GLAAD chats with Verneda Adele White, Founder of HUMAN INTONATION

By GLAAD |
September 24, 2015

Verneda Adele White is a New York-based social entrepreneur and founder of HUMAN INTONATION®, the premium, charity-driven apparel brand dedicated to using fashion as a platform to raise awareness and funding for a number of social and human rights issues. In conjuction with GLAAD, she designed several t-shirts that support GLAAD's mission of accelerating LGBT acceptance. Check them out at http://www.glaad.org/store!

1. Tell me a little bit more about HUMAN INTONATION. What inspired you to create this brand? 

As a premium, charity-driven apparel brand, HUMAN INTONATION (H.I.) was my initial response to my family’s personal experience with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the loss of my closest cousin and best friend, James Wesley White, Jr. to AIDS. Human Intonation uses fashion as a platform to raise awareness while donating 20% of each sale to pertinent social and human rights issues. Our collection consists of premium t-shirts, tank tops and dresses for all genders, made from my own original patterns using environmentally sustainable fabrics. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I had just moved to New York City and I wanted to find a way to contribute to the relief efforts in my family’s home of New Orleans, LA. I started creating t-shirts along with designer Evina Parrish to raise money for a non-profit called HandsOn New Orleans that was really in the trenches with volunteers helping to rebuild, and had support from Grammy-winning R&B artist Usher. Those first t-shirts became the genesis for "The NEW Purpose of Fashion" as H.I. exists today. Coming full circle, I recently returned from New Orleans where Human Intonation remembered the 10 year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with projects in partnership with HandsOn New Orleans including our “Fashion Meets Music to Raise Awareness” fundraising event, leading volunteers for the city-wide Katrina 10 Day of Service, and creating a call to action in collaboration with Usher’s New Look Foundation. Having Usher give H.I. a shout out on his Instagram and Twitter last month was definitely the most awesome day ever.

2. HUMAN INTONATION has created apparel to benefit those affected by Hurricane Katrina, violence in Darfur, HIV/AIDS, and the earthquake in Haiti. How did you choose those causes?

Each of the causes that H.I. currently supports has in some way resonated with me personally, therefore I feel extremely passionate about each. As our brand’s visionary, being passionate about our causes makes it possible to bring others together in creating a collection that speaks to each of these important issues with room to evolve. There reached a point early on when I realized we had to focus our energy. I mentioned our work following Katrina, however over the last few years our primary focus when engaging H.I. with the community has been around our work in HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment. Directly following Katrina my family lost my cousin Wesley and I have become most passionate about HIV/AIDS. Asking myself where H.I. could make the greatest impact, I found that HIV/AIDS touches all the other causes we support with our apparel collections whether advocating for education, children in Darfur, or rebuilding in Haiti, HIV/AIDS is there.

3. What other issues are you passionate about?

There are more human rights issues that I am passionate about than I can count. Some we have touched upon in that I see H.I. building stronger ties with the LGBT community, along with challenging health disparities, human trafficking, and accelerating acceptance. At the forefront we love the ability of fashion to bring awareness to those social and human right issues that need support to stay in the public's mind or to start a conversation that can bring a new level of understanding. Today, Human Intonation has grown as a platform for social change through our national workshops, programs, speaking engagements, events, and we are passionate about working across non-profit organizations to develop compelling t-shirts and apparel that expands the reach of the organization’s brand and mission.

4. Today, GLAAD is launching T-shirts you designed in collaboration as part of our work to accelerate acceptance. How did you come up with the design for the T-shirts?

The most awesome part of the new GLAAD t-shirts produced by H.I. wholesale is that we worked in total collaboration. The graphics for both the "Live the Life You Love" Tee and the "Love Geometric" Tee came out of brainstorming between myself, GLAAD's lead graphic designer, and Director of Communications. We wanted the designs to not only hit home with GLAAD’s mission and programs, but envelop current issues that are top of mind in the LGBT community from accelerating acceptance to marriage equality. In collaborating with non-profits, it is always my goal to push an organization to step outside their comfort zone when it comes to creating t-shirts that are fashionably innovative and modern in appeal, while ensuring the aesthetics remain in alignment with the organization's brand. We want to create tees that can be worn in a person's everyday life, not just a day of volunteering or giving back. “Live the Life You Love” is one of GLAAD’s hallmarks, our challenge was to create a design concept that would make this phase feel new and fresh and wearable for anyone. GLAAD was open to that process and we were able to create two t-shirts that really strike a balance between purpose and design.

5. Over the years, you've worked with GLAAD as a consultant for the Media Awards. What was that experience like? What attracted you to working with GLAAD?As a Consultant Event Director I unexpectedly, yet immediately fell in love with the mission and purpose of GLAAD. In addition to my work with H.I., I am incredibly passionate about events, the art and science of producing an event from the initial concept to executing the final vision. To date, the GLAAD Media Awards have been one of the most inspiring and well executed galas I have worked on due GLAAD’s amazing team. But what has truly made working with GLAAD so special is the organization’s openness to expanding our working relationship. Working with GLAAD has provided me with one of my greatest examples of how one can fully integrate their roles as a multi-passionate social entrepreneur. Where we started out solely focused on the Media Awards, we have grown into collaborations such as the new line of GLAAD T-shirts and GLAAD was instrumental in expanding the reach of my recent Huffington Post blog calling for each of us to love and accept our young, black gay males as a pre-cursor to ending the HIV epidemic among that demographic. It has been my time with GLAAD that has provided me with one of the greatest educations I didn't know I needed. I now have a much broader awareness of the issues impacting the LGBT community, a greater understanding of what it truly means to be an ally, and I feel closer to my cousin’s experience and how his story can benefit others.

6. What has been your biggest takeaway from launching HUMAN INTONATION? What advice would you give those aspiring to facilitate social change?

It’s a journey! My biggest takeaway from launching H.I. is that this journey called social entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint to success. It has taught me that I cannot rush into greatness no matter how much I want to. Being well intentioned and passionate about giving back or impacting the lives of others will only carry you so far. You must master your craft, become an expert in the field you are passionate about, get clear about who your customer or constituent is, understand that your product is king and should speak for itself, and develop your ability to adapt. I have had to learn and continue to learn how to navigate the successes and challenges that come with having a passion that can sometimes seem larger than life to better understand where H.I. can make the largest impact. Really I have only scratched the surface in creating true social change, I've learned that my work is just beginning…that and make bigger t-shirts!

 

[Photo Credit: Keith Moore Photography]

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