If you don’t immediately equate eastern Iowa with a leading fashion hub, you’re not alone. That’s why Andre Wright — the designer, activist and community builder behind the global fashion phenomenon Humanize My Hoodie and the Black Liberation Space in downtown Iowa City — is creating a fashion accelerator this year at […]
Hence Andre Wright — the designer, activist and community builder behind the global fashion phenomenon Humanize My Hoodie and the Black Liberation Space in downtown Iowa City — is creating a fashion accelerator this year at the former home of Varsity Cleaners, 910 S. Gilbert St, a business that closed last January after 106 years.
The goal, he says, is to build an ecosystem that creates underrepresented voices in the community by teaching them critical skills and giving community members a space to create.
Those interested in the age of 14-25 can take educational courses at night and apply their skills during the day in a dedicated area of the incubator.
“It’s hard because there aren’t a lot of resources here in Iowa City,” he said. “But I hope to change that and provide resources that have never been here before. I think if we can build a core…I think we’re going to be shocked at how much talent we have here.”
Fashion for social change
Originally from Waterloo but living in Iowa City since 2003, Mr. Wright has been heavily involved in the art and fashion scene for years, first as the Marketing Coordinator for Shive-Hattery and then serving as the Mentor Connection Director for the Iowa City area. Development Group.
He has held fashion shows and workshops in Iowa City and nationally, but he is most famous for it Humanize My Hoodie campaign in 2017, a fashion label created with lifelong friend Jason Sol and following the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Since then, more than hundreds of thousands of hoodies and other merchandise have been sold, with the brand even receiving celebrity shout-outs from singers such as John Legend.
“We were very organic in building it,” he said. “I think when people are emotionally tuned in, they want to share things and be a part of it. We didn’t have a marketing team to push the brand. By having a conversation about the humanization of blacks and indigenous peoples, they were drawn to our movement.
“We weren’t afraid and we weren’t apologetic,” he added.
He is also the founder of Born Leaders United (BLU), which he said has taken a back seat due to recent efforts, but said they want to rebrand in 2023 to appeal to the youth.
Now she envisions Wright House of Fashion as a place that empowers young people to take charge of their own future.
The space will give students access to graphic design tools such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Some students can use the space to test the brands and products they design in the pop-up retail incubator and screen printing and fabrication area, while others may choose to hone their skills in the podcast room, sewing stations or multimedia studio.
Only 3% of graphic designers are black, Mr. Wright said, noting that he hopes the fashion accelerator will start to shift those numbers in the opposite direction.
There will be workshops available starting in February and running throughout the year in topics such as circuit design light shows, 3D printing, branding and dye basics. Cey Adams, graphic designer and founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings, known for his work with the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Jay-Z and more, will host a workshop in July.
The first quarterly fashion show in the space will be held on March 31.
The Wright House of Fashion is a natural progression, he said, of a similar area in downtown Iowa City that was called the Black Liberation Space.
Dedicated by the Revival’s former owner, Mr. Wright and members of the Iowa City community used the space to speak about free speech, economic liberation and education in the wake of George Floyd. The group has produced clothing items, held art exhibitions, created podcasts, offered training opportunities on unconscious bias, and created documentary which was shown at the Paris Independent Film Festival and the New York Independent Cinema Awards.
Warner Music Group invests in Iowa City
Wright House of Fashion will be home to an intimate class of 10 people taught fashion design and business by industry professionals.
The first cohort of students attended over the summer with Warner Music Group Artistic Director Gordon Thomas, who has worked for artists such as The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, John Mayer, Foo Fighters, Lizzo and more.
Through two-week Zoom sessions, quizzes and certificates, students learned about graphic design concepts and worked to produce merchandise for Atlantic Records artists. Students designed merchandise for Canadian-American artist Grandson for his concert in Chicago in October, and all students were given stage passes to experience the event.
Their merchandise was the best selling clothing during the tour, Mr Wright said.
“That was extremely revolutionary in our community,” he explained. “We had the biggest music distribution label in the world working with kids in Iowa City for a major artist selling our tour across the country.”
For Warner Media, the project was an opportunity to diversify its marketing efforts by understanding the buying preferences of a different segment of the population, he said.
Outlook for 2023
Mr Wright said he hoped the fashion accelerator would give people a space to escape from everyday life, as he did when he was younger.
“[Art] it allowed me to alleviate impoverished situations because I was able to re-imagine myself doing something else, whether it was through murals, painting, drawing or fashion,” he said.
The Wright House of Fashion building was purchased in partnership with the non-profit organization Resilient Sustainable Future for Iowa City (RSFIC), which aligns with its vision of using sustainable practices.
The accelerator is currently trying to raise up to $100,000 for building improvements and operating costs.
AND a larger capital campaign will launch this year, where the nonprofit hopes to raise $1.5 million in fundraising to keep the business afloat; renovate the building to add screen printing space, multimedia studio and retail incubator space; and hire three black women, according to The Gazette. The final reconstruction will not be completed until 2024.
“I’ve never run a non-profit; I only worked for them,” he said. “I guess I didn’t know what to do at first, did I? I just jumped in…now I’m in the process of developing a board and creating bylaws. It was an interesting process.”