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.
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?
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:
There's also a reflective jacket that can be turned into a harness for carrying children:
This one can be used as an inflatable flotation device:
Another one can be configured as a backpack:
And those designs are still just the beginning!
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."
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.