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Fit for change: Public Culture Collections

Public Culture Collections is a brand founded by Jaquial Durham, a Ph.D. student at Clemson University. It is an extension of the Public Culture Entertainment brand that aims to “bring awareness and highlight African American people and landmarks in history” through fashion.

The year 2020 brought a whirlwind of transformation nationwide. In Clemson’s case, the most impactful shift was the push to change the names of buildings in colleges and universities across the country as a form of social reform.

Durham noticed this transition and thought about whom the buildings should be named after if not the original figure. Durham was inspired to investigate the area’s history and spread awareness of the unnoticed influential African American historical figures. 

After working on the capsule for about 2 and a half years, Durham finally created a way to “educate people with an outfit” and placed his vision in the public eye. 

Pieces in Durham’s collection feature reimagined artistic renditions of photographs of iconic African American history scenes related to Clemson University. Current collections highlight the stories of Eva Hester Martin, Littlejohn’s Grill, Harvey Gantt and the Student League for Black Identity. 

All of these accounts focus on the origin, culture, leadership and progress of African Americans that make Clemson what it is today. Though some of these topics receive recognition, such as the first African American student to attend Clemson, other people like Eva Hester Martin are lesser known.

This perpetuates the focus on the mission “to educate and tell stories that previously haven’t been discussed.” Each piece includes a QR code that, when scanned, reveals the history of the design portrayed. 

These collections undergo a 16-month development process to ensure that “those still alive from our archives approve of the collection before launching.” A seven-phase process must be followed that includes searching the library’s archives, obtaining legal rights, compiling the narrative for the capsule and painting the image, analyzing garment details, creating mock-up designs, receiving samples/soft launching, then debuting the designs through digital content. Everyone involved in this final portion, excluding the photographer, was a current or former Clemson University student.

This process was not an overnight task, especially for someone who is also balancing a student’s workload and running multiple projects. Durham states, “my rule of thumb is to do my best to delegate tasks that can be completed quickly. With that practice, it allows me the time and space to focus on more detailed items.” But as for what he does, it all comes down to keeping everything “cohesive with a similar focus.”

This project has proven to be influential not only in a historical sense but also in teaching Durham the values of a collaborative environment with specialized experts and to “value who I am and where I come from.” This serves as a reminder to students across campus that “there is a constant interconnection between your purpose and the things you will do throughout your life,” as Durham learned throughout this rewarding process. 

Looking towards the future, a new capsule “based on the story and life of an African American figure versus an institution” is currently in the works.

“For anyone interested in learning more about the brand or who wants to keep up and see what the future holds, you can follow us on Instagram @publiculturecollections or visit our website”

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Kylie Tutterrow
Kylie Tutterrow, Opinion Editor
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