Today I learnt about the origins of the red ribbon worn to show support for people living with Aids/HIV. It was funded by an arts foundation called Visual Aids to raise awareness of the disease, but the idea actually came from 12 artists sitting in an old classroom in New York in 1991. They were looking for a symbol that was simple to produce, could be easily replicated and would draw attention.
Volunteers made the ribbons and a box of 3,000 was sent to the Tony awards with an explanation of what it meant. Just a few weeks after the idea was finalised, Jeremy Irons was on TV giving out an award and wearing one of the hand-made red ribbons. After that, Hollywood caught on and demand skyrocketed.
The design was never copyrighted which meant that it could be replicated without permission and promoted all over the world. Because of the simplicity and impact of the ribbons, they have also been used to promote support and awareness of other causes – pink for breast cancer, orange for self-harm, yellow for suicide prevention, purple for Spirit Day, the list goes on.
It’s an incredible achievement for that group of 12 artists that the ribbons are now immediately recognised, and seems especially beautiful as it wasn’t designed to make a profit but just as a way for people to show support for those going through something painful and frightening. It’s a symbol of hope and of courage.
“Red was something bold and visible.
It symbolised passion, a heart, love.”