Harlem’s Fashion Row and Peanuts Worldwide Licensing have joined forces with the New York-based streetwear label Tier to unveil a capsule collection inspired by the character “Franklin,” the comic strip’s first and only Black character.
The Franklin-focused HFR x Peanuts collection will debut at the end of next month at a kickoff event in New York. To drum up interest in the project and create conversation, HFR x Peanuts will host a HBCU tour of the collection and panel discussions with Tier’s founder Nigeria Ealey.
The African American comic strip character appears to be making a comeback. Apple TV+ has ordered a special titled “Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin” that is expected to debut next year. In December, a Franklin statue was donated to the Piner High School in Santa Rosa, California, the city that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz called home for decades. It also is the location of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center.
After receiving a request for a Black character in a letter from Harriet Glickman in 1968, Schulz came up with Franklin a few months later. In an interview prior to her death in 2020, Glickman explained that she had appealed to the animator following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
The character has sparked great debate through the years. Before Franklin appeared in the comic strip, the United Feature Syndicate was reportedly concerned that some newspapers would protest, but after Schulz threatened to quit, the syndicate relented.
In the Nineties, Schulz gave the character a last name — “Armstrong.” Coincidentally, Franklin was first featured in Peanuts 55 years ago — on July 31, 1968. “Monday is Franklin’s birthday technically,” Ealey said with a laugh. “Seeing the growth and the legacy of the character from then until now is what I have enjoyed most.”
In 2020, an airing of the 1973 “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” special sparked a social media backlash. Some viewers took issue with Franklin having been seated alone in a beach chair on one side of the dinner table. Although Ealey was not privy to that controversy when it unfolded, he read up about it during his research before partnering with Peanuts. “It’s our job — not just mine or Tier’s but everybody’s job — to represent Franklin in the best possible light, especially with him being the only Black character in that show. I’m pretty sure it was a learning lesson. Hopefully, when mistakes are made, lessons are learned,” Ealey said.
Last year Peanuts Worldwide LLC launched the Armstrong Project that established $200,000 in endowments and additional resources at Howard University and Hampton University in Virginia. Those are the schools that Ealey will be visiting this fall. The program supports HSBCU students in the fields of animation, film and television. The upcoming on-campus events will be an opportunity to talk about the time when the character was introduced in comparison to today, Ealey said.
Ealey spoke of how major the assignment is coming from the highly selective Peanuts. Having had Peanuts figures in his house for years, including Snoopy ones from the artist KAWS’ collaboration with Uniqlo a few years ago, Ealey said, “It’s really a full circle moment for me being a consumer of their products to being a designer in partnership with them.”
While given the upcoming Franklin special and Peanuts licensing heft, “the possibilities are endless,” according to Ealey, whose goal is to get through this first project ensuring that all parties are happy. “Above everything, as is always the plan with Tier before we collaborate with anyone, we want to make sure that it is meaningful and impactful not just to us, but to our community. “
Acknowledging that the character was introduced during the civil rights struggles, a pivotal time in the country’s history, Ealey agreed years later the U.S. still struggles over similar issues. He said, “For us, in general, our goal is to always push the right narrative forward to make sure that we’re not just representing ourselves in the best way, but being mindful of the challenges that we face. We need to be mindful of what we go through. Every contribution is a step towards that. My hope is that this collaboration sparks conversation not only about Franklin’s character within the younger community.”
Shedding light on the character is key, due partially to the fact that many associate Peanuts with solely Snoopy and Charlie Brown, Ealey said. “We want to not only show his representation but also give people an idea of the type of character he was from his interests to his personality.”
More than anything, Ealey liked Franklin’s traits. “If you read up on him, he is a person who is not only there for other people, but he has a wide spectrum of interests from baseball to schooling to swimming to football. Also, [Schulz] always described him as a good friend. He isn’t just one-dimensional. It. xhows that he is a caring and loving character that goes above and beyond for his friends and the people that he loves,” Ealey said.
Intertwining the character for today’s audience is also integral, according to Ealey. “While we may know what Peanuts [characters] are, or who Franklin is, there are kids today who probably don’t or probably need to.”
As a Long Island University undergrad, Ealey started Tier with two frat brother friends in 2014. “I’ve always found love in fashion, art and production. In high school, I was always sketching and drawing up mock-ups. In college, there wasn’t an art program so I ended up taking graphic art, which is different from drawing and sketching.”
Ealey sells Tier via the company’s site, Showfields’ Williamsburg and extended pop-ups. After HFR reached out about the Peanuts prospect, he was eager to create something that “was not only cool, but that was impactful with a good cause,” Ealey said.
Tier’s capsule includes a varsity jacket, coordinating “luxury” sweatpants, a women’s cropped jersey with tailored pants, a worker jacket, a comic book strip dress and a knitted vest that can be worn by adults and children. Images of Franklin — logos, pictures, comic strips — are used throughout the collection. Peanuts Worldwide gave the creative access to its archives to pull images and also provided ones for the project.
With retail prices ranging from about $80 to $400, the limited-run assortment will be sold via Tier’s platform.