There is no more powerful visual reminder of the heavy toll AIDS has taken than the AIDS Memorial Quilt. With more than 105,000 names etched into its fabric, the quilt commemorates the lives of those taken too soon by the disease.
The quilt was started in San Francisco in 1987 by gay rights activist Cleve Jones and a small group of friends and strangers who wanted to document the names they feared history would forget. They founded the NAMES Project Foundation, and people in cities most affected by the epidemic sent in handcrafted panels to add to the memorial. Since then, the quilt has become the largest ongoing community folk art project in the world with 50,000 3-by-6 foot panels.
More than 30 years of support
In 1988, Levi Strauss & Co. employees wanted to join the national effort to acknowledge the tremendous loss of life caused by the crisis. Those personally affected created a quilt fashioned out of denim, stitched dozens of letters inside and then dedicated the piece to their colleagues and loved ones who had died of AIDS.
As someone living HIV positive for more than 28 years, Gregory Gordon, a member of LS&Co.’s longstanding AIDS Action group, said seeing the panel instilled in him pride for the company. “It was one of those moments that sealed why I work for a company like this, one that would step forward and work with people who were becoming ill and help the community,” he said. “It was really an emotional moment for me.”
The quilt was not LS&Co.’s first foray into the issue. In 1982, our then CEO Bob Haas and other company leaders distributed vital information about HIV and AIDS to employees, when much of the dialogue surrounding the disease was marked by misinformation and fear. To this day, we’ve made it our priority to provide employee resources and education company-wide, from testing and treatment to our Worldwide HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy.
To symbolize this ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS, we also unveiled a second AIDS Memorial Quilt panel in July 2012 at the International AIDS Conference. The new panel is a patch work of recycled Levi’s® jeans featuring the words of our retail store employees on what the end of HIV/AIDS would mean to them: a better, safer world.
The quilt today
This week, in honor of World AIDS Day, we are officially handing off our 1988 quilt panel to San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, which will open an exhibition dedicated to our founder, Levi Strauss, in February 2020. Hear from CJM co-curator on why the panels are her favorite part of the upcoming show:
And if you’re in San Francisco, you can see the AIDS Memorial Quilt in its entirety when it returns from Atlanta later in 2020.