Denim giant Levi Strauss is taking its Red for Life HIV and AIDS campaign a step further by getting into young people’s pants. Yes, the clothing manufacturer has discarded the “washing and care” instruction labels inside jeans and has replaced them with HIV-awareness messages, writes Akhona Cira in JournAIDS.

Akhona Cira writes in JournAIDS:

The new ‘human being care labels’ contain HIV awareness messages written in funky and funny language that young people ought to relate to. The label says, “Use NO regularly. You are the boss of your own body. Don’t have sex when you are not ready and willing,” and “Keep out of HOT WATER. Regular HIV tests keep you honest about yourself and are part of a healthy lifestyle in the age of HIV/AIDS.”

Whether or not these labels will work in educating and reminding the youth about the dangers of HIV remains to be seen. A lot of people never read the washing instructions on a pair of jeans.

Levis also launched a series of t-shirts that have slogans in which young people express their HIV and AIDS savvy and lifestyle choices. It’s a strategy I believe will be far more successful.

“If you’re too scared to test, you’re too scared for me”, and “I can buy my own damn Levis, Mr Sugar Daddy”, are a couple of the slogans that have become a hit. Local advertising executive, Cal Bruns, is the brain behind this campaign and says the associated t-shirt and jeans have already sold out in many stores.

“I guess the youth are more interested in this product [the t-shirt and jeans] because they’re more fashionable than the awareness t-shirts distributed at rallies,” Bruns told the Sunday Times.

I have to agree with Bruns. Many of the free t-shirts I have received from rallies have never seen the outside of my house since and often become substitute pyjama tops. This is not mainly because the t-shirt is ugly but also because the messages on it is often so stern it seems like “I’m an HIV and AIDS activist” (although there is nothing wrong with being one of course). The message often doesn’t speak for me. It’s too general and clichè. So if I can buy a Levis t-shirt that says, “I’m not scared of condoms,” it would be great.

Levis has spent close to R30-million on HIV and AIDS awareness campaigns in South Africa over the past 10 years. The company has a very strong focus on educating the youth – its target market. In October last year, Levis, in partnership with New Start (an international health non-governmental organisation), offered 10 000 tickets to the Levis Rage for the Revolution Concert to people who would take an HIV test. A friend who went to the concert said she paid the entrance fee, thank you very much! Less than half took up the challenge, but it was nevertheless seen as a success, according to IRIN Plus News.

During the six-week campaign, 4,082 people were tested at New Start clinics, of whom 32 percent were 15- to 24-year-olds, an age group that has proved particularly hard to reach with HIV testing.

Bruns was also the brains behind the idea of re-shooting Hector Pieterson’s famous Soweto uprisings photo. Burns wanted to shoot a photo of a youngster carrying an HIV-positive teenager through the township. However, the idea was shot down amid criticism of exploitation of national symbols.

Hopefully Levis can keep up its good work and endeavour to delve more into young people’s minds through its popular brand. If anyone can reach our minds, who else but the people who hold our future fashion trends in their hands?