Q&A with Nathan Pham, Founder of Goodjoe.com


"In goodness we trust" is Nathan Pham's tagline for his company, Goodjoe Inc., a community-based T-shirt company he started with an old college buddy, Jourdan Yeh.  The California-based start-up is a classic example of benevolent media: "We use the T-shirt as our basic medium to inspire people to do 'good' and reach out to others to do the same," the website says.

Like Threadless or Design by Humans, Goodjoe invites designers to submit ideas for T-shirts and allows the crowd to "vote" and comment on favorite ideas. Shirts range in price from $12 to $29. But instead of doing it purely for profit, Goodjoe is committed to raising money and awareness for good causes and nonprofits. Threadless' Atrium and Design by Humans' Give Back programs are also philanthropic, however, they tend to work with bigger, well-established organizations like the American Red Cross or the Alzheimer's Association, whereas Goodjoe focuses on smaller groups that still need help getting the word out.

The company hosts weekly design contests and selects a "Design of the Week" to print. Enter for a chance to win $300 in cash prizes plus royalties! Student winners get an additional $200, in line with Goodjoe's commitment to help young people build their portfolios, connect with peers, and jump-start their career.

On a monthly basis, Goodjoe runs a "Design for the Greater Good" contest, soliciting ideas based on the mission statement of a nonprofit organization. (This month's partner is Second Harvest Food Bank, with the design theme of "Raise your fork against hunger!") At the end of the contest, the nonprofit selects the winning design and earns up to 50 percent of proceeds from each T-shirt sold.

In addition to hosting regular contests, Goodjoe has a few fundraising programs, through online fundraising drives and an affiliate program.

I asked Nathan what inspired him to inspire others through good design. Here's what he had to say...


What's your story, in 100 words?

I came to the States from Vietnam in '92 and went to UC Davis in '99 to study computer science and engineering. At the end of my junior year, I realized that I liked talking about technical stuff much more than coding it, so I decided to minor in marketing. After college, I worked for several hardware companies as a sales engineer and was exposed to a lot of different projects where technology, such as One Laptop Per Child, made a huge impact in people's lives. Then in '07, on a business trip I was stuck in Chicago's O'Hare airport due to a snow storm and discovered Life Is Good, which is the tipping inspiration that led to Goodjoe.com. And now here I am, selling T-shirts that inspire others to make a difference.

You could have made anything; why T-shirts?

I simply love T-shirts! Personally, if I have a choice, I prefer to wear T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops all year long, but the weather here in California is not like in Vietnam, so I can't really do it. The two main factors for using a T-shirt as a medium to communicate are that, one, it's casual and fits all ages, and, two, most of the causes and organizations default to using T-shirts as a form of fundraising, and believe me, they could use some cool and unique T-shirts to help them out.

If you could solve one problem in the world through storytelling or design, what would it be?

The main neccessities in life are water, food, clothing and education. I'd be forever grateful if the Goodjoe shirts can make a difference with any of those neccesities. However, being a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. and having benefited from the public education system, I am more attached to the education issue in the developing countries.

What has been your greatest professional success?

I met an awesome mentor in my previous job before starting Goodjoe.

What was your biggest professional failure? And what did you learn from it?

I got let go from my second job out of college. My boss at the time thought I was "too out of control" because I wanted to do a lot of things that the organization has never done before, hoping that things could be more efficient. Partly it was due to my impatience, so the lesson learned here is that there is a time to speak, and there is a time to just suck it up and not rebel. In my defense, I was 22 at the time.

What inspires you?

Good and passionate people. Especially Bill and Melinda Gates.

What's your favorite inspirational T-shirt that you love to wear over and over again?

Ironically enough, the shirts that I love, I can't wear them often because the shirt colors are too bright for my taste. As an example, the Negative Bob is something that I love to promote because I feel there is really no need for negativity. So, in general, I wear the Goodjoe Logo shirt most of the time. In addition, I have two shirts, Real Knight and I FIGHT POVERTY, that I wear so often that the shirt colors have faded.

What projects are you working on now?

As of yesterday, September 6, we just launched a new Design for a Greater Good contest in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. I love the theme and feel that it is very fun for people to be involved. I learned about how serious hunger is in some communities. I can't share much, yet, but the next few campaigns will be very awesome because they involve a few amazing organizations, such as Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and One Percent Foundation.

Do you have any requests for collaboration for current or future work?

Goodjoe hopes to brighten up the causes world with cool and hip T-shirts. We will accomplish our goal only when every cause and organization has a cool T-shirt to represent their awesome work! That being said, if you enjoy what we do, or feel a need for a cool shirt for your cause, please don't hesitate to reach out to us.