These Black History Month T-Shirts Are More Than A Diversity Initiative — Here’s Why

These Black History Month T-Shirts Are More Than A Diversity Initiative — Here’s Why

Like clockwork, the beginning of every February sees an influx of Black History Month initiatives from virtually every fashion brand — until it all comes to an abrupt hard stop on March. These seemingly empty marketing roll-outs with no real long-term objectives never fail to leave consumers questioning just how sincere they truly were. But Old Navy aims to be the exception, not the rule. To prove its dedication to marginalized groups of people, the beloved retailer launched Project WE — an ongoing series of artist-designed graphic tees honoring important cultural moments — in January 2021 as a way to amplify diverse voices.

So, for Black History Month, as part of Project WE, Old Navy tapped three Black artists — Temi Coker, Lo Harris, and Destiny Darcel — all of whom were given carte blanche to design illustrations highlighting BHM in their own definitive styles, while exploring the realm of self-love, strength, and legacy through a Black lens. From Harris’ cartoon-like animation to Coker’s and Darcel’s more illustrative approach in the form of artful silhouettes with key details, the lineup includes three different takes on a tee for the month-long holiday. But after talking to the creatives about finding inspiration for this project, they all shared similar sentiments: We should be celebrating Black stories, history, and culture 365 days a year. 

Old Navy is keeping the support going by also implementing a slew of changes behind the scenes, which includes (but is not limited to) a $1 million donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, along with a continued commitment (and $50,000 donation) to The Fifteen Percent Pledge, whose mission is to create a more equitable industry. And as an ongoing partner, Old Navy is dedicated to increasing its pipeline programs to focus on driving access and opportunity to the Black community. Continue reading to learn more about each artist and the meaning behind their BHM T-shirt designs.

Lo Harris

How do you want to effect change with your work? 
“In 2020, at the height of BLM protests, I felt voiceless. So in an effort to grieve, release, and take control of my own narrative, I made a conscious effort to develop my style and use art as an extension of my voice. After years of denying myself, I finally decided that I was an artist — self-made, self-motivated, and determined to create work that celebrates my authentic voice and brings light and hope into the darkest moments.”

Tell us about your “Black Joy” T-shirt design. What was the source of your inspiration? What did you want to convey? 
“It took a few iterations to get to the final version. But after a few weeks, four fully executed concepts were narrowed down to the one joyous, femme-centered design. I wanted to create a shirt that honors my relationship with other Black women (friends or family) and celebrates the sense of love and community I feel among them.”

What do you want shoppers to take away from your design? Is there a specific element in your graphic tee that’s particularly important?
“I want people to embody my shirt’s fun, celebratory vibe. To feel gratitude for life and cultivate a sense of joy in spite of a painful history. Representation matters, so what better way for me to celebrate my image than to hide a part of myself in the design? One of the characters is heavily inspired by what I look like in a fresh set of box braids.”

What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important for retailers like Old Navy to honor BHM?
“To me, BHM is about more than honoring the past, it also presents opportunity for us to acknowledge the present and manifest a better future. It is important that brands normalize making space for marginalized voices who can speak on their contemporary experiences. Not just within the confines of a singular month, but year-round.”

Temi Coker

How do you want to effect change with your work? 
“I had a love-hate relationship with my skin color until my senior year in college. I realized my culture, my skin wasn’t a mistake. It was a blessing. I wanted others who looked like me to see themselves in a way that highlights their beauty, importance, and worth. I want people to know: Black is a beautiful canvas.

“I don’t shy away from the racism happening in our communities, and I try to highlight that in my work when I can. There are still a lot of issues that affect the Black communities, and I hope my art can shed light on that, as well as remind us that we are worthy of life, love, beauty, and joy despite what the world tries to say. As much as my artwork is a reminder to others, it’s a reminder to myself.”

Tell us about your “We Are The Future” T-shirt design. What was the source of your inspiration? What did you want to convey? 
“There were about two, three iterations. The phrase, ‘We are the future,’ kept coming to mind. For Black History Month, I didn’t want to create something that works just for February. I wanted whatever I make to be something that can be worn every month of the year because we are Black history in the making. Every choice we make, every thing we do will eventually be a story passed down to our loved ones in our lineage. So I wanted to reflect that in the work.”

What do you want shoppers to take away from your design? Is there a specific design element in your graphic tee that’s particularly important?
“I want the shoppers to feel seen, to be reminded that they are the future. I made the subjects Black on purpose because that could represent any African American that buys this shirt. It’s important to feel represented. I wear this shirt with pride, and as far as the colors go, the African American culture is vibrant. If you look closely, the patterns in the circle were inspired by the Adrinkra symbols (look them up). The history behind those symbols and their meanings are amazing. I also wanted to go with an Afro / high top look (what our hair looks like in its natural state), because that’s also beautiful.”

What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important for retailers like Old Navy to honor BHM?
“Black History Month is all about looking back and giving props to all the Black pioneers who paved the way for us to be where we are today. It’s a celebration of their lives, their stories, our identity, and a reminder that we are part of that story. We are important. Our stories matter. 

“It’s important for retailers like Old Navy to honor BHM because honestly, we built this country. We deserve some recognition. Not just in February, but every single day. As amazing as this is, I think retailers can definitely do more.  I want retailers to keep this same energy year-round. If you’re truly trying to honor us, extend this same energy to your Black employees. Put them in positions of power, listen to them, implement some of their ideas, otherwise brands will continue to make the same mistakes they’ve always made in the past, like acknowledging BHM only for potential profit gains and not doing anything to impact Black communities.”

Destiny Darcel

How do you want to effect change with your work? 
“I don’t think I ever thought about a lack of representation in art until I started drawing Black women. I just drew what I am in constant awe of ,which is Black women, Black people. I want us to see ourselves — the happy versions, the fly versions, the carefree versions of ourselves.” 

Tell us about your “Generational Strength” T-shirt design. What was the source of your inspiration? What did you want to convey? 
“I remember the initial call about what Old Navy was looking for, and someone mentioned the word ‘generations,’ and I knew that I had to draw a Black family. A strong family unit with multiple generations. I stand firmly on the school of thought that family is where our strength comes from. It actually was one of the fastest design processes I’ve ever had. It’s almost like I already had the idea dreamed up and I was just waiting on someone to help me bring it to life.”

What do you want shoppers to take away from your design? Is there a specific design element in your graphic tee that’s particularly important?
“I want shoppers to take away the love and strength that I sowed into my design. I want them to feel seen. And if not seen, inspired. I’m actually hoping that a family will re-enact the design and take family photos in the same poses and outfits. The hair — the braids, the bantu knots, the regal grays, the locs — is important. I took a lot of pride in drawing their hair.”

What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important for retailers like Old Navy to honor BHM?
“Can every month be Black History Month? Because it is in my house. Black History Month is American history. Black people built this country with our bare hands and put it all on our backs. It’s important for retailers to acknowledge our power and strength and magic. It’s just nice to feel seen — even if it is for the shortest month of the year.”

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