Reader Nyeema recently wrote, “I have a question, a question that still remains unanswered. Black high- fashion designers….where are they?? Besides Tracy Reese, who else is there that’s high up on the fashion food chain? I feel that whenever black designers are featured anywhere it’s usually this “dip your big toe in the pool to test the temperature then quickly snatch it back out” approach (if that makes sense). We’re never quite a trend. And while I do love some of the talents of the Euro designers, we as blacks (especially celebrities) tend to gravitate to them a little more. “

“I read your article on urban labels and I have to say urban label designers left the urban community long before we left the label. While I never fully embraced the urban labels (never really was my style) observing the consumer base who wore them made me feel like they just gave us a bunch of gaudy, poor quality, “street wear” for us to wallow around in while they sought more higher end Eurpoean brands. So back to my original question….where are we? Why aren’t we featured more? Who has our back? Where is our voice?”
Great question, Nyeema. Though we do have Tracy Reese showing at New York Fashion Week, Olivier Rousteing as the head designer at Balmain, Duro Olowu, Edward Wilkerson of Lafayette 148, and Patrick Robinson (formerly of the Gap), fashion is still quite a bleak place for black designers in the upper echelons.

The issue is not lack of talent, but lack of money. Though young designers like LaQuan Smith, Mataano, Sammy B, and more can compete, many struggle due to lack of capital. I asked veteran designer Stephen Burrows about the dearth of black designers during a talk with Harlem’s Fashion Row and he said the biggest issue is, “Funding. It comes down to having the resources to let your brand succeed.” In this vintage article, I said, “Vogue established the CFDA/Fashion Fund to help younger designers find their footing; France has the ANDAM award (Association National pour la Développement des Arts de la Mode) award. What do we have in place to help young African-American designers thrive?

Unfortunately there’s nothing established, but here’s one solution: How about all the musicians who have abandoned their urban brands divert some of their copious capital to fronting seasoned designers? Instead of nursing vanity projects then losing interest, they could place their interest in a fashion talent. But then again, why should they invest their hard earned dollars into something they can’t pimp out and sell in a few years?

The other solution is for organizations like The Fashion Bomb and Harlem’s Fashion Row (and anyone else interested) to create a fund of their own. Throw a party/fundraiser, decide on a winner, and finance the dreams of someone with lots of promise. We’ve covered lots of black designers on this blog (see our category here). Perhaps it’s about time to speak with our wallets, not just with words.
What do you think?