This Philly T-shirt company is celebrating 'Forgotten Women of the Civil Rights Movement' - Generocity Philly

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Mar. 13, 2017 12:48 pm

This Philly T-shirt company is celebrating ‘Forgotten Women of the Civil Rights Movement’

Founder Desiree Robinson calls Thrift Element Apparel "a clothing company that creates conversations.”

Thrift Element founder Desiree Robinson with her husband, Anthony.

(Courtesy photo)

Editor's note: Thrift Element Apparel's founder's name has been corrected. Also, the company's upcoming "MIA" collection will include Nina Simone, not Solange. (3/13, 2 p.m.)
Oftentimes, Women’s History Month is associated with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other suffragettes who fought for only white women’s right to vote. But that’s not the whole story.

In 1989, Black feminist theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” or the study of intersecting identities such as race, gender, socioeconomic class, sexuality, age, religion, disability, etc., to illustrate the many ways a single individual can be oppressed. That’s why it’s important to include Black women’s voices this month, especially following A Day Without A Woman, introduced by the Women’s March on Washington organizers.

Enter Thrift Element Apparel.

Using comic book fonts and superhero illustrations, the Philly company’s T-shirts feature unsung heroes such as Sojourner Truth, Elaine Brown, Audre Lorde, Tarika “Matilaba” Lewis and Fannie Lou Hammer. There’s even a special “Pioneers of the Galaxy” design celebrating Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the three NASA scientists highlighted in the recent film “Hidden Figures.” Products, which are sold primarily online, begin at $20.

To kick off Women’s History Month, Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse in Kensington hosted Thrift Element’s first ever pop-up shop on Saturday, March 3, with the theme of honoring the “Forgotten Women of the Civil Rights Movement.”

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Raffle winner Takira Tyler holding Thrift Element's Fannie Lou Hamer shirt.

Raffle winner Takira Tyler holding Thrift Element’s Fannie Lou Hamer shirt. (Courtesy photo)

It’s no coincidence the event was held at Amalgam, which is home to Philadelphia’s only comic book store owned by a woman of color, Ariell Johnson.

“The overall theme was to honor Black women and put the image out there of them as superheroes because that’s not something you normally get to see,” said Desiree Robinson, the Philadelphia native who founded Thrift Element four years ago.

While attending Freire Charter School at 20th and Chestnut, Robinson became fascinated with leaders of the Black Panther movement.

“It’s interesting [to see] this group of people to fight in ways that weren’t necessarily publicized,” she said. “In Martin Luther King Jr.’s later days, he became more radical, but often in Black history, they only portray the peace movement.“

Ultimately, she hopes the shirts will spark important discussions. Her business goals include exposing young people to the idea that civil rights leaders weren’t only protesting with signs, but also protecting themselves physically. Her t-shirts help her spread this message and educate others, as well as pay homage to Black history in a unique way.

For instance, one of Robinson’s shirts went viral last fall. The shirt read: “Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands.” The message intended to show how differently her ancestors fought, according to a blog post written by Robinson, because “revolutions can evolve.”

“This is something you can physically wear and walk around in pride in, knowing that people who may not know anything about the person illustrated on your shirt can ask, ‘What does that mean?’” she said. “Thrift Element is a clothing company that creates conversations.”

Thrift Element their child, Logan

Thrift Element founder Desiree Robinson’s son, Logan.

In addition to holding more pop-up shops, this year, Robinson hopes to pick one charity a month to receive a portion of her sales. Additionally, she plans launch a fall and winter collection called “MIA” to celebrate those mental illness in the arts such as Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Basquiat and Kid Cudi.

To stay updated with upcoming events and new designs, find Thrift Element on Instagram.

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Danielle Corcione

Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer with bylines in Teen Vogue, Esquire, Vice and more. They also run a blog, the Millennial Freelancer, alongside a newsletter called Rejected Pitches.

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