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 coming from fashion brands and design houses alike. In a time when we're reckoning with the legacy of iconic designers and brands, maybe the best thing consumers can do is take a step back and look at how we contribute.
Sure, we can’t control what designers send down the runway, but one of the most fundamentally underrated ways to be an ally to the black community (and any community for that matter) is through how we spend our money. As we celebrate Black History Month I believe there’s truly no better way to appreciate and support black artistry than through shopping black-owned business and designers. Keep scrolling to find some of my favorite designers to shop this month and beyond.
Aurora James of Brother Vellies
The first time I saw 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. From its Instagram feed to how each product is made, Brother Vellies is thoughtful with everything it does.
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. Basically, whenever I’m feeling philanthropic but need a pair of shoes, I’ll be spending all my money with 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 not only caught the attention of the queen, but Cardi B, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and other celebrities alike. If celebrities are not enough to immediately pique your interest, his previous collaboration this past fall with ASOS may do the trick. Featuring men’s and women’s clothing and plus-size options, the affordable collection toes the line between down to earth and just a pinch of extra. Not convinced yet? Check out his work below.
Confession: I was hyperventilating at my desk when watching Carly Cushnie’s F/W 19 presentation. Something about her all-red layered look with velvet flare-leg pants and her Tibet Lamb Coat had me seriously re-considering my wardrobe choices. Her work often does that though; it’s so beautifully structured, minimal, and yet feminine you can’t help but to imagine how magical your life would be if you were just wearing one of her pieces.
Felisha Noel of Fe Noel
Imagine yourself sitting in Positano, Italy, with sun shining down on you while you’re drinking lemonade—but what are you wearing? Hopefully Fe Noel. The Grenadian womenswear designer from Brooklyn specialized in collections that practically scream "book a flight right now." Felisha Noel also recently collaborated with Afro-cuban American painter
Harmonia Rosales. Rosales is known for reimaging iconic renaissance art pieces as black women, and we’re here for his jump from canvas to Fe Noel’s silk. After all, there’s no better way to celebrate black history than by recognising and reclaiming the beauty of black identity that’s been erased in larger historical narratives.
CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner Telfar Clemens not only creates pieces that anyone can wear but continually pushes societal boundaries through challenging black and gender identity norms. After all, how many designers this past fall sent unisex clothing through a mosh pit environment while country music blasted in the background? Have you ever seen black cowboys sporting fringe? Probably not. If you’re looking for clothing that pushes boundaries and comes from a unique perspective, Telfar is your new go-to.
Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss
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. The suit was part of a Pyer Moss collaboration with artist Derrick Adams that aimed to explore the idea of black life without persecution.
In many ways, it’s easy to see why Kerby Jean-Raymond won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30, and 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.
Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Louis Vuitton
Ever since the designer made waves with luxury street label Off-White and stepped into his role as menswear artistic director for Louis Vuitton, Virgil has kept the industry’s attention. And the hype thus far is definitely worth it. Sure, everyone lost it over his debut this past June, but his most recent menswear shows for fall 2019 caught my attention.
For Louis Vuitton, Virgil used a Broadway-like production to set viewers in an old New York with live jazz in the back while well-tailored suits and subtle American flag pieces made their way down the runway.
For Off-White, set against a landscape that turned into a green screen, models wearing box blazers paired with football helmets made their way through a dystopian cityscape. While both his shows stayed true to the brand’s identity, it felt as if 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.
Olivier Rousteing of Balmain
Maybe it was just me, but the 2019 Grammy outfits truly solidified my love for Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. How could one not 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 for nine years—which means I’ve been high-key sleeping on him—but something about him taking the brand back to couture week has made me fall in love all over again. Maybe it’s couture or maybe it’s him, but either way this a brand and a designer you should be buying into at the moment.