Lately, it seems as if there’s not a day that goes by where I’m not triggered by a blatant form of racial insensitivity, evident lack of diverse staff, or lack of awareness of how systemic racism impacts every facet of life. When we’re reckoning collectively with police brutality and systemic racism, the fashion industry itself has had to reflect upon the ways in which it needs to make serious changes in the industry. Of course, changes are happening, but for consumers, we can help propel the movement forward by taking a step back and looking at how we contribute. Sure, we can’t control what designers send down the runway. Still, one of the most fundamentally underrated ways to be an ally to the Black community (and any community for that matter) is how we spend our money. While recognizing the contributions that designers like Dapper Dan have been making to the industry is so important, I think there’s truly no better way to appreciate and support Black artistry than through shopping Black-owned businesses and designers. Keep scrolling to find some of my favorite designers to shop.
The first time I found the brand Brother Vellies in my feed, my heart skipped a beat. I saw a woman who looks just like me on social media (a rare occasion) wearing these incredible black feather heels. From that moment on, I was hooked, and for a good reason. Founded by Aurora James, the brand is dedicated to sustainability and works with artisans in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco to make its handcrafted shoes. But the thoughtfulness doesn’t halt during the production process; James also founded the 15% pledge. The non-profit organization has been advocating for our favorite major retailers to commit to including more Black-owned businesses. Basically, whenever I’m feeling philanthropic but need a pair of shoes, I’ll be spending all my money on Brother Vellies.
Remember that iconic blazer look Beyoncé wore on her last On the Run II tour? That was from Queens-born designer LaQuan Smith. His glamorous and often sultry designs have caught the attention of the queen and Cardi B, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and other celebrities. But can you blame them? Smith has a way of creating the kinds of pieces that both Beyoncé and the rest of the world want to wear when they’re feelin’ themselves, and that, my friends, is a true talent.
Imagine yourself sitting in Positano, Italy, with the sun shining down on you while you’re drinking lemonade. What are you wearing? Hopefully, Fe Noel. The Grenadian womenswear designer from Brooklyn specialized in collections that practically scream “I wish I could book a flight right now.” But beyond that, Noel has been known to collaborate with fellow artists to create pieces that reclaim the beauty of Black identity that’s been erased in larger historical narratives. And what’s more beautiful than that?
While you may know Telfar Clemens because of his “Bushwick Birkin,” aka his iconic shopping totes that sell out in seconds, the truth is, Clemens has been pushing societal boundaries through challenging Black and gender identity norms long before his bags became a hot commodity. He’s not only a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, who’s more recently collaborated with Ugg and Converse for special collections, but Clemens’s approach to unisex, affordable designer clothing has long been at the ethos of this brand. Making him a designer for all (quite literally).
Remember when we did that beautiful cover shoot with Yara Shahidi? If you haven’t been able to stop thinking about the printed silk suit she’s wearing, you’re not alone. And in fact, how could one-stop thinking about any of the work Kerby Jean-Raymond has done? It’s truly a no-brainer why Jean-Raymond won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30, has a Reebok partnership. But in truth, the accolades don’t even begin to speak to the gravitas of his work. Designing for both men and women, Kerby uses his collections to give voice to the African American experience one piece at a time.
Though Abloh sadly passed away earlier this year, the designer made waves with luxury street label Off-White and grew his influence further when he stepped into his role as menswear artistic director for Louis Vuitton. Not only does did hehonor the brands’ identities when designing, but it feels as though both were a reflection of his own experiences as a Black man and the environments that shaped him. To me, that reflection in and of itself is breathtaking.
Maybe it was just me, but the 2019 Grammy outfits truly solidified my love for Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. How could one not still be in a tizzy over Béyonce’s iconic look, Jorja Smith’s stunning gold sequin number, or even Kylie Jenner’s avant-garde look? I know he’s been the creative director quite some time (which means I was high-key sleeping on him), but something about the documentary Wonder Boy made me fall in love with him all over again. Maybe it’s his couture, or maybe it’s him, but either way, this a brand and a designer to buy into.
Some of the best designers of the moment aren’t at huge fashion houses; they’re doing their own thing. That’s the case with Sade Mims of EDAS. Founded in 2013 in Brooklyn, the brand was a love letter to jewelry for Mims; but has since expanded beyond eclectic jewelry pieces. In fact, the brand’s sleek leather bags, beautifully beaded hats, and one-of-a-kind home objects are what has made this designer a favorite among artists, and editors alike. Trust when we say Mims’s brand is going to be your newest obsession.
While Rihanna has never been one to shy away from serving some serious looks, her influence within the fashion industry has been solidified far beyond the red carpet. After all, who could launch a beauty line, lingerie line, luxury label, produce a groundbreaking show, and win a British Fashion Award all in three years? Rihanna, that’s who. And while the future of her luxury label and her next album is unknown. What we know for sure is that whatever Rihanna creates next is well worth the wait.
As all fashion editors can attest to, a good pair of shoes can make all the difference—and there is no other brand quite making shoes like Chelsea Paris. Founded in 2012 by the Nigerian-born, Los Angeles– and London-based Black footwear designer, Theresa Ebagua, her pieces have been worn by icons like Beyoncé and Lupita Nyong’o. But if you’re wondering why you may not have heard of her brand yet, it’s because the designer took a three-year hiatus to re-establish her approach to design and her heritage. When you can come back from a hiatus and still create shoes any editor would swoon over, you know you’ve got the touch.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll repeat it again: Petit Kouraj is a fashion-girl favorite. What exactly makes this brand loveable, though? We’d say the intentionality founder, Nasrin Jean-Baptise put behind her brand. Born in London to Haitian immigrants, Jean-Baptise’s experience within the fashion industry started within the styling realm and eventually led to the founding of her handwoven bag company in 2019. But this isn’t another bag brand; cooked into the DNA of Petit Kouraj is an ethos to give back. Each bag is created with organic cotton, leather, and rayon and is made by a woman-led organization in Haiti that employs local artisans. Talk about wearable art.
Fashion is all about storytelling—at least that’s how the mother-daughter duo, Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka, behind House of Aama, approach design. Founded in 2015, the brand has become known for how they upcycled vintage and deadstock fabrics to create unique pieces. It’s not just the duo’s sustainable approach to design that’s intriguing, but rather how they use historical research and archives to explore and honor the African diaspora in different collections. Resulting in pieces that are the physical embodiment of uniqueness.
No matter the art form, there’s a level of alchemy required to meld inspiration from various places, cultures, and ideas to create something completely new. For the fashion designer, Edvin Thompson, he’s already mastered that with his brand, Theophilio. Founded in 2016, the label is, in his own words, “a wearable biography,” with nods to his childhood in Jamaica, New York City’s progressive culture, and what’s happening at the moment. But what makes Thompson’s work so special is his unique perspective and how he melds his lived experience with upcycled fabrics to create one-of-a-kind pieces. Maybe it’s alchemy, maybe it’s magic, or possibly it’s just Edvin Thompson.
For people in the know, it should come as no surprise why designer, Christopher John Rogers has taken the industry by storm. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the designer brings the southern bigger-than-life essence to all of his colorful designs, and people are noticing. He not only received the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2019, but his collections since then have also cued collective gasps. In many ways, Rogers creates the type of clothing I hope the fashion industry includes more of in the future, which is to say his work crosses boundaries. His creations are so excellent and so unapologetic that it forces the world to no longer see the designer for the color of their skin, but rather for the beautiful things in which they choose to create.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
Next: Just a Really Great List of All the Black-Owned Fashion Items I’m Shopping Now.