Editorial Note: This post was originally published last year. Since our support for Black-owned brands is a forever kind of thing, we thought we'd update any sold-out products to make it easy to shop the latest and greatest from some of our favorite designers.
In the wake of recent events—most recently, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor—many people, including the Who What Wear editorial team, have been asking what they can do. Aurora James, the founder and designer of Brother Vellies, answered that question by creating the 15% Pledge, which calls major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. Swipe through her Instagram post below to read more about the reasoning and impact.
But what if you're an individual? You can put pressure on these major retailers by contacting the company or commenting on their social posts. You can also consider dedicating 15% or more of your personal fashion spending to Black-owned brands.
It's also important to note that the financial impact of COVID-19 has generally hit Black-owned brands harder than others, as illustrated in the graphic below by Mona Chalabi. This New York Times opinion article "How We Spend Tells Us Whose Lives Matter" delves into one of the reasons, inequality around stimulus packages. Thinking longer-term about positive economic change for the Black community, it's crucial to support these businesses now so that we don't lose them due to financial hardships associated with the pandemic. To that end, we're listing some of our favorite businesses here in the fashion category. Shop if you can, and if not, bookmark for later, knowing that your purchase is doing more than just satisfying your shopping habit.
Get to know Brother Vellies: Handcrafted, sustainable shoes with personality, designed in Brooklyn and made by artisans from Nairobi to New York. The fashion girl–beloved brand helps keep traditional African design practices and techniques alive while also creating and sustaining artisanal jobs.
Get to know Sincerely Tommy: A Brooklyn-based concept store that stocks the coolest emerging womenswear and lifestyle brands, often at very accessible prices. The woman behind the boutique, Kai Avent-deLeon, also runs a coffee bar in the store and is opening up a boutique hostel and vegan eatery.
Get to know Fe Noel: A vibrant, colorful brand inspired by the designer's Caribbean heritage. In addition to her Brooklyn-based brand, the founder, Fe Noel, also has a namesake foundation that mentors young women passionate about entrepreneurship.
Get to know Lemlem: Supermodel Liya Kebede founded the artisan-driven collection over twelve years ago, which includes women's, men's, and children's clothing, and home goods all made in Africa. The clothing line beloved for vacation-ready pieces also has a philanthropic arm to help women artisans thrive in Africa by connecting them to healthcare and education.
Get to know Jade Swim: Minimalist, luxury swimwear that's eco-conscious too, designed by a former fashion editor and stylist. The Los Angeles–made brand boasts a long list of celeb and influencer fans.
Get to know The Folklore: This NYC-based online concept store stocks a very tight edit of Africa and the diaspora's top designer brands with the goal of helping brands grow through global exposure. Beyond an online boutique, the brand also offers wholesale services to other brands.
Get to know Pyer Moss: The brand's collections and shows combine storytelling, activism, debate, theatre, and social commentary to make a statement that goes way beyond just clothing. From gowns to streetwear, it's hard to describe the multi-faceted brand in just a few words, which is why the designer Kerby Jean-Raymond often refers to his brand as an "art project," a CFDA Award–winning art project, we'll add.
Get to know McMullen: Founded by Sherri McMullen over twelve years ago, the Oakland-based boutique (now with a Palo Alto location too) is credited with helping bring global luxury womenswear to the Bay Area. Whether shopping online or IRL, you'll find emerging designers alongside your well-established favorites, as well as a selection of African and African-American apparel and home décor designers.
Get to Know Telfar: The unisex NYC-based line is known for its iconic logo bags in a rainbow of colors. It's rare that a relatively affordable purse cements its status as an It bag, which is one of the reasons why Telfar Clemens's namesake brand is so intriguing.
Get to know LaSette: Shiara Robinson founded her body-positive line in Brooklyn and manufactures in Los Angeles. Details like scalloped lace and velvet trim make the day-to-night line a stand out in the lingerie space.
Christopher John Rogers
Get to know Christopher John Rogers: The designer's eponymous line is only a handful of seasons old, yet he has already secured 2019's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award. It's no wonder his collections have captivated many—his bold, joyful clothes are for dressing like you've got one life to live and it's a party.
House of Aama
Get to know House of Aama: Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabak are a mother-daughter duo based in Los Angeles that designs pieces rooted in the ethos of the African continent and diaspora. Storytelling is at the root of the collections, which are reflective of the PostBellum Southern United States, in the designer's words, "a time when our ancestors had been emancipated from slavery, and they were striving to claim their rightful place with forward determination and dignity." The line has collaborated with African artisans over the years in an effort to provide a platform for African design.
Get to know Heron Preston: Designing clothing is just one of Heron Preston's talents—the designer is also an artist, DJ, consultant, art director, and sustainability advocate. The multi-hyphenate's varied sources of inspiration come through in his utility-minded streetwear pieces.
Get to know Stella Jean: The Haitian-Italian designer is well-known for her colorful, printed pieces and impeccable tailoring. She stands out for her meaningful activism woven into the very fabrics of her designs. Read about how she supported the Kalash people in Pakistan with her spring 2020 collection.
Get to know Sami Miró Vintage: Sami Miró is the queen of re-worked vintage, as we're sure her celebrity fans like Selena Gomez and Bella Hadid would attest. The L.A.-based designer is laser-focused on sustainability and her limited-run clothing line is made solely from vintage and recycled fabrics.
Get to know Victor Glemaud: The designer launched his eponymous statement knitwear line back in 2006, "for all people, genders, races, sizes, and personalities." Recently, the designer took that commitment even further by extending the sizes offered for his line.
Get to know Wales Bonner: When you see Grace Wales Bonner's collection of luxury womenswear and menswear all together, her focus on "soulful tailoring" feels so spot on. Her latest collection dubbed "Mambo" is a true delight. It's no wonder Maria Grazia Chiuri asked the designer to present her interpretation of the revolutionary "New Look" silhouette at Dior's Cruise '20 show.
Get to know LaQuan Smith: Smith has been designing since he was 21, initially learning sewing and pattern-making from his grandmother. The designer now counts Rihanna, Winnie Harlow, Beyoncé, and J.Lo as fans of his signature glamorous meets alluring aesthetic.
Get to know Vavvoune: A chic leather accessories brand designed in Brooklyn, and then constructed by a mindful team of craftsmen and women in NYC’s Garment District. Extra material scraps are donated to art programs across the country.
Get to know Tove: London-based friends Camille Perry and Holly Wright founded TOVE with a collective fifteen years of design experience. The effortless, luxurious pieces have special details to make them stand out, yet are timeless enough to treasure for years to come.
Oma the Label