Several high-end fashion brands from Gucci to Prada to Burberry are under fire for selling racially-insensitive products that resemble blackface. Critics say this points to the need for more diversity in the fashion industry and larger support of black-owned fashion designers and the #buyblack movement at large. Investing and supporting brands made by people of color is one way to ensure that designs are culturally appropriate and may help to eliminate racism and racist imagery in fashion.
Here are four black-owned fashion labels disrupting the fashion industry and using their products to make an impact.
Kerby Jean-Raymond, the founder of the menswear label Pyer Moss, is one of the most talked about designers in fashion. He’s dressed Hollywood darlings like Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae and won the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in 2018, along with a $400,000 prize. However, his fashion career almost came to a halt in 2015 after he debuted the Pyer Moss spring/summer 2016 collection at New York Fashion Week. His provocative runway presentation incorporated real footage of police violence against African Americans, including the final minutes before Eric Garner was choked to death by police and a black person being run down by a police car.
“We were the first to bring Black Lives Matter to the runway,” Jean-Raymond told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “That was probably one of the most viral moments in fashion history.” At the time, “the plight of [being] black wasn’t being discussed, but the black body was being used to continue to promote luxury items. So, for us, it was a way to wake them up.”
Although many applauded the New York-born designer for taking a stance against police brutality, the controversial showcase nearly destroyed his company. “It cost me a lot. By doing that, I lost a lot of business,” he said. He lost partnerships and investors and wasn’t able to fully recover until 2017 when he was offered a deal to work with Rebook. Despite feeling like a “martyr,” today Jean-Raymond says he’s thankful that his brand helped pave the way for conscious fashion. “We’re grateful to be one of the leaders of that change.”
Last year, Jean-Raymond teamed up with Hennessy to create a capsule apparel line that honors the legacy of pro cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, one of the first African American international sports champions. The unsung athlete set multiple world racing records in the 1890s while overcoming racial bias. “He’s one of those world champion athletes like Jack Johnson who’s largely been omitted from the history book,” said Jean-Raymond.
Life On Autopilot
Christopher Tuning and Talib Graves-Mann launched Life On Autopilot (LOA) in 2016 after becoming frustrated with the lack of stylish solutions to protect their baseball caps while traveling. As a solution, they created a luxury luggage brand company that combines style with innovation and is designed specifically for trendsetters and tastemakers.
Their first product, the SkyCap, is a luxury cap carrier with an internal storage compartment. The premium leather carrier holds six baseball caps, while the interior is lined in suede and includes a zipper compartment, an underbelly zip pocket, and a custom snap hook. Tuning says the design was influenced by hip-hop, sports, and black culture.
In addition, LOA offers luggage items and travel accessories, like their First Class Backpack, which comes with a shoe compartment, two front zip pockets, and multiple interior pockets.
“I started off with very few resources and capital, says Tuning, who also serves as the brand’s CEO, in a statement. “I’ve found beauty in the struggle driven by a force of passion and perseverance that comes from knowing my ancestors didn’t have the opportunities I have today.”
According to Graves-Mann, shoppers frustrated with the lack of diversity in fashion should support companies like LOA, which are inspired and intended for the culture.
“It is important for our community to seek out and invest in luggage designers that reflect our community,” he told BE in an email. “Our products are of equal—if not higher quality—than many of the luxury brands in the marketplace. Each of our products are hand-made and also culture-made.”
Stevie Boi has been disrupting the fashion world with his unique eyewear collections since he was thrust into the industry at the age of 19. His ornate eyewear, SBShades, have been flaunted by Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna. Like his sunglasses, Boi, himself, is known for his fierce and bold style as well as his androgynous looks. Meanwhile, in addition to being edgy and daring, his runway shows are known for being a platform that promotes diversity and being inclusive. “If you look at the people who’ve walked for me in all of my shows from the get-go, [they’re] all different sizes, colors, ethnicities, etc.,” he told BE minutes before his fall/winter 2019 collection made its debut at New York Fashion Week. “I include everybody.” Some of the models included transgender model Shauna Brooks, Love and Hip Hop: New York’s Bianca Bonnie, and TV personality Jose Ayala.
Despite his 10-year success in fashion, Boi says that SBshades grew in demand and in popularity years before it actually became lucrative. “The challenges started off when I was younger,” he admits. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a lot of people utilize my products and wear them on billboards and album covers…but I didn’t know how to turn it into income. So I went a good five years without making any income. I had a government job to support my business and that’s how I was able to stay afloat.”
McKenzie Liautaud Jewelry
New York native McKenzie Liautaud is a former model-turned-jewelry designer who creates timeless pieces with a purpose. Inspired by his Haitian roots and love of healing crystals, Liautaud’s upcoming Spring 2019 Collection, Voodoo, is dispelling the myths and stereotypes around the religion, which is largely practiced in Caribbean islands and parts of Africa. Liautaud believes in the magic of Voodoo and the power of precious gemstones such as rock crystals, pyrite, rose quartz, labradorite, and jade to attract love, luck, and prosperity.
His signature collections utilize delicate 14 karat cable chains, lustrous natural freshwater pearls mixed with assorted gems, and his signature star symbol. McKenzie Liautaud Jewelry has been flaunted by celebrities like Eva Longoria, Rosario Dawson, Shakira, and Will.I.AM. In addition to sending positive vibes, 10% of sales benefit New Story, a nonprofit charity dedicated to building sustainable homes for disaster victims around the world. He aims to raise $39,000 to help build six homes in Haiti. “I do this in honor of my parents who emigrated from Port-au-Prince to New York and raised six children in a happy, healthy, and safe home,” he said in a statement.