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Betty Shabazz alum designs new student uniforms to reflect cultural pride

Desmond Owusu debuts new Designs, Launches Website to raise money for free uniforms

The creative genius of author, and fashion designer Desmond “Des Money” Owusu, a 2002 graduate of Betty Shabazz Academy (BSICS) on Chicago’s South Side, is always at work. Last month, the 31-year-old organized a unique fashion show at Shabazz featuring his newest collection, “We Real Cool” school uniforms. The project is a fundraiser to provide free uniforms to Shabazz’s 300 students.

THE DESIGNER CREATED t-shirts for teen males he labeled, “Young Kings.”

“I’ve always been intrigued with the language of clothes and how they can speak. The old concept ‘if you look good, you feel good’ has always been a notion that is very relevant today,” says the mentor and part-time school instructor. “Taking this idea of looking good and feeling good as the foundation, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could help change the narrative of school uniforms from being boring and lame to something more meaningful, fun, cool, unique, and most importantly, culturally relevant.”

Although he’s worked on several projects over the years, Owusu says this project is near and dear to his heart. “Growing up at Shabazz was enlightening. It is a very special school,” says Owusu. “I’ve always wanted to make a meaningful contribution to BSICS; always wanted to give back. Designing new school uniforms was the perfect platform.”

Earlier this year, the right opportunity came along. Using a grant from Chicago Votes, the non-partisan, non-profit organization that aims to build a more inclusive democracy by putting power in the hands of young Chicagoans, Owusu secured the seed money to design and create prototypes for the new culturally relevant uniform line. We Real Cool was born.

New school uniforms created by BSA alum Desmond Owusu are designed to inspire motivate educate and reflect school values
NEW SCHOOL UNIFORMS created by alumni Desmond Owusu are designed to inspire, motivate, educate, and reflect school values.

His inspiration for the designs came from, among others, the BSICS community and family values, school co-founder Haki Madhubuti’s poems, and old school pictures. In fact, “We Real Cool” is a poem written by poet, author, and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks. She was the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Owusu’s choice of colors for the collection is symbolic, too. The seven designs are showcased in red, black and green – colors of the Pan-African flag. Red signifies the blood that unites us; black is for the people; and green is for the motherland of Africa.

He hopes the new uniforms will bring new energy to the students and the school. “I wanted to take the values of the school and put them in a cooler context. When you look and feel good, it usually motivates you to do better.”

Keeping pace with the legacy set by fellow BSICS alumni, Des Money created We All We Got street wear and co-owns and manages the Fat Tiger Workshop, an African-American owned clothing boutique. In addition, nearly three years ago, Owusu self-published and co-authored Too Fly Not To Fly, a children’s photo book that promotes critical thinking and encourages self-esteem in young Black children. The book is available at all Chicago Public Library branches and in 2017 was listed as a CPL Best Picture Book and Kids Staff Picks.

Although grateful for the grant, it only covered making the samples and the look book. Now, Owusu says he needs to raise more funds. “My goal with the project is to fundraise at least $6,000 to cover production costs to be able to donate two uniform pieces to each student at BSA.” To support the uniform project, visit

Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools is accepting new students for the 2019-20 school year. BSICS offers students a safe, nurturing holistic learning environment where they are stimulated academically and experience a curriculum inclusive of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, music), robotics club, dance, physical education, and are served chef-prepared vegetarian meals daily. Since its inception, BSICS has consistently produced exemplary, high-achieving students who have a strong sense of cultural identity and a commitment to make positive contributions to the community and the world. For more information, visit or call 773.-651.2426.

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