The shirts say marijuana on them in Chinese, okay?
November 14, 2010 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I have a largish number of indentical, idiosyncratic t-shirts with a number of... odd features. How to best unload them?

Sorry this is kinda stupidly long but it is a weird-ish situation.

Years ago while I was working for a think-tank whose work included alternative industrial materials, I came across a little bit in a book about "the oldest name for hemp" (NSFW - erowid link with cannabis botanical illustrations - but halfway down this page, the Chinese characters in black on red - this was the specific reference). At the same time I was thinking and reading about hemp a lot

To make a long story slightly shorter, I had the bright idea to print these characters on a hemp t-shirt and sell it. It ended up being a lot more complicated than I expected, with one thing and another I eventually sold them all but didn't quite break even.

One wrinkle remained: when I was getting the first (and as it turned out, only) print run up, I had a significant number (over a hundred) of shirts printed on just a standard 100% cotton t-shirt (a nice solid shirt but nothing exceptional). I had very little luck moving these (I was marketing mainly to hemp type stores).

I gave up on the "business," chalked it up as a learning experience, and moved on... except I still, over a decade later, have dozens, and dozens, and dozens of these printed cotton shirts in a couple of plastic crates in the basement. My wife gently noted their continued presence (which predates our marriage) the other day.

I could bag and bin them. It would be easiest, I'm tempted just to be rid of them - grab out a lifetimes supply for myself (say 15) and chuck the rest. But though over a decade old they have been kept dry and boxed up. I still wear them. Other than some being a bit dusty there is nothing wrong with them. And honestly they're lovely for what they are. It seems so wasteful.

From time to time I'd get motivated and sell a couple on eBay. Only good feedback, but it's a pain and not worth the money. I tried doing batches but there appears to be about 1-3 customers per month out there for this product, whether I offer one or a dozen.

I feel weird donating them to charity. There is no explanation or tags on the shirts. I commissioned a Chinese artist to do the caligraphy. I trust he did it right but the design I chose was what he described as a very modern, personal style. Some native speakers I polled could identify easily what it represented, some didn't (but seemed to concur when given the translation), I didn't work that hard to figure out how "readable" it was. It definitely doesn't look like the sort of traditional "like you'd see on a tattoo" type characters as in the picture I linked above. Even so, I'd basically be giving unwitting people tons of t-shirts that said "weed" on them in Chinese. It just seems questionable. Am I being stupid about this?

One other thing about them is they are only in L and XL sizes.

I wouldn't mind recouping a bit on them but selling them piecemeal seems like too much work (unless I had some really maintenance free way of doing so) and selling them in bulk seems really unlikely. I'm looking for alternative ideas to the obvious (eBay, Craigslist, donation to charity) or a good enough argument to convince me that giving a ton of weird obtuse arty unlabeled cannabis-theme t-shirts to charity isn't that weird of a thing to do... Anybody out there brighter or more inventive than me?
posted by nanojath to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Roughly how many shirts are we talking about here?
posted by box at 12:11 PM on November 14, 2010

box - Honestly I'm not 100% sure, I haven't done a count in a long time. I'd say at least 75, possibly as many as 125.
posted by nanojath at 12:13 PM on November 14, 2010

Also brings up the issue that anything involving shipping, the cost would not be trivial, we're talking like 30-50 lbs.
posted by nanojath at 12:15 PM on November 14, 2010

You're overthinking this. You have clothes. Other people need clothes. Give away the clothes. It's not your responsibility to decide for other people what they should be wearing. Make the donation, and let other people decide for themselves whether they'd like to wear a shirt whose meaning they don't know. Some people won't care what the shirt says. Some may figure it out and will like it. Some may figure it out and dislike it, at which point they can decide to stop wearing it. Either way, that's up to them. For you, get the shirts out of your house and into the hands of a charitable organization that can use them to help others.
posted by decathecting at 12:21 PM on November 14, 2010 [12 favorites]

Is there a market or hippie shop near you were they sell hemp or weed related things? You could take a couple down there and offer a vendor a stupidly low price for the lot.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:25 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of clothing donation places will take the unwearable clothes and sell them to a recycler by the pound. If you donated them with a note explaining the characters, they can use their own discretion to decide what to do with them.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who used to collect t-shirts with words in foreign languages/writing systems:

Say I find your shirt in a thrift store and buy it. And let's assume I'm a complete idiot who gives no forethought to which of my foreign language t-shirts are appropriate to wear in whatever context, let alone the fact that I have no clue what this particular shirt says. I wear the Chinese "hemp" tee into the office in front of my boss, who it turns out can read Chinese. So.... my boss sees that I have a t-shirt with the word "hemp" on it...? How is this worse than, say, my friends who've taught ESL overseas and seen their students wearing shirts like this? I'm having trouble coming up with a scenario where this would have overt negative consequences besides people thinking I'm a dumbass. Is there some part of China where the word "hemp" is a swear word or something?

FWIW, I used to have a shirt with the French Canadian swear word "Tabernac!" on it, and while I was careful not to wear it in a context where I'd be likely to run into any Quebecois lacking in senses of humor, I didn't go overboard on that and still never ran into trouble.
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on November 14, 2010

I am not sure about how easy this would be, but maybe a nonprofit to legalize might take them off your hands? It might even be a tax write-off.
posted by annsunny at 12:43 PM on November 14, 2010

If you just want to get rid of them use free cycle, offer as a batch and I near guarantee you will be rid of them in a day.
posted by edgeways at 12:48 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might see if there's an eBay consignment/drop-off store in your area that's willing to deal with relatively low-value merchandise.

Alternatively, you might try to locate a shop or dealer (your friendly local headshop? Hippies-R-Us?) who would be interested in taking them off your hands for a low, low price, now that you're simply thinking about recouping some fraction of your loss and not actually turning a profit, as you were 10 years ago the last time you tried to unload them.
posted by drlith at 12:50 PM on November 14, 2010

Have you considered selling them on Etsy? You can enter the quantity and have them all in a single listing. Tag them with relevant phrases. I think there are minimal selling fees but it might be worth a shot.
posted by shoreline at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with shoreline. Etsy could be the answer. It costs $0.20 for each item you list, and you could sell them for a base price plus shipping. Make a listing for the Large size and a separate listing for the XL size. Tell the story just like you did here and take some good pictures.

Doing a search for Marijuana on Etsy only came up with 650 results, so it's not like the market is flooded. You just might be able to unload them pretty easily.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:06 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Contact Medical Awareness, a medical cannabis group. Their acronym (Ma) is featured on their shirts in those Chinese characters (though the ones I see go across and not up and down). You can see pictures of their shirts on pages 118-123 of this Treating Yourself magazine (pdf). Their email address is, and their facebook page is .
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 1:11 PM on November 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

You could get a bunch of hemp shirts printed up with the Chinese character for "cotton" and offer them as a two-for-one thing.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:35 PM on November 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

I forgot to add that Etsy does get a cut from the sale, but it's something like 4%. Paypal gets their share too, but you'll still be coming away with some cash for your effort.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:49 PM on November 14, 2010

Yeah, I third etsy. They're kitsch enough to sell well there.
posted by zug at 2:02 PM on November 14, 2010

Yeah, definitely etsy

so I can buy one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Etsy. I've had enough stoner friends in my life to know that there's definitely a market for this sort of thing. (:
posted by vanitas at 2:59 PM on November 14, 2010

People don't always know or care what their chinese tattoos mean, so I wouldn't worry about it on t-shirts.

Right now, they're taking up space and if you get rid of them piecemeal, it's going to take up a lot of your time. So just drop them off in front off at a Goodwill bin tonight (or bulk sell them locally on Craig's List)
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

After this I swear I'll shut up!

If you do decide to go the Etsy route make sure you update here and put a link in your profile.

So PhoBWanKenobi can buy one.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:22 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wanna buy one too.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:56 PM on November 14, 2010

Are they all-cotton, or cotton-poly? How X is the X in XL - on what size chest would they fit not-snug? I could use a few more nice solid but nothing exceptional cotton T shirts, if they fit.
posted by flabdablet at 7:45 PM on November 14, 2010

Thanks for all the input. I'm still pondering whether selling them individually is worth the effort. Based on experience with what the market will bear there's little doubt I can come up with more remunerative was to expend my hours and I'm likely to just go the donation route, having been convinced that the origin of the graphic is not such a big deal.

Those who really want one I will follow up with outside the thread and if I decide to make them generally available I'll post an update and put details in my profile. Feel free to send me a Mefi Mail to follow up.

Thanks again.
posted by nanojath at 8:11 PM on November 14, 2010

Okay, well, I decided against the Etsy route despite the many suggestions. I just feel like this product doesn't meet the "hand made" requirement, I commissioned the artwork and paid to have them screen-printed so there it is. Though in just a few more years they'll apparently qualify as "vintage" by Etsy's standards...

It's a little dodgy to sell things here but a lot of people asked so I'll address it briefly. I threw together a new blog and added this item to my old shop code. If you go to my profile my "website" link now goes there, it is the first item in the shop.

I'll leave that up until I get sick of it and, having been convinced that it is not a big deal to give them away, I'll give the rest away to charity.
posted by nanojath at 12:58 PM on November 19, 2010

« Older Paypal-like services with a pseudonym?   |   What is this sample? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.