The Art of Fresh: Fashion and Philanthropy (Preview)

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” ~ Paul Robeson

According to the late Paul Robeson, artists have the opportunity to use their platforms to make significant changes in society. However, some would argue that artists have no obligation to address certain issues. Although they may have a point, when I think of artists who have become icons in popular culture, I think of those who have used their voices to raise awareness, especially as it pertains to social and political issues. Artists, such as Bob Marley, Nina Simone, John Lennon, Fela Kuti, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, have all taken a stand against the injustices of the world. In retrospect, they have become bigger than their artistry. They have been philanthropists, humanists, revolutionaries, and activists. They have been individuals who have lived their lives beyond just fortune and fame.

Issues, such as poverty, gun violence, police brutality, gangs, and racism continue to persist. But there is a new wave of artists who are carrying the torch. These artists are not only using their music, but also fashion to make social and political statements. For instance, in the 2004 presidential election, P. Diddy (founder of Bad Boy Records), Sean John, and Citizen Change launched a campaign to encourage more young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to vote. This helped change the face of the U.S. political landscape by encouraging the youth to “Vote or Die”, using celebrities as his support system.

The campaign was meant to show that the right to vote is a matter of life or death. This notion may not be too far-fetched, as people have literally fought and died for this freedom. I believe this resonated with young people, not only because of the celebrities involved, but also because of its simple, yet powerful position in politics. This campaign was not only successful in 2004, but also in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected.

Jay-Z, Hip-Hop artist and co-founder of Rocawear, also attempted to use fashion as a statement. Although it was short-lived, he released a new line of t-shirts, which were meant to support the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. This movement served as a protest against social and economic disparities between corporations and the American people. The shirt “tweaks the phrase ‘Occupy Wall Street’ by crossing out the ‘W’ and adding an ‘S’ to make it read ‘Occupy All Streets’.”

Unfortunately, this effort led to a little bit of controversy, primarily because he never intended on sharing his profits to the actual protestors. The Business Insider states, “A Rocawear spokesperson sent us a statement confirming there’s no plan to distribute any of the profits, which will surely pour in from shirt sales, to Occupy Wall Street.” According the spokesperson, “The ‘Occupy All Streets’ T shirt was created in support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Rocawear strongly encourages all forms of constructive expression, whether it be artistic, political or social. ‘Occupy All Streets’ is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street. At this time we have not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement.”

This leads to questionable motives of certain artists. There seems to be a thin line between legitimacy and sincerity from the public’s point of view, especially in this day and age where there are many cultural capitalists. In my opinion, there needs to be a clear alignment between the art and actions of the individuals, which leads me to Kendrick Lamar’s recently released, “Ventilators 2” by Reebok.

Throughout his career, Lamar has repeatedly shed light on his upbringing in Compton, California, where gang culture seems to dominate the living conditions of his immediate environment. Having been heavily influenced by this reality, he has always mentioned it in both his music and interviews. With songs, such as: “Little Johnny”, “M.A.A.D. City (featuring MC Eight), and “I”, he continues to provide a voice for his constituents by emphasizing social, political, and economic discrepancies that are woven into the American fabric. His response to these discrepancies and pervasiveness of gang culture are the Ventilators 2. Complex mentions, “These Ventilators, which were previewed by, are set against an off-white suede base with alternating blue and red accents on each shoe. The gang references are apparent, and each tongue tag is inscribed with ‘Neutral,’ echoing a sentiment Kendrick has been pushing strongly during his career.”

Other artists, such as Usher and John Legend (pictured below), aren’t necessarily known for making social and political commentary in their music, but they have also been recently seen using fashion to make a statement.

As we continue to face adversities in our lives, it is important to have the opportunity to express ourselves constructively. It may not necessarily be directly based on certain social, economic, or political issues; however, we are undeniably affected by these issues in one way or another. In that regard, we should continue to find creative ways to address these issues for the betterment of mankind.


Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

This is a preview lesson.
Lesson Plan

Goal/Description: The students will research a social, political, or economic issue that may affect their daily lives. They will then design a t-shirt that addresses this particular issue.

Objectives/Outcomes: The objective is to allow the students to raise awareness of their issue-related theme for social, political, and economic justice by designing a t-shirt and finally presenting their projects to the class.

Enduring Understandings: Fashion can be utilized to raise awareness of issues involved in the community. The students will develop a deeper understanding of their issues and find effective ways of communication through the arts. Essentially, the students should be able to explain, interpret, and apply their understandings while showing signs of empathy and perspective.

Essential Questions: What are some effective ways to raise awareness? How does fashion play a role in raising awareness?

Key Knowledge/Skills: Declarative Knowledge – Several issues have been raised by artists, who have used fashion to make a statement. Procedural Knowledge - The students willdesign a t-shirt that will help raise awareness of a particular issue.

Evaluation/Assessment: Formative – The students will design t-shirts that address certain social, political, and economic issues. Summative - Group discussion; production of materials; group presentation

Materials/Teacher Resources: 5W’s chart, coloring utensils, t-shirt templates

Teaching Procedure/Time Allotted: One class period

Intro/Motivational Dialogue: Today, we will be researching a specific issue dealing with social, political, or economic conditions. Then, we will design t-shirts that will raise awareness for these particular issues. (The teacher will provide a text-based activity related to the article, “The Art of Fresh: Fabrics and Philanthropy, while presenting the Essential Questions to the students).

Demonstration: Discuss the relationship between artistic expression and social, political, and economic issues. Also, mention artists who have raised awareness through fashion. Have individual students express their understanding of the underlying theme through verbal and/or nonverbal communication.

Work Period: The lesson will begin with a discussion based on the Enduring Understandings and essential questions. The teacher will present an article that mentions artists who have raised awareness on particular issues, then allow the students to brainstorm on how they will do the same for theirs. The students will conduct research on a particular topic and then create a presentation that covers relevant information for this issue by filling out a 5W’s chart. Finally, they will design a t-shirt addressing this particular issue. The students will draft their designs using the t-shirt templates.

Closure: The students will present their information and designs to the rest of the class.

Shirt templates:


More T-shirt templates:

5 W’s Chart:


What are some effective ways to raise awareness?

How does fashion play a role in raising awareness?

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Lesson tags: Art, Economics, Eighth, Eleventh, Fashion, Featured, Music, Ninth, Politics, Pop Culture, racism, Social Issues, Social Studies, Tenth

Jeffrey Vinson

Jeffrey Vinson Jeffrey D. Vinson has been an educator for nearly a decade and is the head teacher at Roots Activity Learning Center, an African-centered private school in Washington, DC. His research and practice in Hip-Hop Integration is primarily based on the many contributions that the African Diaspora has made on western civilization. His aim is to provide students the necessary skills and experiences to handle the many challenges that they will face both inside and outside of classroom. Jeffrey empowers his students’ learning experiences by utilizing culturally responsive teaching through art, technology, and community development.