Last fall, Virgil Abloh, the Off-White designer, partnered with Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) to help uplift and improve opportunities for young, at-risk men in the city. “I always wanted to give back,” says Abloh, who was born in Rockford, Illinois and spends a lot of time in Chicago.
Run by Arne Duncan, Chicago CRED and Abloh, along with Don C and RSVP Gallery, created a fashion program. The initiative is a six-week course—led by RSVP Gallery store manager and buyer Lance Jackson, as well as other RSVP Gallery staff—that explores street style branding, Illustrator, Photoshop, screen printing, retail skills, and fashion communication. “I sort of patterned [the course] off my own career,” explains Abloh. “I wanted to do it in a way that would’ve resonated with me. I didn’t want just a weekend program. I wanted to be a part of something that gave an actual skill set and window to create another world they might have never seen.”
Fifteen men, many of whom are from the South Side of Chicago, were chosen to participate. Last night, they presented the graphic T-shirts they designed and produced for the brands they created—Monstar, Swindle and Brute, ICC, and Credentials—at a runway show in the Windy City.
“Our goal is to reduce violence in Chicago,” says Duncan, Chicago CRED's managing partner and former U.S. Secretary of Education. “We’re working directly with young men who are most likely to shoot someone or be shot. We think the best way to help them move away from that life is to partner with them, walk with them, and give them emotional support. These men have the chance to express themselves and create. It’s fun to watch.”
Right now, Chicago CRED, Abloh, and Don C, are in talks to possibly sell the T-shirts designed by these young men. Though nothing’s set in stone, they’d also like to continue the program. “Much of what our guys struggle with is a lack of hope, feeling like the community doesn’t care about them,” says Duncan. “I think this opens up not just a chance to create but a chance to see how much people value their potential.”
“This [program] means the world [to me],” adds Abloh. “Not many designers come from where I come from and look like how I look. I wanted to share what I’ve been able to discover with more kids who come from where I come from and look like how I look. I want to show them that the world is full of tremendous opportunities.”