dfrntpigeon designer Dani poses in one of the apparel company's T-shirts. 

dfrntpigeon designer Dani poses in one of the apparel company’s T-shirts. 

Courtesy of dfrntpigeon

As its name suggests, dfrntpigeon is a different kind of apparel designer: It’s a partnership between the branding agency AKQA and the non-profit, New Avenues for Youth, and it’s staffed by at-risk and homeless youth.

The name for the company came from a conversation the young designers had about the often maligned street bird, the pigeon, said Ginny Golden, group creative director at AKQA.

“We wanted to flip the perception of that bird, and make it a rallying cry for people that felt different and sometimes overlooked,” Golden said.

The "Humanity Tee" highlights "the interconnections of a complicated world."

The “Humanity Tee” highlights “the interconnections of a complicated world.”


New Avenues for Youth runs several Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Shops as job training programs for the youth they work with. They also started a screen printing shop with materials donated from Nike. Realizing that they had some youth with strong artistic abilities, the non-profit approached AKQA looking for mentors. The branding agency had a different idea: Why not start an apparel design company? That way the youth would get both design and business skills.

“It’s helped me develop more art skills, and be comfortable in myself showing my art to other people,” said Olivia, a production assistant with dfrntpigeon.

When clients come to dfrntpigeon for a design, Golden said, “they’re getting a really unique perspective … [the young designers are] taking a lot of their passion and inspiration and putting themselves into their artwork.”

Dani, a designer with dfrntpigeon said the first time she saw one of her designs on a T-shirt, she cried. “The fact that I get to share my artwork with the world … and that people are learning to like it … I fulfilled this dream that I had,” she said.

Olivia said it was inspiring to learn that she could make money from something she loves to do.

“I can do something with what I’ve been doing my whole life, and what I love doing, and it turns out that other people love it too.”

The newest product line for dfrntpigeon revolves around the theme of identity. The young artists talked a lot about what identity means before coming up with their designs. Olivia said she ultimately decided that “identity is what you are to yourself. That was part of what I wanted to put into the line: how we’ve grown, and how we keep growing.”

The line was released Wednesday, April 26 during Portland Design Week.