When Calvin Klein Creative Director Francisco Costa first moved to New York to begin his career in fashion in the early 1980s, the AIDs epidemic was at its peak. Now, more than three decades later, he sits on the Board of Directors for ACRIA, an organization that studies the needs of those living with, or at risk for, developing HIV to help educate those affected and fund critical research.
What prompted you to join the fight against AIDS?
"I'm homosexual, so the decision to become involved with ACRIA [AIDS Community Research Initiative of America] wasn't difficult. Within two months of moving to New York City from Brazil in the 1980s, I lost two of my close friends to AIDS. It was a traumatic decade for the fashion industry as a whole. So many designers, photographers, and assistants died from the disease—it was devastating. So I feel a responsibility to hold up the flag and say, 'This isn't over. How can we help? How can we create awareness?'"
In the ten years since you became a board member, how do you see the needs of the community affected by the disease changing?
"ACRIA, along with the nonprofit organization amfAR [Foundation for AIDS Research], has adapted its approach over time to respond to the changes in treatment. For instance, when I became a member of the board 10 years ago, quite a lot of research was directed at prolonging the lives of HIV patients in their 40s and 50s. Now, this generation is actually aging with HIV, which is a clear sign of the progress we've made."
How do you deal with the sadness that comes along with this type of work?
"You have to confront sadness on a personal and an emotional level when you think of the families that have been personally affected by this disease. But, there is also an incredibly positive energy that comes from those fighting for treatment and fighting for a cure. We've been really successful in engaging the community and making people feel better about themselves and empowering them to be fighters."
Why is it so important for the younger generation to get educated and take action?
"The fight hasn't ended yet. Infections are still on the rise, and we're continuing to develop research for new medications. We have about 20 drug trials that have been approved by the FDA, which shows how committed we are and the impact this organization is making. We still have to find a cure, and we most definitely have to protect our youth."