are fun to wear.”

Provan is a green consultant and Zhang is a research affiliate at the Broad Insititute at MIT. But despite having fulltime jobs, the two hope to expand this effort locally and globally. The Red Cross has recently endorsed Pandashirts, and the founders welcome interested folks and organizations to join them in their effort. You can contact them by email at

“We are giving people a chance to make a difference,” Provan added. “If you are going to buy a T-shirt, why not buy one that makes a difference and helps a cause?”

Somerville Journal