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


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.”

From our Partners

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.

Want more richly researched and deeply sourced community reporting?  Become a Generocity member for $10 per month -30-

From our Partners

Become a Generocity member for a chance to win free tickets to Introduced

#PTW18 kicks off next Friday. Here are 15 events for social impact pros

Meet Broke in Philly, a solutions-focused news project on poverty


Generocity Philly

12 Philly immigrants who are ready to mobilize


Fairmount Ventures Inc


Apply Now

Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

Communication Manager-Read by 4th

Apply Now
Skippack, PA

Center for Loss and Bereavement

Director of Development

Apply Now

In Philly’s recovery community, a bias against those taking medication to treat opioid addiction

This new mapping tool from Drexel researchers can make it easier for Philly nonprofits to collaborate

5 easy edits to make your org’s website more accessible right now


Generocity Philly

Redefining civic participation, one new leader at a time

Center City Philadelphia


Financial Educator

Apply Now
neighborhoods in West & North Philadelphia


Play Captain Supervisor & Project Manager

Apply Now
Media, PA

The Foundation for Delaware Co

Associate Director of Grantmaking Services

Apply Now

Sign-up for regular updates from Generocity