Black fashion is enjoying a new renaissance over the past decade – both in front of and behind the camera. As we see a rise in Black models fronting campaigns, we are also seeing a rise in Black designers being recognized for creating styles of the moment (because they have always been creating) in both mainstream and independent outlets.
Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFW) has been at the forefront of growing that narrative with its annual Fashion Show and Style Awards. Founded by Brandice Daniel, the event has not only helped shine a light on a cadre of multicultural designers but also helped to start conversations and build platforms for sustainable success.
Now in its 12th year, HFW has become a force to be reckoned with, gaining international spotlights, partnerships with the likes of Nike and now showcasing its newest curated crop of designers — Bishme Cromatrit, Kapasa Musonda, Prep Curry and Miko Underwood. But with less than 1% of designers of color sold in major department stores, there is still much work to do.
Hype Hair caught up with Brandice ahead of HFR’s invite-only affair honoring fashion icons Mikki Taylor, Mboalaji Dawodu and Law Roach to talk the power of representation, sustainability and the changing landscape of fashion.
HYPE HAIR: Congratulations on your work! You have built not only a showcase, but a legacy of Black designers to follow over the years. Tell us about the why behind what you do?
BRANDICE DANIEL: My why is designers of color — and really putting things in place that allow them equal opportunity in the fashion industry. Whether that’s a partnership with brands or getting sold in department stores or being written up in the press or being able to build like a real business right around what they love. I am here to really serve them and to, hopefully, be a solution — not just for them but even for designers who haven’t even been born yet who want to work in fashion.
And, this is our first time doing our fashion show at One World Observatory. Even the venue in itself is almost symbolic because it’s like on top of New York City and showing designers of color on top of New York City. We’ve spent so much time waiting to be acknowledged, waiting to be seen and, and now I feel like this is our time.
HH: What are you most excited about this year?
BRANDICE: I am so excited about this brand-new crop of designers that we’re presenting. For the past two years we’ve shown, Undra [Duncan], Kimberly [Goldson] and Fe Noel — they all incredibly talented. This year gives us an opportunity to highlight some new designers — some that people have heard of and some talent that I think is gonna shock people. The designers just have really interesting stories that I don’t think people are going to expect. I’m excited about our honorees, as well.
HH: You’ve been doing this for 12 years now. How has the landscape changed from when you started to now?
BRANDICE: When I first started, people weren’t even really willing to have a conversation around race. Like it was so taboo – on both sides. Not just from a press and fashion industry standpoint, but also from the designers. They also didn’t want to have a conversation with race 12 years ago.
HH: Why do you think that was?
BRANDICE: People automatically made certain assumptions that you weren’t ‘good as’ if you were a Black designer. So, at the time, designers would not let people know who they were. That has changed quite a bit. That’s the conversation that I can now have openly with brands and with retailers and with designers and it feels really good. It took a long time to get here though. But now, I’m able to give them a lot more visibility now and have bigger conversations now with brands about the designers.
HH: Right now, it seems like everything is Black magic: Black hair, Black beauty, Black girl and now fashion. How do we keep the celebration going beyond a trend?
BRANDICE: Take this time right now while this door is open and really create some sustainable programs right now. African Americans have had their moment in time where everyone was open to our culture and then the door closed on that. So, while this door is open, we need to make sure that we’re getting seats at the table and that we’re creating some programs that can outlast our lifetime and really coming up with some innovative concepts that are ripe to launch at this very moment.
HH: What kind of programs do you envision?
BRANDICE: One, we just actually started talent acquisitions this year. There are lots of new opportunities that are opening up for these designers. Not just like a brand partnership with products, but even with in-house positions [for] designers. That’s become another really cool avenue for designers who maybe love designing but don’t want to have their own brand or they want to have they own brand on the side while they are still able to make their regular income on a 9-to-5. It’s kind of what I’ve dreamt up and finally see some of those things that unfolding is awesome.
HH: You’re really working to build platforms, not just shows. What would be the great utopia for you with HFR?
BRANDICE: The great utopia for me would be to have some things in place where designers can easily make enough money to sustain their businesses. To have some programs and some commitments in place from the fashion industry that will create opportunity — specifically for designers of color — to have mentorship and also to receive money for their businesses. And, having an arm of HFR that actually invests in the designers.