Simpson College students are falling in love with Love Your Melon, a 2012 start-up selling hats to support the Simpson Campus Crew.
The hats, simple beanies with the Love Your Melon logo, run for about $35 each, with the promise to donate 50 percent of the proceeds to nonprofits supporting pediatric cancer research and to give a hat to a child with cancer.
The mission statement on its website reads, “Love Your Melon is an apparel brand dedicated to giving a hat to every child battling cancer in America as well as supporting nonprofit organizations who lead the fight against pediatric cancer.”
This all sounds wonderful at first. But digging deeper, I must question if supporting this business is truly philanthropic.
Love Your Melon uses volunteer Campus Crews to further their business. The crews host events to sell the hats, deliver hats to children and occasionally participate in “Adventures.”
The Adventures are essentially wishes granted to terminally ill children much like the Make-A-Wish program. The founders find supporting these Adventures important as they provide therapeutic treatment to children. The company website showcases two Adventures in five years.
This certainly seems to be a noble cause, similar to TOMs shoes (the “one for one” company donating a pair of shoes to a person in need for every shoe purchased) of earlier in the 2000s. I’m not sure, however, why the company is so popular.
Donating 50 percent of the earnings (“after taxes and fees” according to the website) to nonprofits sounds wonderful, especially if you truly care about wearing the super cute, fad-driven LYM label.
If you are truly a philanthropist however, it would be more beneficial to society to buy a similar $7 hat off Amazon and give $28 directly to a pediatric oncology research institution. Or you could buy five $7 hats and donate four of them to cover the heads of children going through chemotherapy.
The biggest part I take issue with is using volunteers to promote a for-profit company. The Simpson Crew gives countless hours to further the brand for no pay, and LYM profits from it. Nonprofits and children also benefit, but the volunteer hours would be more useful in direct fundraising or working for a hospital or other 501(c)(3) organization such as Make-A-Wish.
Are you really volunteering for the good of the world if a company is making millions ($21 million in revenue in 2016, according to CNBC — only donating $1.5 million in four years) off of your free labor?
To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Love Your Melon itself. The hats are cute. If you want an overpriced, “in” hat, you might as well be servicing the world in some way. That’s great.
My issue is how Love Your Melon and the Campus Crews show themselves as some great philanthropic group. The company is brilliant in its public relations, but they are no charity.
They have made their brand off the idea that customers and volunteers are supporting a giving organization, all while profiting from high prices.
If the company sold nice hats and also showed a deep commitment to corporate social responsibility, I would be all for it. Instead, however, Love Your Melon is growing its wealth by framing itself as these children’s saving grace.
If the founders were truly out to be philanthropic, they would have started a 501(c)(3) with the same mission. But they didn’t.
So should you buy a Love Your Melon hat? Sure, if you want one. Are you maximizing your wonderful contribution to society in doing so? Probably not.
The Simpson College Campus Crew leader was not available for comment at this time.