Thursday marked the last day of the fall semester at Lowell High School, and the campus was abuzz with students preparing for the holiday break.
But for senior Eugene Liu, the work had just begun.
In a post on Instagram three days earlier, the 17-year-old had made a public commitment that for every “Like” generated by the post, he would donate a T-shirt from his urban apparel clothing line, Global Awareness Clothing, to a free clothing program stewarded by the St. Anthony’s Foundation.
“They are a really important resource for low-income families throughout the Bay Area. It’s a perfect opportunity to make a difference,” he said about the social service nonprofit based out of the Tenderloin District.
By Thursday morning, the post had already generated 93 “Likes.”
Liu co-founded Global Awareness Clothing in 2015, while a sophomore in high school.
Two years later, the young entrepreneur is a one-man show. Liu prints, promotes and sells his own designs, which aim to spread awareness about environmental and social issues in the hope of inspiring solutions.
Sporting a blue hoodie imprinted with the Eiffel Tower superimposed on a world atlas, Liu explained that the gold foil graphic is intended to pay homage to the Paris Agreement.
Perturbed by the announcement that President Donald Trump planned to withdraw from the international agreement that commits world leaders to mitigate climate change, Liu channeled his frustrations into an entire clothing collection commemorating “past historic actions taken by the international community on environmental protection,” which he dubbed “Milestones.”
“I thought it was a huge step backwards in terms of international cooperation as well as environmental protection,” he said Thursday about Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement. “I wanted to give important milestones in the history of environmental conservation the attention they should be getting.”
On a sleek website that he designed himself, he advertises hoodies, T-shirts and baseball caps for sale. They are decorated with designs that touch on animal slaughter and extinction as well as international issues.
“It’s about more than just clothes,” Liu said in a promotional YouTube video posted to his company’s website, adding that he wants the impact of his company to “extend beyond just people having the satisfaction of wearing something cool.”
Unbeknownst to his parents, Liu funds Global Awareness Clothing with his allowance, and the upkeep is a full-time job. He admits that his grades have suffered.
“I spend more time doing this than doing homework,” he said.
A year-and-a-half ago, Liu began selling his apparel out of the the Sunset District-based consignment store Grails SF. Impressed by Liu’s initiative, the store’s owner, Chris Dee, gave the high school student a space to operate out of, free of charge.
“I saw that he had some potential,” said Dee, who began creating his own brand almost a decade ago, while still in high school himself. “I believe in changing the world — I’m all about what he’s standing for and why he’s doing it.”
Liu estimates that he sells about 100 clothing items annually through the store and through his social media channels — a modest start, but he has a larger vision.
“I’m really focusing on producing quality stuff that’s a lot more affordable,” he said. “[Global Awareness] is still small. In order to take off, I need to get more people to wear it.”
In the spirit of Christmas, Liu’s latest prints depicting a caribou — which has been added to the endangered species registry — are not intended to make a profit, but to help those less fortunate.
Jenna Fiore, assistant manager of St. Anthony’s free clothing drive, said that Liu contacted her earlier this year with “an exciting new take” on matching donations made to the nonprofit by the public.
“He said he’s planning on making an Instagram post about the drive. He will match every ‘Like’ the post gets by [Dec. 24] with a shirt,” she said, adding that Liu designed the “caribou” shirts specifically for St. Anthony’s. “It could be 100 ‘Likes,’ it could be more.”
The clothing drive operates five days per week, and serves about 150 people daily. During the holidays, demand for free clothing is even greater. Fiore said it is “exciting to see someone so young be so aware of the need in our society.
“San Francisco has a huge need — there [is] a lot of poverty and a lot of people experiencing homelessness,” she said. “So many people see it and walk by. We are grateful that he found us.”
This Christmas will be the second consecutive year in which Liu is partnering with the nonprofit. Last year, he matched every 10 donations made to St. Anthony’s with a hoodie — the clothing drive received some 200 donations.
On Christmas Day, Liu plans to personally hit the streets to hand out additional shirts to those in need.
“I think that everybody should contribute to their community as a member of it,” he said. “I wanted to start early and help out — it all comes back eventually.”
Find Global Awareness Clothing online at www.globawareness.com or on Instagram at @glob_awareness