How Fashion is Championing Designers of Color and Working to Create Lasting Change

“I learned early on that the press didn’t pay the bills,” says Brandice Daniel, founder and CEO of Harlem’s Fashion Row. “I knew I had to do something that would really give color designers financial opportunities.” Daniel founded the initiative in 2007 to create a level playing field for black and Latinx designers, hosting fashion shows and providing networking and mentoring opportunities. “We’ve been doing the work for 13 years,” says Daniel, who launched the Icon360 fund under the HFR umbrella last May for the benefit of designers impacted by COVID-19. When SHE spoke to her in early summer, she was thrilled to have raised $ 15,000 through a virtual fundraiser, featuring panelists like Christopher John Rogers. In June, the Fashion Designers Council of America (CFDA) added an additional $ 1 million to that total through its Common Thread Fund.

“We have been doing the job for 13 years.” -Brandice Daniel, Harlem’s Fashion Row

Under Daniel’s guidance, some of the industry’s most disgraceful statistics have come to light, including the fact that, by HFR, less than 1% of designers sold in large retail stores are people of color. That’s a number Brother Vellies Founder and Creative Director Aurora James was all too aware of when she devised the 15% Pledge. “I was talking with a friend about the struggles of black-owned businesses during the pandemic,” she says. “At least 40% of them will not survive. It both tore and inspired me. To date, Sephora, Rent the Runway and West Elm are among those who have signed on to the pledge, which urges major retailers to allocate 15% of their storage space to black-owned businesses (almost the same percentage of the American population that blacks represent).

A look from the line of Aurora James, Brother Vellies

Brother Vellies

Other big hitters in the industry have opened their wallets to make sure future students of the fashion of color get the support they need. For example, Gucci has partnered with the CFDA to provide scholarships and mentors of $ 20,000 per year to two students: Ajai Kasim, originally from California, who is headed to Parsons School of Design; and Kaya Ugorji from Washington, DC, who will be attending the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Reflecting on the state of affairs in the industry and beyond, fashion activist and former model Bethann Hardison looked back to the ’70s when she began her career. “I started in the clothing district,” she says. “We weren’t talking about race, just whether or not you could do the job. A turning point for her was when Bernadine Morris, then fashion editor of the New York Times, dedicated a major feature to Hardison and the other Black models: “We were so proud then Newsweek followed by a story about the success of so many black models. While there is a lot of room for improvement, she said, it’s important to reflect on those who led the way. “I think you’ve got a call, and you just say things along the way, but you don’t necessarily start doing it until it’s time. Well, we’ve got a move now, and we all got to go with it. “D

This article appears in the September 2020 issue of ELLE.

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