An art student designed a smart but simple fashion line to help refugees.

Fashion student Angela Luna was just two weeks into her senior year of college when she decided to scrap her thesis project and her post-graduation plans.

A fashion design student at Parsons School of Design, Luna had always been interested in evening wear, and her talent for couture helped her land a job at Abercrombie & Fitch right after she graduated.

She had a change of heart when she saw the news about the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.

Suddenly, in the grand scheme of things, those coveted designer contracts to make $4,000 Prada pants didn't seem so important to Luna anymore. Instead, she wanted to help the millions of people who were displaced and struggling to survive in their transient states.


Angela Luna, photo by Lorenzo Costa. Used with permission.

Luna started sketching ideas for a line of fashionable-but-functional outerwear specifically designed to address the issues refugees were facing every day.

According to the New School's student paper, Luna's teachers and mentors were skeptical, even shocked, when she proposed the idea to them. Was her new vogue just a way to profit off a tragedy? Why was she throwing away the industry work she'd already secured?

Angela, right, with designer Donna Karan. Photo by Parsons School of Design/Fiona Dieffenbacher. Used with permission.

But Luna's passion project eventually won over her critics.

"It is a statement of current events: not making a trend out of tragedy, but channeling major global issues into fashion," she explained in her artist statement about the project. "It is as much a political statement as a fashion statement. Fashion is often considered superfluous and detached from global concerns, and now is the time to create change."

The result of her work? Design for a Difference, a fashion brand that's "functional and designed to serve a particular purpose" while also "stylish enough to be worn on the streets of Manhattan."

"Each jacket responds to an issue that a refugee faces on a daily basis," Luna said in an interview with WBUR.

The inaugural collection, "Crossing the Boundary," includes several weather-resistant cloaks that can convert into tents for one or two people:

Photo by Jessica Richmond. Used with permission.

There's also a reflective jacket that can be turned into a harness for carrying children:

Photo by Jessica Richmond. Used with permission.

This one can be used as an inflatable flotation device:

Photo by Jessica Richmond. Used with permission.

Another one can be configured as a backpack:

Photo by Jessica Richmond. Used with permission.

And those designs are still just the beginning!

Photo by Jessica Richmond. Used with permission.

Despite the faculty's initial hesitations, Luna ended up winning the school's Womenswear Designer of the Year award in 2016.

And her graduation was just the start of an even brighter future in the fashion-for-a-cause industry.

Luna's line has already gained the attention of the UN's refugee agency, and she's been in conversation with numerous humanitarian aid groups about the ways her work can aid refugees and internally displaced people across the globe.

For now, her plan is to head to the Amsterdam Fashion Institute to continue her education — and one day, to launch her own company, committed to design intervention for global issues.

According to her website, Luna's ultimate goal is to launch her own brand that emulates the TOMS "one-for-one" model, where every time someone buys an item, the company provides a free one to a refugee in need.

"It’s kinda crazy how this thing that was a huge risk now is leading towards me turning down two job offers so that I can keep it going forward," she told the New School's student newspaper.

"I don’t want to sound snobbish or something, but the idea of designing something that doesn’t really solve a problem to me right now is so unappealing."

Photo via Angela Luna/YouTube.

Luna's artist statement sums the project up nicely:

"Creating clothes that assist these refugees are not where this collection ends. It ends with a discussion being created about human rights issues through unexpected platforms that have not been previously explored."

Check out the video below to learn more about Luna's revolutionary work with Design for a Difference.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

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Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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