Michelle (Brown) Smith ’90 recently won an international design contest sponsored by Ralph Lauren for coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic relief. Smith’s entry, titled “Polo Project: Design For Good,” featured the masked face of her son Micah Smith ’17 on the front of a polo shirt. Contest guidelines indicated the design should convey hope during the pandemic.
Smith, a visual artist always inspired by her family, immediately thought of a photo she had taken of her son in an N95 mask for a series she was just beginning called “Just Let Me Breathe.” In the final piece, which Smith completed with Copic markers, Micah’s masked face forms the “O” in the word “HOPE” sketched across a classic white polo shirt.
For her winning entry, Smith received a $500 gift card and access to a platform she says is far more valuable than currency. Ralph Lauren printed the design on 2,500 shirts and donated 100 percent of proceeds to the World Health Organization (WHO) for COVID-19 relief.
To further honor the message behind the design, the Ralph Lauren Corporation Foundation gave a separate donation of $25,000 to the United Negro College Fund to address systemic racism.
“The publicity was worth more than the money,’’ Smith said. “I never expected to win– it’s a Black face on a Ralph Lauren shirt. That’s never happened before. I just wanted my work to be shown in New York.”
Smith is currently a police computer technician for the state of Illinois in Springfield. An artist at heart and always creating, she is now working on the next phase of the “Just Let Me Breathe” series.