African American Designers M.I.A.

By Terri Naturally

12 Apr 1971, New York, New York, USA --- Fashion designer Stephen Burrows during a fitting with model Pat Cleveland in his East Village studio. --- Image by © CondÈ Nast Archive/Corbis
12 Apr 1971, New York, New York, USA — Fashion designer Stephen Burrows during a fitting with model Pat Cleveland in his East Village studio. — Image by © CondÈ Nast Archive/Corbis

As I turn the pages of Vogue magazine or skim through fashion show pictures on Style.com, I am forced to acknowledge the huge elephant in mind. This elephant represents the notion that there are minimal African American fashion designers hardly ever featured or recognized in the fashion world.

Designers such as Kevan Hall and Mychael Knight create amazing pieces. Unfortunately, their work is hardly (if not ever) showcased on media outlets that are regarded as being “for everybody”. To go even further, there is a lack of African American women fashion designers that are not only ignored, but labeled with the famous “Urban designer” stamp (example: Kimora Lee Simons). Although many mention Rachel Roy as an attempt to cover the Elephant within my mind and the mind of many others; Rachel Roy is linked as an African American designer solely due to her previous marriage to African American entrepreneur Damon Dash. Although a fantastic designer, Rachel Roy is actually of Dutch and Indian decent.

As I continue my search for recent articles giving praise or at least critiquing garments of African American designers, I am faced with older articles steaming back to the designer’s first show from 5+ years ago or a list showcasing the “top 25 greatest African American designers” (such Complex Magazine featured in 2013). In order to become familiar with current or up and coming designers that look like me and do not have an issue with a woman of color like me wearing their pieces; I must resort to the fashion section in Vibe or Ebony magazine. Although I appreciate the beautiful visual of African American models displayed in a classy manner; I cannot over look the fact that they are in pieces that are created by someone who may secretly not even want African Americans shopping in their high-end stores (for example).

From Kimberly/Goldson A/W 2015 Collection
From Kimberly/Goldson A/W 2015 Collection

Similar to music, I find fashion to be universal; in which people from any background can connect and communicate. There should not be only one African American designer featured every three years. It is unacceptable for any fashion magazine to not report or report less on current African American designers. I can only hope that the fashion world does not miss out on new and excellent collections from designers such as LaQuan Smith, Kimberly Goldson, or Cushnie et Ochs. Until that day comes, I will continue this deep search! Beginning with my own reporting on talented designers that look like me and that are willing to challenge one of the many barriers within the fashion world.

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