Emman Montalvan. Pictured: Yara Shahidi in Pyer Moss.
Fashion may not discriminate, but the industry certainly has biases. Historically, systems of power have marginalized black or African-American designers, leaving them out of runway shows, news articles, or executive suites.
In recent years, however, significant progress has been made to lessen the impact of systemic racism. Many companies have adopted inclusive language in their marketing campaigns and launched initiatives to foster diversity in their teams. Louis Vuitton’s appointment of menswear designer Virgil Abloh, a Ghanaian-American as its artistic director, set an inspiring example. H&M later appointed Nigerian-American Ezinne Kwubiri, the first-ever chief of diversity and inclusion—following the footsteps of other leading companies. We’ve seen increasingly diverse runways at New York Fashion Week, with designers of all backgrounds showing their collections and receiving press coverage.
Despite these efforts, the fashion industry still lags behind when it comes to fully reflecting the world we live in. Racial bias remains present in the industry landscape and the demographic makeup of upper management. Thankfully, the work of changing this doesn’t fall solely on companies. Consumers also have a part to play in bringing about change.
It’s Black History Month, and as the country celebrates historical figures and influential black voices, there’s no better time to uplift and support black designers. Below is a list of seven black-owned brands you need to know about.
1. William Okpo
Clean design, showstopping silhouettes, rich fabrics and colors, hardware accents—just a few of the things to love about William Okpo. Designed by two sisters Darlene and Lizzy Okpo, the womenswear brand was made for the girl with an editorial style. The label takes its name from the sisters’ father, William Okpo, an immigrant from Nigeria whose unique style and worth ethic serve as inspiration to the duo.
Founded by Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, AAKS is known for its statement handcrafted bags with bright vivid colors. The brand uses locally sourced materials and creates sustainable jobs for women in Ghana, the experts behind the bags’ weaving techniques. When you buy from AAKS, you not only have a stylish accessory, but you also support Ghanaian artisans. Does it get any better than this?
3. Pyer Moss
Where fashion and substance meet, groundbreaking Pyer Moss boldly exposes viewpoints and tells stories through clothes. Founder Kerby Jean-Raymond has over the years protested police brutality, documented the everyday lives of black families, and shed light on overlooked historical figures through his collections, which not surprisingly, sell out quickly.
4. Fe Noel
Womenswear designer Felisha Noel is weaving her passion for travel, love of color, and penchant for bold prints into her garments. Whether it’s a pair of flowy pants or a vibrant resort suit, Fe Noel’s pieces demand attention.
5. NO SESSO
Pierre Davis, a transgender woman of color and founder of NO SESSO, recently made history as the first trans designer to ever show at NYFW. The Los Angeles–based designer takes pride in creating “a world of fashion and art inclusive of LGBTQ and ethnic identities.” With its unexpected silhouettes and nonbinary garments, NO SESSO is tackling the lack of diversity and representation head-on.
NYC-based designer Carly Cushnie is a master at making clothes that exude confidence, sex appeal, and elegance. Put on a Cushnie piece and all eyes will be on you wherever you go.
Nigerian-American content creator Asiyami Gold launched her label A.Au to empower women to embrace their history, stay connected to their roots, and promote the narrative of their legacy. One just needs to look to her line’s beautiful prints, expert handcrafting and tailoring to be sold.