Man wearing red ribbon

There are few symbols as widely used as the famous red, crossed ribbon worn on the lapels of many people during December, but what does it mean and why do people wear it?

The strong, vibrant red, a symbol that has become synonymous with every 1st December, was designed in 1991, since then the 1st of December has become known as World AIDS Day and is marked every year.


A decade after AIDS began its stranglehold, decimating communities and revealing a woeful response from governments around the globe, a coalition of 12 artists gathered to devise a plan to raise awareness for Visual Aids, a New York arts organisation which raises awareness of HIV.

The 12 people consisted of photographers, painters, filmmakers and costume designers. After a short collaboration they came up with the striking, but simple idea of the red ribbon, inspired by the yellow ribbons tied on trees at the time, to denote support for US military fighting in the Gulf war.

Pink and rainbow colours were rejected because of their association with the LGBT community, and the designers were keen to show that HIV went beyond gay people and could potentially affect everyone.

The red ribbon logo became recognisable across the globe


The ribbon is worn to signify awareness and support for people living with HIV.

According to, “When the artists sat down to work on this project, their aim was to get people talking about HIV. This was during a time where HIV was highly stigmatised and people living with HIV were suffering behind closed doors, some too scared to even tell their loved ones they were living with the virus. The artists wanted to create a visual expression of compassion for people living with, and affected by, HIV.’

“In the very beginning the artists made the ribbons themselves and distributed them around New York. ‘Within weeks of the red ribbon idea being born, world-famous actors starting wearing the red ribbon to high-profile award ceremonies such as the Oscars and talking about why it was important. The media also cottoned on, and within a short space of time the red ribbon symbol became universally recognised”, Explains the website.

The red ribbon is used to promote awareness and support

OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

In our interview with David France, director of How to Survive A Plague told us,  “In one of the worst moments we ever faced we rose above it. We took care of each other. It was extraordinary and beautiful”.

Where can you buy the red ribbon from?

To support the causes that the red ribbon is there to promote, it’s always best to buy directly from the National AIDS Trust where they have an amazing variety of Red Ribbon products or from This year to help raise money during the Coronavirus pandemic, organisers are sending out a 100 free red ribbons to help people raise much-needed funds for the cause. Organisers are asking that people who want to fundraise pledge to raise at least £15 to cover the cost of the ribbons and postage.

New for 2020, National AIDS Trust, the UK’s HIV rights charity has teamed up with the charitable shopping app Kindred to create a range of products raising HIV awareness as they call on the public to #RockTheRibbon

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From stylish organic cotton t-shirts adorned with the iconic HIV awareness red ribbon to handy travel cups, the collection gives shoppers the chance to show their solidarity for people living with HIV this World AIDS Day. Money raised from the sale of products will support the vital work of the National AIDS Trust.

The main mission behind this collaboration is to help stop HIV from standing in the way of health, dignity and equality and put an end to new transmissions. 

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