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, and trying to make serious changes in the industry, 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 and how we support designers.
As we celebrate Black History Month, it's a reminder that it's great to recognize the contributions that designers like Dapper Dan have been making to the industry, but 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 this month and beyond.
Aurora James of Brother Vellies
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 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; the brand has more recently launched its first nude collection of shoes dedicated to creating the essential staple shoes for every woman. 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 not only the queen but 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.
Carly Cushnie designs the type of clothing that can cause one of two reactions: hyperventilation or endless pondering of one's wardrobe choices. Her work often does both, though, if we're being honest, as she has a way of creating beautifully structured, minimal, yet feminine pieces. You can’t help but imagine how magical your life would be if you were just wearing one.
Felisha Noel of Fe Noel
Imagine yourself sitting in Positano, Italy, with the 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." 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?
Photo:Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
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 create unisex clothing that gains a cult following? 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
Photo:Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
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, and got the NYFW crowd to trek to Brooklyn for his S/S 20 show. 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
Photo:Matthew Sperzel/GC Images
Ever since the designer made waves with luxury street label Off-White and stepped into his role as menswear artistic director for Louis Vuitton, Abloh has kept the industry’s attention. And the hype thus far is definitely worth it. Not only does he honor the brands’ identities when designing, but it feels as though both are 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
Photo:Pierre Suu/Getty Images
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 him taking the brand back to couture week last year 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 to buy into.
Rihanna of Fenty
Photo:Keith Mayhew/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
While Rihanna has never been one to shy away from serving some serious looks, her looks moved beyond the red carpet over the past few years with the launch of her beauty line, Fenty Beauty, in 2017; followed by her lingerie line, Savage x Fenty, in 2018; and then the launch of her luxury brand, Fenty, in 2019. Clearly, we're all just living on Rihanna's timeline, and that's never been more apparent by her takeover of the fashion world. And sure, we're still waiting for a new album, but that can wait because she's busy single-handedly producing a groundbreaking show and winning a British Fashion award. So despite the fact that we all miss Rihanna's melodies, if the Fenty merch has taught us anything, it's that it's worth the wait.
Christopher John Rogers
Photo:Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
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 his 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 2020 Fall/Winter collection cued collective gasps and was recently launched on NET-A-PORTER. In many ways, Rogers creates the type of clothing I hope the fashion industry includes more of in the future; which is to say work that, the 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.