Originally published in Vis Major Zine, December 2020.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd this past May, and the global Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed, the lack of support for Black creatives and designers and conversations surrounding the topic have risen in the greater context of systemic racism and the Black experience, not only in America, but around the world. Though many people felt compelled to support Black-owned businesses in droves, this acknowledgement has waned slightly, as the protests seems to be a thing of the past despite the fact that the experiences of and disregard for these Black designers, creators, and entrepreneurs is very much pertinent in society.
There is a notion that Black designers only create for Black people, and therefore only Black people can invest in and support their creations. Though people of all backgrounds can be seen with a Telfar bag dangling from their shoulder or Brandon Blackwood’s “End Systemic Racism” tote resting on their hip, the majority of people actively and continuously championing these designers are overwhelmingly Black. Magazines have made efforts to showcase the work of not only Black designers, but of photographers, stylists and other areas of the industry where Black people are consistently underrepresented. For Allure Magazine’s October 2020 issue, Selena Gomez was captured by Micaiah Carter for the cover story. She was styled in pieces from Laquan Smith, Fe Noel, and Pyer Moss, much to the confusion of many on social media. To see a non-Black celebrity in the garments of these well-known, Black, New York based designers was a stark contrast to the many Black figures that had covered various magazines in the months prior. Just one month before, Zendaya fronted the September issue of InStyle, wearing only Black designers. While that cover was praised for its highlighting of Black designers and photographers, the Allure cover was met with mixed reviews.
This belief that only Black people can wear the work of Black designers is one of the biggest reasons that those very designers lack the support necessary to grow within an incredibly whitewashed industry. In New York, only a small amount of Black designers show during NYFW. In 2018, only nine appeared on the official schedule. The Council of Fashion Designers of America does not have the greatest track record of supporting new talent, especially Black talent despite there being an incredibly large number of Black designers and creatives within the city, let alone the entire country. This year, Kerby-Jean Raymond, Telfar Clemens, and Christopher John Rogers won CFDA awards in their respective categories, the first time Black designers had ever been awarded in the Council’s history. Though this was a big win for both the designers and those who support them, it highlights a greater issue of diversity and inclusion within fashion. While the industry has made great strides towards inclusivity in the last few years, it is hard to see it as more than performative when a sprinkling of Black models walk the runways in garments created almost solely by white designers and teams, and Black people are continuously missing from the executive boards of most corporations. When there are hardly any Black designers present in “mainstream” fashion, their work almost becomes niche, with mainly Black people investing in that overlooked sector of the industry. Black designers frequently push for Blackness to be visible in the industry and garner inspiration from the Black experience, and some people view this as a reason for them to not purchase those designs. They feel as though the creations were not made with them in mind. While this may be true, no one has ever said that about Chanel, or Louis Vuitton, or Bottega Veneta. Historically, these luxury brands have advertised and showcased their designs almost exclusively on white bodies. There has never been a question as to whether or not these designs were made for Black, or Asian, or Latinx consumers. Despite not being seen in the imagination and fantasy of those designers’ worlds, ethnic minorities still invest in new collections from Gucci and Dior. Why can’t it be the same for Black designers?