Fashionably Speaking

Experts discuss emerging industry trends and how these changes impact African Americans

children are bringing their own flair to the fashion arena. “Our generation is much more comfortable with fashion than [our] parents, and [we're] willing to mix and match [our] clothing,” says 30-year-old designer Anthony Mark Hankins, who has an atelier in Dallas. His fashions are sold in Sears and on the Home Shopping Network. He says no one sports one designer label throughout their ensemble these days, especially since you can get cheap but chic looks from various specialty stores. According to Hankins, Gen Xers aren’t afraid to “put a number of labels on their backs and not think about it.”

Hip-hop hits new heights
“The biggest success that blacks are having now are with hip-hop clothes,” remarks Constance C.R. White, former fashion director of Talk magazine and author of Stylenoir: The First How-to Guide to Fashion Written With Black Women in Mind (Perigee, $15). “The influence of hip-hop culture has opened the door for young entrepreneurs to come in with urban clothing.” Traditionally, industry professionals looked for fashion trends in Europe, but now [they look] to New York for inspiration, says Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of the men’s wear design program for the Fashion Institute of Technology.

How can African Americans capitalize on the latest trends in the fashion industry?

  1. Consider working for a more established label. Learn the trade from an experienced business professional and establish a track record before stepping out on your own (see “Employed by Design,” this issue).
  2. Find your niche. Build your brand on a smaller scale by targeting discount retailers, smaller specialty stores or unique customers.
  3. Give consumers what they want. If the demand for high-fashion apparel is decreasing, consider another segment of the industry, like urbanwear (see “Hip-hop on Top,” this issue).
  4. Shop smart. Look like a million dollars without spending big bucks.
  5. Keep fashion dollars in the black community. Support black designers and retailers. If you don’t see a black presence at a trade show or major department store, voice your disappointment and shop elsewhere if they don’t make a change (see “Investing on the Home Front”, this issue).
  6. Demand that companies increase their use of black models to market their products. Blacks spend a significant amount of money in the fashion industry (see chart) and should use this leverage to influence how they are represented. (See blackenterprise.com for more.)

Blacks lag in earnings but lead in spending on clothing
Income before taxes
Whites & Others $43,066
Blacks $29,378

Average annual expenditure on apparel and services
Whites & Others $1,673
Blacks $1,675

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