Using a Brand I Founded called 1SOUL DESIGNS, I developed an apprenticeship program that aims to teach urban youth how to build their own conscious t-shirt line. The purpose of the program is to train students on branding, marketing, advertising and production, while educating them on the social factors that directly impact them and their communities. The students are encouraged to integrate political expression, personal beliefs, and of course creativity in their concept designs. The workshop is structured to take on an average of 5-8 students per semester and has proven to be a success, according to school faculty, parents, and the students themselves.
This year, the apprenticeship was divided into three different t-shirt design projects, each having its own theme:
The first was based on cultural figures. The students were shown a screening of Malcolm X and were asked to design a t-shirt based on what they learned. They incorporated visual elements of injustice, racism and social inequality in their designs. For example, one of the t-shirts has an image of a lil girl getting her hair straighted with konk in real big type stated "Self-Degradtion".
The second theme was based on historical events. We specifically focused on the political turmoil that shook Latin America from 1976-1983, otherwise known as the Dirty War. Students visited the Disappeared of Latin America exhibition in El Museo del Barrio in NYC. The following is an excerpt from the press release:"....this traveling exhibition ...brings together visual artists' responses to the tens of thousands of persons who were kidnapped, tortured, killed and ‘vanished’ in Latin America by repressive right-wing military dictatorships during the late-1950s to the 1980s....." Once again, the students were asked to develop a creative t-shirt design based on what they gathered from the show. Their designs mirrored the innocence and senseless devastation that these individuals endured.
The third theme was based on social matters impacting the world. We specifically focused on privatization issues affecting indigenous populations of Bolivia. Students attended a screening of the documentary The Fourth World War. This film depicts the unlawful actions private corporations took against indigenous populations and their attempt to claim ownership of indigenous land. The indigenous groups refused to leave areas they had inhabited for years and effectively resisted the entry of these corporations through means of protest and defending their communities. Based on this empowering documentary, the students produced imaginative designs that reflected the constant battles and hardships unprotected groups have to regularly face.
Students were able to print their designs in the 1 SOUL Designs studio and sell their work to fellow students in their schools and around their community. Additionally, they learned to utilize a portion of their profits to invest in future t-shirt production. They were later given the opportunity to showcase their work in a school fashion show, which they coordinated with the help of 1 SOUL and faculty. Overall, the students felt accomplished and proud of the work they created. Unfortunately, today not many youth are presented with an opportunity to artistically express themselves through an innovative outlet, such as silk screening. We expect these students to continue to utilize art as a platform to communicate their conscious point of views and hope they push others to do the same.
This workshop has served as a resource for students to learn about the political and social events that are usually overlooked in classic school curriculums. Not only are these students taught historical realities that are often disregarded, but they have been given an opportunity to visually convey a message through a unique creative medium.