leni charles

Profile | Founder of Kids of the Diaspora Leni Charles

Growing up with a diverse cultural background can be a challenge, but also a gift. These four people have made diversity their ally

A T-shirt is an easy way to connect with people, it’s like a business card that says, ‘Hey, reach out to me!

“Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.” A mantra of sorts for millennials. But in the case of Kids of the Diaspora (KOTD), one could say, it’s the reverse: “Get the T-shirt, want to be there, how do I sign up?!”

The shirt Leni Charles created for her project did just that when a woman spotted it on a performer at a rap concert in L.A. and needed to find out where it came from. Ultimately, she connected with Charles over Instagram.

“The woman had a similar upbringing to mine, growing up in a small town as a minority,” explained Charles, 27, half Nigerian and half Austrian, who grew up in Lower Austria. That was when Charles realized her message was getting through.

In 2016, Charles, an art director by training, was invited to participate in a T-shirt design competition. But just coming up with a random design was not enough, neither was one that would just be about her as a designer.

“All my life I’d been dealing with my identity and my cultural background. I always think everything has to be done for a purpose, and I wanted to communicate to people like me, people who felt the same way I do.”

And so Kids of the Diaspora was born, producing shirts, caps, and socks, all of which have received an overwhelming response, and serve as a teaser for the project’s content platform, to be officially launched in December.

Even at this early stage, the project has successfully reached like-minded diaspora “kids” all over the world through social media, even in New York, where she travels regularly to visit her father. Still, Charles finds Vienna a perfect home base.

“What I love about Austria is there’s still so much room to develop, so much potential to change and grow. A lot of people who left are coming back because they see things that don’t exist here yet, that they can introduce and build up.”

This article was updated on November 13th to correct a misspelled name.

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