‘A story of our kids’: DUMBO charter school surprises students with new uniforms by Brooklyn fashion designer Karl Kani

Teachers surprise students with custom-designed sweatsuits.
Teachers surprise students with custom-designed sweatsuits.
Photo courtesy of Ember Charter School

Teachers of Ember Charter School surprised students with new uniforms custom designed by Brooklyn-born Karl Kani, an urban fashion designer known as the “Godfather Of Streetwear.”

After a few partnerships with the entrepreneurship-based charter school this spring, Kani wanted to gift the entire student body with free uniforms, according to Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, founder and managing partner of the education center.

The founder eagerly accepted the offer and began brainstorming how many uniforms they would be able to afford before Karl’s teamed informed him the partnership would be of no cost to the school.

“It was one of the most generous things I’ve ever seen and he just did it because he loves the community,” Kalam Id-Din said. “He loves the work we’re doing at Ember’s and he wanted to say I see you in a way that he knows how, by putting his design in the hands of our young people.”

Students came out of class to a surprise celebration with their new fits and swag bags.
Students came out of class to a surprise celebration with their new fits and swag bags.Photo courtesy of Ember Charter School

The designer surprised students on Dec. 12 with the drop-off and, for the rest of the day, kids rocked the new apparel.

One side of the sweatsuit is all black with Kani’s signature and the school’s name emblazoned near each collar. Students can reverse the jacket top to a colorful, photo collage of all the artists Kani has designed for. 

Fola Davis, a senior at the DUMBO school, said the highly anticipated drip was made even cooler since students got to meet and work with Kani during the filming of their podcast, Stoop Sessions, where they invite makers to discuss their adolescence and school up-bringing. 

One students chills in his new fit at Ember Charter School.
One students chills in his new fit at Ember Charter School.Photo courtesy of Ember Charter School

Amaiya Peterson, also a senior at Ember, said the new fits are an exciting reminder that her school is invested in her educational experience.

“Just receiving stuff like this is a great opportunity,” Peterson said. “It just makes everybody feel welcome in this school. It makes everybody like a family. No one’s excluded from that. Just being able to have an opportunity to get something like this shows how much the school really cares for its student as a group.”

At Ember, students are referred to as entrepreneurs and teachers as consultants. 

According to Kalam Id-Din, who the young learners call Brother Rafiq, everything at Ember is built around the idea of entrepreneurship being a mindset and helping students feel like designers of their own life. 

“As we expose them to more and more domains within different industries, we invite them to kind of dream a little but more broadly about how they can impact the world, pursue prosperity and peace and healing in [their] own lives,” he told Brooklyn Paper.

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The school is unique in its configuration as well — roughly 100 students in a fully BIPOC community meet in a co-working space in DUMBO, intentionally designed to promote creativity while learning.

“We want them to receive the message that you’re going to work in lots of different configurations, you’re going to create, you’re going to have access to a space that reflects the same beauty that you have on the inside of yourself in terms of potential,” he said. 

Not only can the young adults walk away from this experience with cool outfits, but also a new sense of empowerment, according to Kalam Id-Din.

“Karl Kani’s story is a story of our kids,” he said. “He was a young black man who was trying to dream about how to make a name for himself through the thing that he loved most. And so I think for our entrepreneurs here to see that in real life and say I can do that – I hope that’s the message they’re receiving.”