In a darkly lit corner of Memorial Union, the sun peered through a hazy window pane as Darius Northern gazed out at people passing by below. He sat, composed and collected, observing the students as they moved to and from class. As he reflected on the progress he has made so far, he shared one of his goals: to walk out his door every day and see somebody on campus wearing one of his hoodies.
Darius, a senior studying public health, is the founder and creator of the clothing brand, People of Colour. The mission of the brand is to create unity among the POC community and to educate and generate conversation on topics relating to racism and discrimination.
The brand developed as a result of Darius’ experiences as an African-American student on the OSU campus. Originally born in Nashville, Tennessee, raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and employed in the military in Arkansas, Darius explained the “culture shock” he experienced after his move to Corvallis. He stated that when he arrived on the OSU campus, it took him three days to see another black student.
“I had never been an environment where I had to think about being black every day,” Darius says. “It was exhausting.”
The inspiration to create the clothing arose after he went out to eat on a restaurant near campus.
“I remember walking in, and being the only person of color in the room,” Darius says. “Within the sequence of me getting food and leaving, I had someone ask me if I was on the football team. Then someone asked me if I was on the basketball team. Then someone complimented me on my hair. From that moment, I started thinking about how I could transfer that uncomfortable feeling from me, to the room.”
In September 2017, Darius started creating shirts with provocative statements to wear to class from his apartment with equipment purchased from an online retailer and techniques learned from studying videos.
His first statement shirt profiled the racial disparities in the United States’ criminal justice system, including statistics about the disproportionate amount of African-American males in the system. On the front, Darius quoted a J. Cole lyric: “They love to serve a brother three hots and a cot.”
The brand took off after Darius wore one of his shirts to play basketball at Dixon Recreation Center. A student-athlete noticed the shirt, and after discovering it was Darius’ creation, asked if he could have one. Darius followed through with the order, and gained attention on social media after the student-athlete posted it on his Instagram.
“Before I knew it, I had 75 people in my [direct messages], trying to order shirts,” he says. From that moment on, Darius realized the brand could be bigger than himself.
Once People of Colour gained attention online, Darius contacted Aik Brown, a muralist located in Sacramento who created the logo and helped cement Darius’ creation as a brand.
Darius first began selling his shirts to the public in February 2017. Since then, he has mailed shipments across the United States and internationally to Germany and England.
“A lot of people think that it’s this big, extravagant process,” Darius says. “I tell people, as I’m making your shirt, I’m probably watching Netflix, just chilling in front of the TV.”
The basic layout of Darius’ clothing designs includes the People of Colour logo on the front, which serves to represent unity, diversity and culture amongst people of color. The back features provocative statements which are intended to create awareness and spark conversations surrounding race and discrimination. Statements and designs vary, and Darius draws inspiration from everywhere: music, movies, documentaries, articles, experiences and conversations.
Darius discussed one shirt in particular, which includes this statement on the back: “1. What does it mean to be White? 2. How often do you think about being White? 3. How would your life be different if you weren’t?”
“For that moment, those 15 to 20 seconds, I have you thinking about those questions. I feel like that is the goal of the brand: to make people aware, and to make people think and internalize their surroundings, without being disrespectful,” Darius says.
One of Darius’ key focuses is to promote diversity in his photoshoots, specifically by featuring a variety of people of color from the OSU campus.
“When people come to the website, I want them to see their face,” Darius says. “I want people to connect and feel proud about being a person of color.”
Christopher Wilson, a junior at OSU studying supply chain and logistics management, is one of the students involved in Darius’ photoshoots. He emphasized the importance of a brand like People of Colour to the OSU campus.
“It’s important because it empowers students not only through their identities, but through a clothing brand where we can support each other as well as our demographic here at Oregon State,” Christopher says.
He added that he has yet to see something similar on a college campus.
“You have all the stuff to wear to support your school, but nothing to support who you are, or your identity,” Christopher says.
Caleb Michael, a senior majoring in speech communication, is another student involved in Christopher says photo shoots and advertising. Like Christopher, Caleb emphasized the importance of the brand to the school.
“I think it’s so important because it’s saying the things we are all thinking and won’t verbalize,” Caleb says. “I think it’s important here specifically at OSU because we boast about diversity here when, in reality, there’s hardly any.”
Despite the brand’s quick success, Darius describes a number of challenges, including balancing the brand on his own while continuing to take classes at OSU.
“The brand kind of took off before I wanted it to, so I wasn’t really prepared,” Darius said.
“Sometimes I forget I am a student. I love it though. I really don’t see it as a challenge, and I’ve learned a lot about myself throughout the process.”
Looking forward, Darius hopes to transition into screen printing, which would allow him to create more shirts at a faster rate. In addition, he is in the process of developing a website, which would allow his brand to reach more people and make it easier for him to manage orders. He wants to begin advertising nationally, and hopes to one day see the brand as a topic of conversation in the classroom.
“I want to see the shirts in middle schools, I want to see them in elementary schools,” Darius says. “I want it to be the focal point of curriculum, or a question of the day.”
Darius also described the importance of the brand to him personally.
“I feel like the brand, creating those statement pieces, creating those conversation pieces, has allowed me to channel my frustration with my environment, with society, with the bigger picture,” Darius says. “As a black person, I have to carry my race everywhere, and it’s something that I constantly have to think about. But when I wear a People of Colour shirt, or garment, or hoodie, I feel like I don’t have those thoughts anymore.”
Darius notes that the reaction toward the brand and its messages has been extremely positive. He has even had white individuals reach out purchase clothing, despite feeling uncomfortable with the People of Colour logo on the front. Darius described his struggle with the notion of selling the shirts outside the people of color community.
“I think I wanted to make something for us. Something that we can rally around, and have unity amongst people of color,” Darius says. “I’ve tried to make content that ties in my caucasian support base, but it just didn’t feel right.”
Darius posed a question to his white peers: “Are you really about advocating for people of color, standing next to people of color, and being an ally? Or do you just want a shirt?”
Consequently, Darius has tabled the idea for now, but is considering one day making content that is “more inclusive.”
Ultimately, Darius aims to make an impact by empowering people of color, not only on the OSU campus, but on campuses and communities across the nation.
“It’s not about the money. It’s not about trying to throw out or develop a sub-par product just to release to people. I really want it to be perfect. I want it to touch and resonate with people, from every angle.” Darius says. “And by no means do I consider myself an artist, or fashion designer. I’m merely a person who makes shirts, while in his room, watching Netflix.”
Originally published at The Daily Barometer.