“Say it on your chest,” Karamo Brown says, referring back to one of his grandmother’s favorite mottos. Now, he’s doing exactly that.
The Queer Eye star, known for tackling all things culture on Netflix's hit reality makeover show, is bringing cultural awareness in a different way. Brown recently released a t-shirt line, entitled The Karamo Collection, as a way of sharing empowering and thought-provoking messages in honor of Black History Month. One hundred percent of profits benefit the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and True Colors United.
“Our story is trying to be erased,” he tells Out. “Our stories as Black Americans, our stories as queer Americans. The stories of women. And the intersection of all of those things. I just won’t allow it.”
Brown, taking matters into his own hands — literally — began creating t-shirts at the start of the pandemic, sharing that it was “a way to deal with the life we were all living in 2020.” But it wasn’t until some of these t-shirts went viral after sporting them on the recent season of Queer Eye that he thought “maybe I should sell them.”
“I think that’s common in Black culture,” he says, of wearing shirts that spark meaning. “And so, as I was thinking about me wanting to scream these things at the top of my lungs, [I thought] why not just say it on my chest?”
The t-shirts serve as a “reminder to be aware” with statements like ‘Black history is more than slavery’ and ‘Black lives still matter, even if it’s not on your social media feed,’ referencing the heightened media attention of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020. But the Fab 5 member is reminding us that the fight for equality goes beyond an impassioned period or moment. It’s also about how we choose to live our daily lives — and in this case, even what we choose to wear.
Brown hopes it reminds people of what they were doing at that impassioned period, when “it was important to check in on my trans friend of color,” telling them now, “It’s still important. They’re still a priority.”
The Karamo Collection
Brown’s shirts also pay tribute to the many influential queer people of color “that came first.”
One reads ‘RuPaul Lil Nas X Freedia,’ acknowledging the doors they each have opened for their community. But equally as important, the shirt is opening eyes to how each of these stars is related to each other in the first place.
“When we talk about the success of Lil Nas X, you cannot talk about that success without talking about the success of Big Freedia,” Brown says. “People don’t correlate the fact that this young, gay Black man is directly walking the path that Big Freedia walked.”
When asked who has directly impacted his own career, the answer comes to him quickly.
“RuPaul,” Brown says. “People look at me and they say, ‘I don’t understand, but you don’t do drag.’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t get it. You’re looking at the outer. I'm looking at the doors he opened for me as a television host as a Black gay man.’”
It’s difficult to say what would create more unity in a highly divided world, but perhaps, it all starts with a simple conversation. And that’s something Brown is having a lot of while wearing these shirts.
“I’m walking down the street and literally someone will come up to me and say, ‘I appreciate you’ or ‘I love you too,’” He shares. Other times, people strike up a conversation to ask about the people on his shirt and why they’re important.
Brown doesn’t take this lightly. In fact, he calls it his “purpose on this earth” to “communicate” and help people grow.
“We are not the world’s educators,” he says, acknowledging that the responsibility does not and should not fall on the underrepresented and underprivileged. “But for me, personally, I feel that part of my existence is to make myself available, to say, ‘I’m here if you have questions,’ to meet people where they’re at.”