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With her son as model, Illinois artist gives iconic Polo shirt a new look to benefit COVID-19 relief efforts

By David Syrek, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Fashion Daily News

CHICAGO - From popped-collar preppy to high tech, Ralph Lauren's Polo shirt with the iconic pony logo on its chest has remained a style staple since it arrived in 1972. In May, for the first time in the shirt's nearly 50-year history, the company offered fans of the brand the chance to create a Polo print, with the winning design emblazoned on 4,000 shirts and proceeds from sales benefiting COVID-19 relief efforts.

The project was created as a way to engage with fans of the brand while everyone was under lockdown, and to raise money for those in need. Submissions for the contest titled "Polo Project: Design for Good" were narrowed to 10 finalists by the company's design team, and the winner was voted on by subscribers to the Polo fan app.

The winning design, which launched this week, was awarded to Springfield, Illinois, artist Michelle Smith for her design titled "Just Let Me Breathe," portraying her son wearing a face mask with the word hope behind him.

"I had just taken photos of my son, who modeled for me, because I wanted to do a series of drawings of him in a mask or bandanna," Smith said. "I was thinking about the Ahmaud Arbery situation because they're about the same age. I was just trying to process that, and thinking, 'That could have been my kid, and now he's in a pandemic and he has to cover his face.'"

"I wanted to draw something that reflected how I felt about a young black man during a pandemic, having to wear a bandanna, and it was like, 'So he's protecting himself from this virus, but potentially subjecting himself to who know what else, just by the way he looks.'"

David Lauren, chief innovation officer at Ralph Lauren said, "Michelle's design really stood out and moved us for several reasons; it represents Hope in such a powerful way and captures so much of what is happening in the world today. We hope this shirt inspires everyone in the same way it has for us."

The shirt with Smith's design is available on and The Polo App, with 100% of the proceeds of the sale going to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, a global effort "to prevent, detect, and respond to the pandemic."



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