History to Wear

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Kristin Haskins C’93 doesn’t wear her heritage just on her sleeve; she also wears it across her chest and down her back. As we speak, she’s wearing it in the form of a red razor-back tank top, which features a khaki-colored silhouette of Angela Davis’ face and unmistakable Afro. In simple yellow text it proclaims: Angela!

Haskins isn’t the only one using her clothing to showcase her African-American roots. So far, more than 500 people own similar wearable works of art from her studio. Under the taglines “wearing your history with style” and “wearing history on your back,” Haskins brings new life to black historical figures, events, and movements by placing their likenesses on funky, eye-catching shirts like the one she has on right now.

It all started with a postcard—actually, a series of postcards. This past January, Haskins, a graphic designer, was trying to come up with a fresh idea for a birthday greeting that her father’s office would send out to
clients. For the other months she’d used seasonal or holiday themes, but for January she settled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and designed a card with a silhouette of King and text from his famous “I have a dream” speech.

It occurred to her that her creation would make a great T-shirt, and that realization led to Strangefruit, Haskins’ fledgling company, named for the haunting Billie Holiday lynching-protest song. But “it’s not just about protest,” says Haskins. “It’s about civil rights; it’s about history. It’s also about diversity—we’re all strange fruit, in a way.”

She currently has enlisted pals from Paris to New York to sport her designs, which can be viewed—and purchased—at (www.keydesignonline.com/strangefruit/strangefruit.htm).

“I want the message to be: don’t forget your heroes, don’t forget your history,” she says. “Revive it, be proud. Even if you’re not African American, this history is important.”

In case that message doesn’t come through as clearly as she would like, Haskins has a solution in the works: a hangtag for each T-shirt that doubles as a bookmark and contains information about the person or event depicted on the shirt.

—Molly Petrilla C’06

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