Nevertheless, our history has acknowledged black fashion designers have made incredible achievements and contributions starting from our ancestors such as Elizabeth Keckley who became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker to two to three generations ago when Anne Lowe designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gown that she wore when she married president Robert Kennedy.
What do I know first hand about the black fashion designer in America? Well, let me tell you. After the toss and toil to graduate with a degree in advertising and work four years in the industry, I was downsized. It was an ‘aha’ moment as we say because I finally had to look within to discover where my passion and love really lie. I finally faced who I was and who I am supposed to be - a fashion creative. Though I had an idea of the fashion designing landscape, the shattering reality of my experiences has been far beyond what I could have imagined. After receiving a degree from the Parsons the New School for Design and starting Dur Doux, I was thrown into a world of seemingly constant rejection, disappointments and scratching for funds at every step. With my experiences as I work hard to push my fashion house to the front of the fashion world line, I would say that my number one truth for black fashion designers in the fashion food chain is driven largely by the ability to gain accessibility to funds and connections.
As I began and proceeded on my quest to become a fashion designer, a critical question I posed to myself was “must all black designers be the same?” Of course, I knew my fashion style and taste were outside of the familiar street style. However, I believed it was possible to produce a fashion brand that offers a global fashion look. My label would not be type casted as an urban label that gave consumers gaudy, poor quality, street wear. From the beginning my brand would be known as affordable luxury high fashion label because of my belief that every woman deserves a little luxury in her wardrobe yet affordably priced. We found that there is a large consumer group that has been waiting for designers of color to step up to the plate and design for them and their wallet. With this in mind, I began looking for twenty -first century designers from my community who are taking the right steps as my resource and inspiration. There came the reality - there are close to none available! Where were the black high-fashion designers? Outside of Tracy Reese, Patrick Robinson, and Carly Cushnie, what I discovered from my research was that many of these talented designers dip their toes in the pool of high fashion to test the temperature then quickly snatch it back. Never quite forming a trend, they revert to the familiar street style.
My journey in many ways has been much like designer Tracy Reese. With a successful Kickstarter under my belt and with the blessings of my parents backing the Dur Doux label, I stepped into the fashion world working hard to put my brand in the forefront of the fashion line. Even with the heavy credentials of being a Parsons graduate, I must daily stay deep in the trenches of battle within the fashion industry. I remind myself that in addition to me, there are aspiring black designers such as LaQuan Smith and other designers of color and diverse cultural backgrounds whose works are strongly competitive. Hence, as I noted earlier, the issue is not lack of talent, but lack of money. It comes down to a singular issue of having the resources to let your brand succeed – an access that not many of us are able to get and so continues the struggle.
Changing the fashion industry’s environment by more inclusion of black and diverse fashion designers, particularly the high fashion labels from my experience requires the support of accomplished black brands in every facet of America; from sports, entertainment to business and media. They need to commit to aiding us fashion creatives and divert some of their copious capital to fronting and guiding seasoned designers. Instead of nursing vanity projects, they should place their interest in black fashion talents who are equally artistically creative and do deserve the support. As for we the fashion designers, we must take responsibility by re-visioning ourselves as global brands. Reach out for funding, support and customers globally. Why, one may ask? Well, it is simple. America and the world is one step from being a population of ethnic majorities. Finally, the black and the culturally diverse community must honor and support these talented designers in every way possible. As many can spend money on popular designers from Gucci, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors to Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, Versace and many more, so can they spend money on talented fashion designers from their community. Help build the brand recognition of black designers via social media support by following them and sharing their amazing collections with others. My fellow designers and I must keep our eyes on our ancestors and the trail blazing struggles of a small group of fashion geniuses who embodied incredible raw talent and perseverance to forge their rightful place as fashion icons.
Willi Smith, Tracy Reese, Carly Cushnie, Jeffrey Banks, Armando Cabral, Duro Olowu, Stephen Burrows, Dexter and Byron Peart, Martine Rose, B Michael, Maxwell Osborne, Olivier Rousteing, Patrick Robinson, Oswald Boateng. These are just a few of designers who have taken their incredible talent to the forefront of the fashion industry line; but there are still recognitions to be made. As the 21st century rushes forward, this new cadre of millennia emerging designers must continue digging deep to find their own path for pushing to the forefront of fashion design and charting new creative territory. Like their Trailblazer predecessors they must be committed to knocking down doors and glass ceilings to gain access, acceptance and acknowledgement as well as the respect of the fashion industry. Miguel Antoinne, La Quan Smith, Natt Taylor, Kimberly Goldson, Eric Raisiana Najla A. Burt (Dur Doux) – these names are just a few of many hopeful fashion icons following in the footsteps of the Ethnic Fashion Design Trailblazers…