No Blacks Allowed: Why Are There So Few Black-Owned Brands & Designers?
The year is 2019 and streetwear is everywhere, from LA swap meets to fashion week runways in NYC.
Whether gracing the frames of undergraduates at Cal Berkeley or the trendsetting youths in the streets of London and Tokyo, streetwear is universal and urban culture has been the driving force behind spreading this phenomenon to the masses.
However, the people who created this urban style and continue to push the boundaries of street fashion are the very ones being excluded from the industry.
Take a look at the top brands out there. Can you name any black-owned streetwear brands? Sure, there’s Virgil Abloh (Off-White), Jerry Lorenzo (Fear Of God), Kanye (Yeezy), and Pharrell (Billionaire Boys Club), but other than that? Give it a try, I’ll wait.
The chances are you can’t.
It took me a few minutes to find other names to add to this list. Dapper Dan (Gucci), Scott Sazzo (10.DEEP), and Samuel Ross (A-COLD-WALL*) are a couple more, but it took work to find them. If you’ve done your homework you’ll quickly realize that the number of renowned black designers who own their own brands is embarrassingly low, to say the least.
This really begs the question of why. It’s not like we lack talent, resources, or business savvy. It is evident by the way we walk, the way we talk, our style of dress, the music we generate, and the dance moves we introduce that we are innovators. It’s obvious that the urban and hip-hop culture we created dictates to the world what’s hot and fresh. And we continue to set new trends as fast as Instagram uploads a post.
So what could it be? Why aren’t there more black-owned fashion brands, stylists, designers, models, style publications, and photographers in the mainstream sharing their perspectives? Why is this space only limited to a chosen few? Why is the role of black people in fashion restricted when we have contributed so much to the industry in every facet?
“This really begs the question of why. It’s not like we lack talent, resources, or business savvy.“
Things have slowly started to change. Within the last few years, black people have begun to be linked with established fashion powerhouses such as the aforementioned Virgil Abloh who is resurging Louis Vuitton and Olivier Rousteing who is leading the way for Balmain.
But this isn’t enough.
Does this ultimately come down to a race issue? Is it that our skin is not light enough to be accepted by an industry we helped build? Why are we still looked upon as second class citizens having to beg for recognition for our contributions?
Maybe this isn’t a color issue.
Maybe there just aren’t many people of color interested in being a part of the fashion industry. Maybe we would rather be consumers than brand owners or designers and will continue to give our culture and our influence away for free, letting the powers that be proceed with making money off of an art form that was born and nurtured in our hoods before being gentrified by corporations.
I’m not sure what the future for streetwear and the fashion industry will be as a whole. What I do know is that it’s becoming too pop and commercial. It’s beginning to lack complexity, originality, and beauty. The industry is leaning towards fast fashion quantity over quality and cookie-cutter over diversity.
We are bleaching out the things that make us unique as individuals.
We body shame plus-size models and discriminate against the LGBTQ community and their contributions to fashion. We continue to degrade women in photos and advertise them as sexual objects, all while promoting streetwear as a “boys only” club.
These are the issues that need to be addressed.
As a black designer, I promise to create a brand that is inclusive to all backgrounds. We will use our platform to promote fellow black-owned streetwear brands alongside all other races and genders while staying body positive within the fashion industry. We will use fashion as the channel to express ourselves freely and without limitations.
At its core, streetwear was created to celebrate individuality and camaraderie within the community. We can’t continue to let the powers that be separate us by race, gender orientation, or classism. We must support our own as well as each other.
It starts with us and will end with us.