If 2020 has taught us anything about the fashion world, it’s that change is on the horizon. From concerns regarding the environment and sustainability to issues surrounding diversity and equality – the industry is being forced to look inwards. Fashion is typically known for harbouring gate-keepers; “the top tier of (mostly white) influential editors, photographers, stylists and buyers who decide which designers and trends will dictate a season”. This perpetuates the prejudices which flow through the industry’s veins, as the tier is often scant of Black voices.
The absence in elevation and support for Black designers in particular is more than lack-lustre, however brands and fashion houses are not shy in appropriating Black culture, which has undeniably influenced the industry. Some examples include the appropriation of the monogram print, the mainstreaming of street style and statement gold jewellery, such as hoop earrings or chains, highlighting how Black culture has always been up for grabs.
Supporting Black designers has never been more important and there are ways to do so other than via your coin. Social media is a powerful tool which can be used to directly support those in creative industries through exposure. Some of my favourite accounts to follow on Instagram for instance include @blackinfashioncouncil, @theblackfashionmovement, and @blackdesignersdirectory.
There is no question that Black designers are underrepresented, however, Black designers are not in short supply. To illustrate my point, in this list I am going to be highlighting some of my favourite Black designers who are currently making their mark on the fashion world. This list aims to highlight those who are responding to their environment through fashion, in ways which are environmentally conscious, community-centric, gender-fluid and exciting in that they challenge traditional ideas of ‘high fashion’.
Martine Rose is a name I stumbled upon via Twitter and in various fashion magazines a number of times, along with the words ’genius’ and ‘Black excellence’. Rose is firmly making her mark on contemporary menswear, drawing inspiration from the local communities and subcultures around South London – a cultural melting pot of different identities. In her designs, featuring wide-leg trousers, colourful prints and signature button-up shirts, Roses’ inspiration from the reggae scene and rave culture of the ’90s is evident. To put it simply, she is one of the women who is redefining fashion as meaningful, wearable, and stylish.
Thebe Magugu is a multidisciplinary South African womenswear designer, who is inspired by his hometown ‘Kimberley’ in the Northern Cape. He made history as the first African designer to win the LVMH fashion prize which is no surprise, given that his clothing engages with many socio-political issues such as a post-apartheid South Africa. His designs focus on empowering women through lustrous silhouettes and innovative references on each design. Despite the proliferation of his success, Magugu has challenged the stereotype of designers moving production to Europe, still relying on factories in Johannesburg and Cape Town to produce his collections.
The first time I read about Davis in ‘The Face’ magazine I was so pleased to see rising Black northern talent, offering a new perspective on fashion whilst also paying tribute to history via his own ancestral discovery. Davis pays homage to his Trinidadian roots, his designs illustrating a journey through history from enslavement through to liberation. The end result, in both historical terms and for Davis, is that pain has been turned into a celebration, as seen through Trinidad’s annual carnival which heavily inspires his creations. Davis’ designs embody a playfulness inspired by his heritage and the East London dance scene, whilst remaining elegant through sophisticated silhouettes, offering a bridge between the past and the present.
Ahluwalia is someone who caught my attention because despite demanding a change within the fashion industry after seeing the amount of waste it produces during a trip to Lagos, she rejects labels. One might call her a ‘sustainable designer’ as she uses vintage, repurposed and deadstock materials, however, she wants people to focus on her designs rather than labelling her. Speaking of her designs, Ahluwalia is inspired by her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage as well as the multiculturalism of London, using techniques like dying and beading to create unique items that are imbued with tradition. Her designs use environmentally friendly materials, bold colours, and tailoring that reflects her many homes across the globe.
I first came across Ajobi on Instagram after seeing her designs being shared via Instagram stories. I was really moved because the designs have a very distinct social message about the world around us, particularly in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement as her designs incorporate handwritten messages regarding how Black men are viewed in society. She is directly inspired by the community, as well as the relationships with the male figures in her life and everything she creates is made with a purpose. Ajobi is also being noticed by rapper and singer Enny, who sported the signature design ‘The Revolution Trousers’ in her Colors Show.
These five designers are pushing the boundaries of fashion as well as redefining the notion that for something to be considered ‘fashion’ or ‘luxury’ it should be expensive and strictly runway appropriate. Not only are their clothes incredibly wearable, but every designer listed above tells a specific story through their collections, whether it is about representing the community, remembering history or drawing attention to the challenges we face now as global citizens. These designers are creating their own universes and pushing boundaries within their respective styles, highlighting the desire for change and for fashion to have meaning and substance amongst the new generation.
Words By Atalya Alexis
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