Meet 2016 Forward under 40 Award recipient Virgil Abloh ’03

UW Major: Civil Engineering
Age 35 | Chicago
Founder of Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh

In 2008, the Wisconsin Alumni Association rolled out The Red Shirt™, a T-shirt designed to enable Badger fans to show off their school pride while helping students pursue their education at UW-Madison. WAA has introduced a new design each year, and in 2015, it decided to offer a unique, limited edition of The Red Shirt.™ That’s where Virgil Abloh comes in.

Since graduating from the UW and then earning his master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Abloh has become most widely recognized for his high-end fashion label, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh. With Off-White, he aims to blend streetwear with high fashion by adding “layers of sophistication to it, and bolster up the reason why it’s important for now.” Beyoncé frequently shows off his designs, including in her music video with Nicki Minaj, “Feeling Myself.”

“That’s where I learned to multitask … I approach my career in that way. Everything I did, in some way, made this result happen.”

Before achieving success as an international fashion designer, Abloh soaked in all that the UW campus had to offer with his former roommate and 2015 Forward under 40 Award winner Gabriel Stulman ’03. Abloh and his friends shopped at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, threw dinner parties, and went to bars on the Capitol Square instead of the typical student hangouts.

“[Gabriel and I] were the kids who stuck out like a sore thumb,” he says. “We were trying to live the most sophisticated young lifestyle possible.”

Abloh’s time in the UW College of Engineering provided him with the problem- solving skills that have been invaluable throughout his career.

“That’s where I learned to multitask,” he says. “I approach my career in that way. Everything I did, in some way, made this result happen.”

Multitasking serves Abloh well, considering how hectic his schedule can become. The owner of the RSVP Gallery clothing store in Chicago, he flew to Paris in May 2015 as the only American finalist for the prestigious Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy Prize for Young Fashion Designers. He also expresses his creativity as DJ Flat White and serves as the creative director for music icon Kanye West. Despite having so much on his plate, he made time to give back to his alma mater.

When the opportunity arose to work on a limited edition of The Red Shirt, Abloh said it was an immediate “yes.” Instead of designing just one shirt, he developed a series of three with the theme #OffWisconsin.

All proceeds from The Red Shirt, Limited Edition by Virgil Abloh went to the Off-Scholarship, a new fund he established to provide need-based financial aid to incoming freshmen at UW-Madison.

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