Black creatives have been the inspiration of fashion brands for decades. Spanning before the boom of hip-hop culture influencing fashion and style in the 70s and leading the way to more contemporary creatives like Rihanna, Telfar Clemens and Pharrell creating and designing for global fashion brands to create trends and reinvigorate the industry, black artists, creatives, and designers have continuously showcased their talent and innovation in the fashion world.

 



 

 

According to a 2022 report by Nielson, “Black consumers possess more power and influence in the retailing marketplace than ever before given their growing buying power and population rate.” The report also notes that the Black population is expected to grow by 22% between 2020 and 2060, along with their buying power which is expected to reach $1.8 trillion by the end of 2024, with an analysis by McKinsey & Company suggesting that Black consumers’ spending on apparel and footwear alone will grow by about six percent a year to equal $70 billion by 2030.

Black consumers have been an overlooked demographic in the market for decades, despite having historically driven trends in industries such as food, beauty, fashion and media. However, companies like luxury accessories brand, Telfar, have capitalized on creating a niche in the market. Teflar has a mission that everyone can get behind: “Not for you–for everyone.” The label, founded in 2014 by Teflar Clemens, is known for creating collections that sell out in seconds. Its gender-fluid accessories are embraced by an environmentally-friendly, luxe-loving community who value accessibility without having to compromise on quality. Teflar has shown the industry that it is possible to do it all. In a time where brand loyalty is fading, Telfar has been able to capture audiences, maintain a devoted following, and spark conversations around the role of luxury brands in fashion.

Black population is expected to grow by 22% between 2020 and 2060, along with their buying power which is expected to reach $1.8 trillion by the end of 2024.

Among some of the most notable pioneers of fashion is American fashion journalist, stylist, creative director, and former editor-at-large of Vogue magazine, Andre Leon Talley. Talley began his rise to fame in the 70s, and through decades of work in the industry, solidified himself as one of the titans of fashion, becoming one of the only Black editors in fashion, all while donning an array of signature ornate capes, robes and kaftans. Talley passed in 2022, but his legacy spans decades and is celebrated in the careers of numerous talented designers of color such as Black designer LaQuan Smith, Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, and Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.

The importance of creatives of color goes beyond diversifying design aesthetics. Creatives of colors have the potential to inspire unique trends, create dynamic fashion subcultures, and challenge the status quo. New York Fashion Week (NYFW) is arguably one of the most talked about events in fashion, having propelled the careers of Oscar de la Renta, Prabal Gurung, and Diane von Furstenberg into the mainstream marketplace. Each year, the week showcases the talent of numerous designers, garment workers, creative directors and models. This year, 6 Black designers at NYFW are unveiling their latest collections and continuing the tradition of Black inventiveness in fashion.

6 Black Designers Taking on NYFW

The fashion industry has made notable strides in the labor movement as many push for better conditions and fair pay for garment workers. Through the implementation of California’s garment labor protection law (SB62), the introduction of the anti-wage theft bill, the FABRIC Act, and the passing of The International Accord in Bangladesh and Pakistan, as consumers, we are demanding significant policy change and pushing the needle for what is expected from brands and the industry.

Black consumers’ spending on apparel and footwear alone will grow by about six percent a year to equal $70 billion by 2030.

The United States’ relationship with the garment industry is storied and often marred with injustices at the expense of garment workers. The beginnings of the garment industry in America can be attributed to the forced labor of Black people during the slavery era as the production of cotton increased and became the U.S’ largest export eclipsing tobacco, rice, and sugar. From there, the garment industry in America exploded during the Civil War, with much of the growth focused in New York. What began as a seeming necessity to slave owners to outsource the production of clothing for slaves working on Southern plantations to decrease the time slaves spent making their own clothing, as well as production of garments for soldiers fighting in the war, grew into the nation’s ready-to-wear industry at the hands of slaves.

“The fight for abolition is where the labor movement, as it impacts the production of garments, begins,” said Alyssa Hardy in her article for Fashionista.

In her article, Hardy goes on to talk about the challenges many Black people faced after the Civil War, during the Jim Crow era, being excluded from working at textile mills and forced to work as field workers or janitors. The battle for labor rights lasted decades, prompting lawsuits designed to challenge current laws and usher in policy reform. In the 1970s, three Black women — Shirley Lea, Romona Pinnix and Annie Tinnin sued Cone Mills Corporation, an American textile manufacturing company that produced cotton fabrics such as corduroy, flannel, and denim, for discrimination on the basis of race and gender after being denied employment. The women successfully argued their case.

In an interview with VCU News, Holly Alford, Director of Inclusion and Equity for the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, noted that the Black community’s influence on fashion began with “the work enslaved people…weaving fabrics and…managing the dyeing processes such as the use of indigo, which were large markets in Virginia.”

The plight of Black garment workers in America illustrates the importance of having Black creators in the industry. Black designers showcasing their work at NYFW is nothing short of revolutionary.

“The fight for abolition is where the labor movement, as it impacts the production of garments, begins.” – Alyssa Hardy

LaQuan Smith

Among the Black designers showcasing their work is LaQuan Smith. Mentee of Andre Leon Talley, Smith is a luxury fashion designer based in New York. Smith’s designs focus on the intricacies of the female form, showcasing an array of designs that accentuate the body’s curves and collections that pay homage to fashion’s it girls.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by LaQuan Smith — Designer (@laquan_smith)

Diotima

Diotima is among the notable brands showcasing at fashion week. Diotima, founded in 2021, is designed and crafted in Jamaica and New York, illustrating the work of artisanal communities in Jamaica. The brand’s signature crochet designs are made in Jamaica, and “born out of the Jamaican diaspora during the Windrush era.” The breezy designs emphasize craftsmanship and demand a more expansive definition of luxury. To stay true to the brands stance on the importance of sustainability, founder and creative director, Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based Rachel Scott claims that the brand uses responsibly produced materials, while also only producing two collections a year which are also all made to order.

Bishme Cromartie

Bishme Cromartie is a self-taught fashion designer from Baltimore, Maryland first learning the basics of sewing from his aunt and then, upon acquiring his first sewing machine, went on to design clothes for friends and family. Cromartie began his rise in the fashion industry on Season 17 of Project Runway, with designs that “sculpted and celebrated a woman’s body.” On his website, Cromartie describes his collections as “confident, sexy, and architecturally captivating,” with a mission to “encourage self-expression, advocate for representation, and shatter expectations for people of color” as a Black designer.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Bishme Cromartie – Designer (@bishme_cromartie)

Frederick Anderson

New York designer, Frederick Anderson is returning with another bold collection, sure to usher in vibrant colors, artful textures and innovative concepts. In an interview with Park Magazine NY, Anderson stated, “When I do a collection, I have several layers. It’s never just one thing. It’s three to five different layers all the time. I always think of my woman and how she feels right now.”

 

House of Aama

Founded in 2015, House of Aama was born for the artistry of mother and daughter design duo, Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka. House of Aama aims to explore the “folkways of the Black experience by designing timeless garments with nostalgic references informed by historical research, archival analysis, and storytelling.” With its fashion the brand seeks to evoke dialogue and social commentary around heritage and the nuances of the Black experience.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by House of Aama (@houseofaama)

Sergio Hudson

Another designer showcasing at NYFW Fall/Winter 2024 is Sergio Hudson. Hudson’s luxury women’s ready-to-wear fashions have been seen on celebrities like Keke Palmer, Anne Hathaway, and Vice President Kamala Harris. Hudson boasts that each of his elegant collections are entirely crafted in the United States, emphasizing the importance of construction and meticulous attention to detail within the forefront of every garment.

 

Black in Fashion Council

Lastly, NYFW is also showcasing more unsung black designers through the Black in Fashion Council. The Black in Fashion Council, founded by Lindsay Peoples Wagner and Sandrine Charles, is a collective of fashion professionals aiming to build a new foundation for inclusivity in the fashion and beauty industries. The Council stemmed from “What It’s Like To Be Black In Fashion,” a critically-acclaimed article written by Peoples Wagner for New York Magazine, after research drove her to understand that elitism in fashion would only be rectified by systemic change. The Black in Fashion Council, along with NYFW and Rakuten, are hosting a black designers showroom for the duration of fashion week to provide, “space for emerging designers to showcase their work and make new industry connections.”

 

The Alliance Between Music and Fashion

Many designers gain inspiration from art, culture, and nature. To this day, music continues to inspire trends in fashion and beauty. From the 1920s when jazz musicians and dancers like Josephine Baker popularized the Flapper girl aesthetic to the Beyhive’s recreation of Beyoncé’s Renaissance looks for her tour of the same name, music and fashion have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship that has sparked further creativity. While Black musicians have influenced fashion for decades, beginning in the 1920s with the rise of jazz music, during the emergence of rock-and-roll music, at the hands of Tina Turner with glam rock, and throughout history with musicians like Patti LaBelle, the credit of fashion trends were often bestowed on others. However, the popularization of hip-hop brought about a culture shift in fashion that was undeniable and is still prevalent today.

Born in New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, hip-hop emerged from b-boy and breakdancing culture, showcasing fashions like tracksuits, large jewelry chains, and kangol hats. This fashion trend was most notably popularized by Run-DMC. In the late 80s and early 90s, hip-hop culture began to shift, and developed an emphasis on the reflection of African heritage and Black-nationalist sentiment bred from ideologies made mainstream by Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Black musicians have influenced fashion for decades, beginning in the 1920s with the rise of jazz music

This shift in genre tone, brought forth artists like Queen Latifah and Public Enemy, who showcased fashions that featured dreadlocks and colors like red, yellow, black and green, often associated with Black heritage.

Celebrating its 50th year in 2023, hip-hop’s relationship with fashion amplified further once the introduction of more ostentatious looks came into play. The 90s brought about a new mainstream appeal to fashion that wasn’t as prevalent prior. Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan, is a New York designer with a career that spans over two decades. Beginning in Harlem as the “king of knock-offs,” Dapper Dan ushered in a wave of luxury fashion still being felt in hip-hop today. Dapper Dan transitioned to the world of hip-hop fashion in the late 80s and 90s as a tailor to emerging hip-hop stars like LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa and athletes like Mike Tyson. Inspired by looks from Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., Dan constructed garments for his clientele, boldly using logos from high-end luxury brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi, which would soon become his trademark. Dan remarks that his use of logos made the brands’ prestige more accessible to various clientele, improving on the designs, as many of the brands at that time were not constructing ready-to-wear garments. Luxury brands took notice of Dapper Dan’s counterfeit garments, issuing several lawsuits and in 1992, Dan closed down his boutique following a raid orchestrated by Fendi.

Following Dapper Dan’s rise in infamy in the eyes of the fashion industry, artists like Lil Kim, 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G carried the torch, and built on this growing reputation of fashion’s importance to hip-hop that have inspired looks for Beyoncé, JLo, Cardi B, Rihanna, Billie Eilish, A$AP Rocky and so many more.

The popularization of hip-hop brought about a culture shift in fashion that was undeniable and is still prevalent today.

In 2017, Gucci showcased a collection that featured a balloon-sleeved mink bomber jacket that showed similarities to Dapper Dan’s 1989 Louis Vuitton version for olympic athlete Diane Dixon. When faced with backlash, Gucci claimed the brand was paying homage, later teaming up with Dan on a capsule collection inspired by his archive, releasing a limited-edition book, “Dapper Dan’s Harlem” and making Dan the face of the #GucciTailoring campaign. In 2018, Dapper Dan and Gucci joined to create an Atelier housed under the Gucci brand, with the fashion house supplying fabrics for Dan’s new creations notably showcasing custom 2019 Met Gala looks for Ashley Graham, Regina Hall, and Karlie Kloss.

Hip-hop’s influence is truly only one sub-genre of fashion Black creatives have contributed to the industry. Artists like Jean-Michel Basqiat and musician, actress and model Grace Jones have influenced designers for decades, having been attributed to be muses and visual inspiration for numerous brands and collections for Jones and Basqiat respectively.

Another notable genre of Black culture that has influenced an array of trends are Black queer creatives. Notable fashion designers such as Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, Telfar Clemens of Telfar and Christopher John Rogers of his brand by the same name, have become some of the most recognizable Black queer designers currently showcasing in the industry today. Other innovators in the space like Law Roach, celebrity stylist who’s fashioned looks for celebrities like Celine Dion, Megan Thee Stallion and most notably Zendaya, has created lanes for Black queer creatives to flourish.

Many styles now popularized in fashion, emerged from the Ballroom scene, an African-American and Latinx underground LGBTQ+ subculture. While Ballroom culture has roots that span back to the 19th-century and early 1900s, Ballroom gained its mainstream footing in 1962, after rising racial tensions, with the first black drag ball staged by Crystal LaBeija, an American drag queen and trans woman who co-founded the House of LaBeija in 1968. This creation of space for Black and Brown queer people, has led to the beginnings of significant careers in fashion for individuals like RuPaul, the first black trans model to achieve notoriety in the fashion industry, Tracey “Africa” Norman, and fashion designer Kevin Aviance. The subculture has continued to gain increased popularity with shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race and HBO’s Legendary, along with providing musical influences for celebrities such as Beyoncé with her 2022 album “Renaissance.”

 

It’s Not A Trend Until Someone Else Does It

While black creatives have long influenced fashion trends, the origins of said trends are rarely attributed to the culture without heavy backlash from black consumers.

In February 2024, Kristin Juszczyk, fashion-designer wife of 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, gained notoriety ahead of Super Bowl LVIII as her upcycled football jersey designs were seen on celebrities like Simone Biles, Kelly Clarkson, and, more recently, Taylor Swift. Juszczyk was praised for her innovative and fashionable designs on sites like Glamour, People Magazine and The New York Times, with Juszczyk earning an official licensing deal with the NFL, allowing her to use, or reuse, the NFL’s apparel for her future designs.

While the designs showcase Juszczyk’s artistry, this trend or style isn’t new. Going back to the 90s and early 2000s with hip-hop artists like Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, and Mariah Carrey, the upcycled sportswear-style was popularized within Black culture, however, during the time the style was often seen as too “urban” for mainstream fashion trends. While it is a great achievement for Juszczyk and many note her hard work in making the deal with the NFL happen, some on social media also noted how in a larger societal context, and with the rise in Y2K fashion trends, Black and Brown women who regularly invent styles and trends, are often overlooked by conglomerates like the NFL, news outlets, and larger designers when it comes to financial compensation and overall credit for their creativity, letting us know that we still have a ways to go in the fashion industry before black designers and creatives are as respected as their white counterparts.

It is remarkable to see an increasing number of Black designers get their day in the spotlight. However, the fashion industry continues to remain heavily focused on the work, trends, and dollars of the white populace. While every designer deserves to showcase their artistry, consumers are continuing to demand better representation, urging the fashion industry to highlight emerging designers from different populaces so creatives can continue innovating the field.

Search our 2022 Accountability Report to see how some of your favorite Black-Owned Brands Scored!

Related Stories

Join the Conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *