Recognising Black Fashion Designers Throughout History
Elizabath Hobbs Keckly. Ann Lowe. Zelda Wynn Valdes. Scott Barnie. Patrick Kelly.
These are just 5 of the many black designers who have been omitted from the whitewashed history of fashion. It was Keckly who designed Mary Todd Lincoln’s (First Lady to Abraham Lincoln) gown for Lincoln’s second inauguration; it was Lowe who designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gown, and was so skilled that she was sought after by Christian Dior himself; it was Valdes who created the iconic Playboy costume, now one of the most popular cultural symbols of our time; it was Barnie who hails as one of the most outstanding designers of the Studio 54 era; it was Kelly who first introduced bold colours, designs and black cultural references/folklore never before seen on Parisian runways.
These men and women invented and perfected fashion as we know it today, yet somehow their names and achievements have been wiped out of history. The fashion industry has always had a race issue, and unfortunately it is no different today. Black Lives Matter everywhere, and in our bid to create more inclusive communities, we want to spotlight some black-owned businesses in a multi-part series.
Supporting Black Designers Today
1 – Lurelly | @lurelly | 194K Followers
Lurelly is a sustainable luxury brand that designs & creates a lot of bridal and loungewear. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic they also began designing gorgeous cotton and satin masks, of which 20% of the proceeds were donated to frontline workers.
Follow them if you love bespoke pieces and some of the most beautiful materials I’ve seen captured on camera.
2 – BROTHER VELLIES | @brothervellies | 172K Followers
Behind Brother Vellies is Aurora James who spends her time fighting for economic equality in the black community when she isn’t busy designing beautiful pieces for her label.
Brother Vellies is Brooklyn-based, but boasts artists spanning Nairobi all the way to New York, which is likely what makes their pieces so unique. Follow and support them if you’re interested in a conscious brand that also does their best to uplift other members of their community.
Also check out @15percentpledge, an effort by James, which calls on major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses.
3 – Beads Byaree | @beadsbyaree | 94.2K Followers
Areeayl, who owns this accessory shop, describes her work as ‘whimsical and imaginative wearable art’.
Fun fact: The keepsake earrings that Indya Moore wore at the 2019 Fashion Media awards were designed by Aree! Each frame contains a picture of one of 16 trans women that were murdered in the USA that year.
4 – smallneeds | @smallneeds | 83.1K Followers
smallneeds is a vintage store with the neatest feed.
They sell predominantly on Etsy under the name ‘Retro Rhapsody’ and occasionally have pop-ups in Miami, which is where they are based. Follow for the most beautiful corsets and vintage tops that black women popularised in the 60s and 70s.
5 – Washington Ave | @washingtonave | 29.7K Followers
Washington Ave “makes old things new” with amazing reworked designs and original vintage pieces. Remember what we said about Patrick Kelly introducing bold prints and colours onto Parisian runways? Take a look at these prints:
What is commonly known as ‘African prints’ is actually called Ankara and has been heavily commodified by white designers. Shop Washington Ave to directly support the people who create and design these pieces.
6 – ALIYA WANEK | @aliyawanek | 14K Followers
What a lot of people don’t know is that Aliya actually sews most of the garments on this website herself. They are mostly minimalist pieces that are intended to explore the connection between the wearer and their identity. They are also a sustainable brand!
7 – Yam | @yam_nyc | 6.6K Followers
Some history: Along with cassava, plantains and malanga, yams are essential foods in African culture, often used to make dishes like Fufu which is a recipe that followed West African slaves who came to the Carribean.
Everything put out by Yam the label is handmade in queens and also courts the vintage aesthetic as homage to the black women of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Check them out if you love one of a kind pieces.
8 – Underthing | @underthingshop | 6.4K Followers
As its name suggests, Underthing is a lingerie label that creates affordable pieces for a diverse group of women.
They’ve got lots of pretty things so check them out — everything is currently going for less than $50 so if you’re tight on cash but want to support a black business now is the best time!
9 – Golden Girly | @goldengirlyshop | 5.4K Followers
If you’re looking for colourful and comfy loungewear, Golden Girly has you covered.
They sell on Depop and accept custom orders as well! Looking for a rainbow set to lounge in this Pride month? Golden Girly can probably whip it up for you.
10 – C O C O A C E N T R I C | @cocoacentric | 3.4K Followers
If you’re looking for more colour and prints, COCOA CENTRIC creates and curates handmade / vintage accessories. This business was founded and is owned by LaToya McInnis, who is also a copywriter, creative director, and mother.
Cocoa Centric also walks the talk and has pledged to donating 10% of their net sales to Until Freedom, which is an “intersectional social justice organization rooted in the leadership of diverse people of colour to address systemic and racial injustice.”
Black Lives Matter. There are many, many ways to pledge your support to the movement as a whole as well as undo institutional and structural racism in our societies. Now is not the time to remain silent.
If you’re interested in doing more than supporting black-owned businesses and amplifying the voices and work of black creators, visit this link curated by Indya Moore: https://linktr.ee/Indyamoore which contains educational resources, bail funds, organisations to donate to, and ways to rebuild black businesses.
Other articles we have covered on the topic of black excellence / black-owned businesses include:
- Top 10 Black Beauty Influencers
- 4 Inspirational Black Influencers on Film and Instagram
- Pat McGrath Skin Fetish
- The Insta-brand Beauty Bakerie
- Juvia’s Place: From $2,000 To A Multimillion-Dollar Instagram Makeup Brand
- The Breakout Stars of ‘When They See Us’ on Instagram
- FENTY: The Disruptive Brand
- Homecoming #Beychella: The Pinnacle of Coachella Music History