IOWA CITY — Two young Iowa designers have had their work selected for production and distribution by a major American retailer.
About a year after fashion activist Andre Wright transformed a dry cleaning building into a house of fashion, the Wright House of Fashion has helped students land partnerships with national record labels and retailers showcasing some of the first projects from its students.
The nonprofit program launched in 2022 to teach diverse youth the ins and outs of fashion, textiles and creative industries where faces like theirs are underrepresented. Now, some of its graduates are seeing the fruits of their labor.
“It was huge because we started this without knowing we’d have a project that would have this type of impact,” said Wright. “Not only are we working with some incredible organizations, but we’re giving back.”
A T-shirt design by North Liberty student Hector Ramirez, 16, and Johnston resident Tyshaun Petty, 22, was selected earlier this month by Atlantic Records and Warner Music Group to celebrate the record label’s 75th anniversary. The shirt design, whose proceeds benefit #HashtagLunchBag’s hunger relief initiative, is available nationwide at Pacsun retailers.
“Atlantic Records was founded 75 years ago with groundbreaking music that often stemmed from marginalized voices and communities,” the company said in a statement. “Atlantic has always focused to uplift those voices and make sure they are heard.”
For Ramirez and Petty, who had little experience in graphic design and fashion before this program, the experience has been invaluable in helping them realize their career potential.
Ramirez, who met Wright through the Black Latino student union at Liberty High School, thought it was just an opportunity to learn how to work with unfamiliar software, like Adobe Illustrator. He wasn’t particularly interested in fashion design before. Now he is.
“Andre really pushed us to be more creative and do creative stuff,” Ramirez said. “He was a big part of just creating and being happy with the outcome. To me, he’s like a mentor.”
The shirt design, an entourage of stick figures playing jazz instruments with a tagline “Hip to the Tip,” was inspired by retro designs the students noticed in a documentary on Atlantic’s history. Ramirez helped refine it for its simplicity and nostalgia.
Higher-ups at Atlantic Records took note of the unusual quality from those with a fresh perspective.
“Everything was custom, and you could tell it was handmade and was not just clip art. I was very impressed with everybody’s work,” said Tava Sampson, art director for Atlantic.
Petty, a young artist who had taken a break from graphic design work, said the experience helped him realize a feasible career path in design.
Both students learned about the process of working with real companies — organization, deadlines, supply costs and the cycle of the creative process.
“This program has not just changed the lives of the students, it has positively affected the lives of everyone involved,” said Gordon Thomas, art director for Warner Music Experience.
Wright, who said the program was an opportunity to not only spark interest but to shape the interest into a tangible path in the industry, believes it is one of the only programs of its kind in the Midwest, particularly working with a record label under Warner Music.
One of his ultimate goals through the program is to increase diversity in the fashion industry to alleviate bias and microaggressions in design.
“For me, it shows if you put your effort into something, have a passion for something and stay committed to it, that you can make a difference,” he said. “The other thing is shows … is how we can be a contributor to getting more diverse folks in creative departments and in a creative landscape. A lot of times, they don’t see their ideas coming to fruition.”
Comments: Features reporter Elijah Decious can be reached at (319) 398-8340 or [email protected].