DESIGNERS AGAINST AIDS

...fighting the battle

I have always had my doubts when it comes to non-profit organisations, and have always questioned whether the money that we donate actually goes to the people who need it. Of course, nowadays there are thousands if not millions of non-profit organisations, all fighting towards different causes, all of which similarly donate money through various methods of attracting people, but how effective is this? I have always felt uncomfortable watching advertisements of deprived and severely underweight children, and personally I do not agree with encouraging people to donate money through pity and sympathy, as the images that are brought across are effectively, extremely depressing. However this is generalizing to a certain extent. Not all non- profit organisations operate in this manner.

NOT JUST A LABEL had the opportunity to meet with Ninette Murk, the founder of the non-profit organisation, Designers Against Aids, and who most recently received great attention through her collaboration with H&M, thus creating “Fashion Against Aids”, a marriage that draws awareness to the twelve million young people in the 15-24 age group that are now infected with the virus. Although her ultimate goal is to create awareness, she does so in a collaborative and unified method that simply delves into the cause rather than through persuasion and sympathy. It was refreshing to meet Ninette, who has come up with a straightforward theory that is not painful to the eyes, but all together a lot more powerful, sociable and recognizable on a much larger scale; reaching young people in industrialized countries. Designers Against Aids is as simple as its name; a joint venture of designers and celebrities coming together and creating a print for a T-shirt.

Ninette Murk began her career as a successful freelance fashion writer based in Antwerp who enjoyed a life of travel whilst, covering shows in all the major fashion cities and writing for Belgian and international magazines and websites. Her life as a writer was blissful and exciting, meeting and networking with the industries “crème de la crème’s”. However, whilst her career was flourishing, her assistant and close friend Peter was dying of AIDS.

Despite this, Peter continued to attend fashion shows with Ninette, only to receive a blind eye and a negative attitude from the people in the industry, particularly during Fashion Week. This came as a big eye opener for Ninette, and when Peter died a year later of the disease, she realized how unaware and oblivious the creative industries were towards Peter’s illness. Consequently, this negative reaction persuaded her to come up with a project that would reach out to developed countries who perhaps do not realize that AIDS effects them, and more importantly, does not only occur in Africa.

The concept of Designers Against Aids rose to surface when Ninette’s friend who manages a prestigious club in Antwerp celebrated its 15th birthday, encouraged Ninette to ask renowned fashion designers, DJs and celebrities who attended the party to design a print for a T-shirt. Consequently, the club donated all the profits from the T-shirts to AIDS research at the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp.

It is impossible to say that it was not difficult, but with the help of Javier Barcala, who began working with Ninette as an intern and then later as a creative director, high profile designers such Dirk Bikkembergs and Calvin Klein who with open arms responded very well and designed prints for a T-shirt that appeared at the Premium Fashion Fair in Berlin, and were sold in Colette and Dover Street, Designers Against Aids established itself with the support of Umbro who provided free T-shirts.

Nonetheless, Ninette’s biggest downfall and struggle was attracting consumers to buy the T-shirts. With such low response, she began to think of other alternative ways of attracting young people, if Colette and Dover Street Market did not attract her target market, how else would she attract them? The perfect solution arose to the platform: H&M.

The idea was immediately embraced by H&M and together with Designers Against Aids, formed the Fashion Against Aids, H&M would produce, sell and market the collection and in return, Designers Against Aids had the contacts of the designers, celebrities and musicians. Eventually a collection of T-shirts, would sell in 600 stores throughout 27 countries, billboards were put up in major cities of the world and as a result 90% of the collection was sold in its first month. Through the support of celebrities such as Timbaland, Ziggy Marley and Chicks on Speed (only to name a few), who designed the 100% organic cotton collection for the store, (of course free of charge) and 25% of the selling price of the collection going to HIV/AIDS prevention projects around the world. H&M did not take any of the profits from the sales of the collection, however its great response from celebrities and artists was not only profitable but it reached out to developing countries and in some ways worked as a wake up call to the fashionistas, the music lovers, the artists, the producers, the young, the adults who perhaps do not realize the illness is increasingly on the rise, even in their own industrialized country.

I went home that day after meeting Ninette feeling different. Why aren’t all non-profit organisations like Ninette’s?
Designers Against Aids brings forward an alternative, and the priority here is making people aware of Aids, encouraging protection and making people realize that Aids does not only spread in less developed countries and that it is on the rise again. Through its involvement with celebrities, singers, artists, it helps bring forward an approachable and sociable cause, making it easier for young people to identify to the illness, and not a “gay disease” but an apparent and ongoing illness that realistically, does not only occur in African countries but in every single country in the world.