May 1, 2013 · 1 minute

Pop-quiz: Name an organization funded by users' contributions who receive cheap swag in return. Is it the latest hot new Kickstarter? Nope, it's National Public Radio.

Well, actually in this case, it's both. Instead of turning to a phone-a-thon to fund its latest Planet Money story, NPR, (who's been participating in "crowdfunded journalism" since before the Internet was even a twinkle in the Defense Department's eye) is using Kickstarter. The project? To make a T-shirt and tell the story of how it came into being:

Almost every single t-shirt out there -- from the cheesiest vacation tank top to the fanciest boutique designer tee -- is the result of a complicated global odyssey. We will take you on that odyssey and document the route our t-shirt took to your back. We'll meet the people who grow the cotton, spin the yarn, and cut and sew the fabric. We'll ride on the cargo ships that bring our t-shirt from factories in Bangladesh and Columbia to ports in the US. And we'll examine the crazy tangle of international regulations which govern the t-shirt trade the whole way.
Planet Money has set its goal at $50,000. Anyone who contributes $25 or more will receive (what else?) one of the project's titular T-shirts. But is $50,000 too ambitious? Projects like HomicideWatch and the online journal Baltimore Brew didn't raise 50 grand, and those were designed to be longterm projects, not one-off stories.

But Planet Money is doing more than merely saying, "Hey here's what we're doing, give us cash." For starters, investigating the byzantine supply chain of everyday apparel is both a worthwhile endeavor, and one that's intimately connected to our lives in a way that, say, an architecture podcast might not be. On top of that, it cleverly capitalizes on the feeling of "Kickstarter fatigue" we get after supporting a project that makes us say, "I funded a campaign and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

With Planet Money's project, that "lousy T-shirt" is more than just a commemoration of your generosity. It's the physical manifestation of the journalism you funded, and a wearable commentary on the whole crowdfunding rewards system.

[Image courtesy Laughing Squid]