Fabian Debora for Homeboy Industries

Tote bags are today’s essential accessory. Not only is it a more sustainable alternative to using plastic grocery bags, but it also provides a canvas on which a great message can spread.

dod 2011 fabian debora portrait

Last Spring, LA-based design firm Artecnica partnered with the country’s largest gang intervention program Homeboy Industries to produce canvas tote bags printed with inspirational quotes from its founder, Fr. Greg Boyle.

The result was seven designs created by three former gang-members-turned-artists from Homeboy Industries. In flowing graffiti-like calligraphy, the totes capture the kind of wisdom that inspire these former gang members and at-risk youth to keep off the streets. We talked to Fabian Debora, Homeboy Industries’ resident artist and substance abuse counselor, about their partnership with Artecnica and these works of wearable art.

Fabian, what did you hope to accomplish by speaking at Dwell on Design today?
I came to Dwell on Design to speak on behalf of Artecnica and Homeboy Industries. I wanted to give the perspective on the importance behind this project—that it’s not just the tote bag or the quote in itself that's important, but what it does for the population we work with at Homeboy Industries.
The tote bags were all designed by Homeboy Industries’ artists, but what happens when people purchase the bags?
Some of the proceeds go to Homeboy Industries. These funds help continue our mission and the work we do at Homeboy Industries.
Could you tell us what the partnership with Homeboy Industries and Artecnica was like?
The partnership wasn’t easy at first. When Artecnica first worked with us, they came with guidelines. It was a bit frustrating because the homies were not accustomed to taking many orders, especially from a design perspective. It was like, “You’re asking us to create the work, but yet you’re giving us guidelines, so we can’t be ourselves.” We had a little struggle in the beginning, but eventually Artecnica kept an open mind and they allowed us to design what it is we had in mind. They went with it and the project was a success. The bags look great. I give that to Tahmineh [Javanbakht, artistic director at Artecnica], who was willing to play ball with us.
You mentioned that there could also be another run of the tote bags. What would those be like?
The second batch of designs for the bags is in the conceptualization stage right now. It differs from the first run of the bags in that this next one will be more of our artwork. Before, it was the quotes of Fr. Greg Boyle. Now, they’re allowing us to just design. That’s great because it gives us artists a big vision. The homeboys now see their work in bigger, better places and it’s like “Wow, I can actually go that route.”
What do you think is the biggest thing people have to understand about the homeboys?
That we’re all human beings and we’re all in kinship. We all have different obstacles in life. A lot of us don’t come from the same environment you might come from and with that understanding, then you can start to identify what it is that leads us to gang culture, to drug abuse, to violence.

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