Black Design Collective's Inclusive Fashion Strategy

Black Design Collective’s Inclusive Fashion Strategy

Amid The Demand For Long-Overdue Attention To The Work Of Black Designers, The Black Design Collective Kicked Off Its Debut NYFW Appearance With A Virtual Event

Black Design Collective's Inclusive Fashion Strategy
Teri Agins | Journalist

“For the first time there’s a real appetite for Black designers,” said Teri Agins, the long-time fashion writer and author, and one of the VIP fashion experts who dropped in and dropped knowledge at the unusual happening last month. It was a glamorous confluence of designer meet-and-greet, business symposium, and dance party.

In attendance: Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter (her latest project Coming 2 America debuted last week on Amazon Prime), TJ Walker of iconic streetwear label Cross Colours, and Byron Lars, who introduced his new collection In Earnest.

BDC is a not-for-profit started in 2018 by designers Walker, Carter, Kevan Hall, and Angela Dean to support Black designers globally. It partnered with the CFDA’s Runway360 to present the collections of 10 Black designers, providing exposure they need like a plant needs water.

Black Design Collective's Inclusive Fashion Strategy
A.POTTS

Rounding out the 10, whose work will be on the platform indefinitely are: APotts by Aaron Potts, Epperson, Okera Banks’ OTG Essentials, Marrisa Wilson, Datari Austin, Neon Cowboys by Asia Hall, and Geoff Duran (menswear).

Things got off to a fast, hot start when DJ Kid Fresh scratched and spun present-day hits and everyone-on-the-dance floor tunes from the Eighties and Nineties.

Soon came the surprise announcement that Carter would receive her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, putting her in rare company: First Black designer to be so honored; only the second designer to get the award since boss lady of costume designers Edith Head won it almost 50 years ago.

Each of the talented 10 introduced themselves and their brand ethos to the 300 plus guests, and between music breaks, a bevy of VIP fashion insiders dropped in to give speedy tips and encouragement. “This is not tokenism or just to fill a quota,” said Agins. “It’s good business. Black sensibility appeals to everyone.”

She encouraged designers to “hang in there” despite tough times. “It takes a decade or more to establish a fashion brand,” said the former Wall Street Journal reporter, noting Lars, Hall and Epperson as examples. “Tenacity is really the key to it and coming up with great fashion.” 

After Agins, Vogue fashion director Virginia Smith offered her insights to navigate through the storm. Much has changed irrevocably, she said.

Black Design Collective's Inclusive Fashion Strategy
Epperson

Firstly, designers can now participate on their own terms. “Shift to something more specialized.” she advised.

It’s no longer necessary to be ready with an entire collection, handbag line and everything under the sun anymore.

“As editors, we are looking for a distinct point of view,” shared Smith. “But that can happen with one specialized item.” 

Secondly, you are now in direct communication with your customer, she noted. Take advantage of that. Take the time to develop that relationship and learn all you can from it.

From her front-row seat at Vogue to her up-close -and-personal view provided by her husband, trailblazing African-American designer Patrick Robinson, Smith knows well the struggles Black designers face.

One report puts at a 42%, the number of small Black-owned business that have closed since the pandemic hit. This staggering number is seen across all industries, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

Optimism is called for here and Smith provided it, noting,  “people are looking for new talent, new Black design talent.” 

Bloomingdales, started open calls specifically for Black designers. Furthermore, the retailer owned by Macy’s Inc., has taken the 15% pledge, announced Marissa Galante Frank, Bloomingdale’s fashion director.

The pledge, started by designer Aurora James of Brother Vellies, asks retailers to devote at least 15% of shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

The store is looking for women’s, men’s, home, accessories and other categories. Some designers have already reached out.

“We are constantly looking for new brands and new energy. As an industry and at Bloomingdale’s we know we have a long way to go. Bloomingdale’s is committed to being a diverse and inclusive retailer.”

 — Marissa Galante Frank, Fashion Director for Bloomingdale’s

Mark Beckman, co-founder of DMAUnited, an advertising and talent representation agency which works with fashion designers, retailers and the CFDA, recommended designers focus on establishing their brand culture.

“Superior design is king,” said Beckman. But in the current climate designers would do well to develop four Cs. “Create content, foster community, establish culture and engage conversation – and with that will come the commerce.” 

Black Design Collective's Inclusive Fashion Strategy
Carl Jones (left) and TJ Walker (right), Co-Founders of Cross Colours

This is exactly what TJ Walker and partner Carl Jones did at the birth of Cross Colours in 1989, said Walker, and it’s been key to the brand’s success. 

We did what Marc just said. We had a brand rooted in the community. Our tag line was Clothes Without Prejudice. 

 — TJ Walker, Co-founder of Cross Colours

Tracy Reese fans expressed delight in the chat when the Hope For Flowers designer stopped by. Also in the VIP cheering section was Maryanne Grisz, president and CEO of Fashion Group International.

Guests cooed approval as they were given a live video tour by owner Lawrence Lenihan of a 125,000 square-foot zero waste facility in the Dominican Republic. Lenihan is chairman and co-founder of Resonance, an intelligent technology platform that helps designers build sustainable brands. 

Of the currently 19 brands on his platform, 13 are Black-owned, he noted, including Pyer Moss. As Lenihan panned his smartphone around the gleaming white machinery that spews out custom orders, he said: “This is not for us a social justice initiative. This is about talented, unbelievable designers who can build businesses that are profitable.” 

DJ Kid Fresh closed the event with a 15-minute music coda.

After his presentation Lenihan said, “I want to put music in every one of our meetings now.” A statement that would be music to every corporate workers’ ears.