The devil wears poverty rates

What could be more hipster than development statistics?

Dear creators of StatAttak, designers of development statistics-based clothes,

Today I stumbled upon your website, thanks to the twitter feed of Texas In Africa. I read your insightful story on how you came to care about development statistics:

…we came across “Life Expectancy at Birth.” Andorra was the highest with 83.51 years, and all the way at the bottom was Mozambique with 31.1 years. This shocked and horrified us, especially since the average age of our small company is just under 28 years old. We spent the next couple of weeks telling this horrible statistic to everyone we met. Everyone we told was as shocked and appalled as we were. We quickly realized that telling people individually was gonna take too long, so we came up with the idea of StatAttak – a t-shirt line based on statistics that people should be aware of. This way people would become walking billboards for these stats, and they would help spread the word. The hope is that once you see these numbers, you can’t help but want to change them.

What a fantastic idea – instead of donating money to charities have a reasonable chance of helping the poor, I can instead shell out $25 for a stylish, if illegible, t-shirt which will help raise that immeasurable asset of “awareness,” albeit only after some confused, drunken explanations at the parties I will be attending with said shirt.

Thank you StatAttak, for taking the context out of the statistics, allowing me to “make people want to change them”, even if I’m not giving them the slightest clue how best to do so.


Matt Collin

PS – Even with my boring, un-statistical clothing, I get the feeling that I’m always a few years behind the fashion trends. T-shirts with time-varying statistics on them might go out of fashion a little faster (then again, even if Angola’s poverty rate is lower a year later, who’s going to know, right?)

12 thoughts on “The devil wears poverty rates

  1. Justin Kraus

    April 8, 2010 at 12:41pm

    The number of ways in which that t-shirt company is wrong is impressive. As usual truth is stranger than fiction.

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  3. Ranil Dissanayake

    April 8, 2010 at 3:27pm

    What a hilarious post.

    how close would you have to be to read the explanation of what the stat is? that writing is tiny. I think it’s all a scam so people can take a good long look at other people’s bodies without feeling unvirtuous.

    Maybe we can make an Aid Thoughts range of clothing. Maybe one with an econometrics regression across the chest, and ‘This isn’t the whole story’ on the back? Or one of the successful poverty is falling regressions on the front, and the diagnostics on the back – with the line ‘Always check structural stability’. ‘Heteroskedasticity is not your friend’?

    It’s so weird how fashionable “caring” about poverty is.

  4. @IdealistNYC

    April 8, 2010 at 3:55pm

    I understand the frustration with creating awareness campaigns for “awareness’s sake,” but what if you think of it this way:

    I’m not rich. I only have $25 that I can either donate to an NGO doing good work to reduce poverty, or use to buy a t-shirt that will educate 25 other people about the problem and inspire them to act. If each of those 25 people donates just $5 to charity, that’s $125. If they each donate $25, then created a net gain $625 with my initial $25 investment–FAR more than I would have donated alone.

    Advocacy is important. It’s only a piece of the puzzle, for sure, but it’s a crucial piece, and I think it’s shortsighted to bash advocacy campaigns for raising awareness instead of acting.

  5. Spun

    April 8, 2010 at 3:56pm

    You could do a cross country scatter diagram of mobile phone pentration and female education with a big optimistic upward sloping trend line through it.. maybe in red with a (postive message) arrow..

  6. IdealistNYC

    April 8, 2010 at 3:57pm

    That said, I do agree that the shirts are very difficult to read, and the message is poorly crafted for maximum impact.

    For those reasons, the shirts are unlikely to have the intended impact and are therefore a poor investment of $25.

  7. Justin Kraus

    April 9, 2010 at 2:39am


    I said before that this shirt company is wrong in many ways, your comment highlights one of them. Awareness is important. But as an idealist in order to do actual good, you need good information. And even if you could decipher the stat from the poor design, these t-shirts don’t give you that. Instead they promote, as your post demonstrates, a knee-jerk donating mentality that feels it to be perfectly legitimate (indeed virtuous) to throw money at problems that it doesn’t understand, e.g. “Surely if $25 is good then $125 or $625 is better?”


  8. Dusan

    April 9, 2010 at 7:10am

    And, they will “go to Mozambique with a group of volunteers from the design industry and build an orphanage from the ground up.”

    @IdealistNYC – but what if you think of it this way:

    Any message on your shirt, in order to entice into action will need contextualization and will require direct contact with people. So what do you think, you advocate and educate 25 people without paying for this farce AND give your money to charity. According to your maths, this will add 25$ to the final sum and you don’t need to wear a T-shirt as visualization of your ignorance.

  9. @IdealistNYC

    April 9, 2010 at 7:53pm

    @Justin Kraus

    I was actually responding to the original post, not to your comment specifically. I get frustrated by the knee-jerk snark with which many people respond to advocacy efforts. Are THESE t-shirts particularly effective? No. But the idea of using a t-shirt to raise awareness of an issue is not, in and of itself, something that has no place in aid and education efforts.

    And I see no problem with the idea of using a t-shirt for fundraising efforts. This t-shirt specifically doesn’t even promote any specific group, so if you’re inspired by it, you’d still need to do some research where you would spend your money. Give people a little credit. If they’re inspired to action, hopefully they’re do their homework. And if not, you should be incensed my mankind’s stupidity, not by the t-shirt.

  10. Andrew W

    April 12, 2010 at 5:08pm

    Maybe if you get off your high horse for a second you’d have a greater chance of reading what’s on the man’s t-shirt.

  11. Justin Kraus

    April 13, 2010 at 5:19am

    @ Idealist. You know, we actually agree. I said the shirts are not effective, and so did you. I also never said that t-shirts have no role in raising awareness (they do). So again we agree. The only thing we seem to disagree on is whether or not my comments (and perhaps the post istelf) are “snark.” I’ve noticed how this term on blogs is used to rhetorically dismiss viewpoints with which one disagrees. But, you know, its not very nice. Why not simply say, “I disagree”? But since we both actually agree, I’m at a loss to explain your snark attribution.

  12. Adam

    April 15, 2010 at 6:45pm

    It’s getting really hard to tell whether aid websites are parodies or not. I really thought the ‘free holiday’ orphanage bit at the end made this a dead cert for ‘yes’ but apparently it’s not. Amusing.

Comments are closed.