Sweatshirts, long-sleeved shirts and short-sleeved shirts with the logo “human” or “HUMAN INTL” etched in various designs on the front can be seen on students across JMU, Virginia Tech, U. Va., and VCU’s campuses, in support of the message that all people should be seen as human. This past summer, four JMU students decided to launch a clothing brand combining both entrepreneurial and nonprofit aspects into one.
Gihad Salih, a junior international business major and co-founder of the brand, grew up in Northern Virginia, with the three other founders of the organization. He described the area as affluent and is grateful to have grown up in a family that’s well-off. Whenever Salih and his friends visited lower income areas in Washington, D.C., they reflected on how fortunate their lives have been.
“A lot of times, we’d go to Georgetown or Dupont and we’d see a lot of homeless people,” Salih said. “We would feel bad … seeing people pass homeless people and just ignore them as if they’re not there when they’re calling out for help, and it’s kind of become a normalized thing in our society.”
On a trip to Washington, D.C., Salih and Isaiah Hurt, a junior integrated science and technology major and co-founder of HUMAN INTL, decided to stop and speak to a homeless man after they heard him calling out for help. Salih said he was middle-aged, though he looked to be much older. He was wearing donated shoes and had been homeless for 10-15 years. The man spoke about his life, particularly how resources like soup kitchens weren’t maintained well in the district.
“They would go to soup kitchens and they would just give them a bunch of their leftover food mushed up together and just throw it in something and just give it to them as if they were animals,” Salih said.
After this visit, Salih and Hurt reflected on these words. Salih said it’s not just the poorly maintained facilities that resonated with them the most — it’s the words the man said about how other people viewed him.
“People see him as less than a human being,” Salih said. “Automatically when they see him or automatically when they hear him, they don’t think he’s at the same stature as other people in society.”
From this experience, HUMAN INTL took form. The brand hopes to be more than a clothing line, instead promoting a social movement by serving to bring awareness to different issues beyond just homelessness and poverty. They want to tie in disease awareness, youth leadership and urban sanitation as well. It also aims to inspire people to make their own changes or start their own businesses.
The brand hopes that by putting on the shirt, a person is labeled as a human being regardless of race, financial status, looks or upbringing. Roderick Jones, a sophomore sports and recreation major and co-founder of HUMAN INTL, echoed Salih’s statement.
“I feel like especially now, moving forward, everyone is really going to get to see, like, what we are as a brand in terms of the clothes we are dropping as well, not only the community outreach we are doing,” Jones said.
Along with the growing clothing brand, the group is doing much more by collaborating with different charities or organizations. They’re currently trying to work with Campus Kitchen, a JMU organization that takes leftover food from dining halls to send to soup kitchens in the area,by helping it find places to distribute the food.
Apart from this, they plan on donating 10 percent of their profits to charity. All of the other money made goes back into making the products. They haven’t chosen which charity they plan to donate to, but they’re hoping with their new launch in May they can eventually begin to donate to various organizations. After the first launch of their collection, NewBorn, the leftover extra-small shirts were donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
“We aren’t looking to profit off of HUMAN as much as we are looking to make a change,” Salih said.
Dejah Williams and Warren Brown, both senior health sciences majors, have been involved with HUMAN INTL since its first launch in September. They both help advertise and market the brand on campus, by working pop-up shops around campus, Harrisonburg and Northern Virginia.
“It’s much bigger than just us … I just want everybody to know the reason behind it,” Williams said. “It’s cool to have a clothing line, true enough, but like, putting some reason and some meaning behind like the actual brand itself is what makes it worth wearing.”
This past winter, HUMAN INTL collected clothing to donate while shooting for their second collection, PURE HEART, in Washington, D.C. Additionally, they’re beginning to launch a campaign that involves posting pictures online of clients or anyone willing to reach out with a caption underneath that tells a short story about hardships or injustices they’ve faced.
“I want people to look at us not only as a clothing brand but like as people who are really trying to make a difference in this world, really trying to empower change because that’s our main mission,” Jones said. “The clothes [are] second."
Contact Meghan Ahern at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.