The Red Ribbon symbol has become the defining icon for the awareness, fundraising and determination to beat HIV and AIDS. It’s strong, vibrant red, a symbol that has become synonymous with every 1st December, was designed in 1991.

Why is the Red Ribbon used for World AIDS Day and who designed it?
ArtsyBee / Pixabay

A decade after AIDS began its stranglehold, decimating communities, 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 the 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.

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”.

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

According to WorldAIDsDay.org, “When the artists sat down to work on this project, their aim was to get people talking about HIV. This was at 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.”

At handmade ribbons where distributed in New York

Back in 1991 a group of artists created the red ribbon. The first batch were handmade and given out on the streets of New York.

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.