Black designers are a crucial pillar in fashion, and are more often than not leading the charge to make change in the industry. From Christopher John Roger’s joyous color blocking to Kerby Jean-Raymond thought-provoking collections, Black-owned fashion labels are creating the trends while making bold statements.
Below, a quick highlight on 15 notable names whose innovation and creativity have helped shape fashion.
Kimora Lee Simmons
Triple threat doesn’t even begin to describe Kimora Lee Simmons. She’s a fashion designer, TV personality, model, author, and so much more. When the American entrepreneur launched her fashion brand Baby Phat in 1999, women flocked to get their hands on the ‘90s baby tees and bedazzled jeans. And thanks to the recent Y2K nostalgia, Simmons successfully relaunched the iconic brand in 2019, this time with the help of her daughters, Ming and Aoki.
Known for his custom pieces with designer logos and legendary silhouettes, Dapper Dan created his own lane as hip hop’s designer of choice in the ‘80s. The expert dressed celebrities including Jay-Z, Salt-N-Pepa, and LL Cool J. His 2017 collaboration with Gucci allowed him to open up a second store that paid homage to his original boutique.
In 2018, Virgil Abloh was the first African American artistic director for Louis Vuitton. He did this while maintaining his post as CEO and founder of his own fashion label Off-White, which has consistently been listed as one of the world’s hottest brands since its inception in 2012. While he excelled in the fashion space, it was equally important to the late designer to send the elevator back down and mentor young designers of color through his Post-Modern scholarship fund, the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center, and the educational series Free Game.
In 2005, Telfar Clemens created Telfar, a genderless fashion label based in Brooklyn. Gaining both a celebrity and street cult following, the brand has accessible price points and the sought-after Shopping Bag, otherwise known as the “Bushwick Birkin.” Securing the Shopping Bag, available in a variety of sizes and colors, is akin to getting Coachella tickets. Everyone wants them and everyone has to patiently wait to get their turn to be an owner (products drop every Friday and are often sold out.) Aside from the handbags, the brand also produces buzzy hats, denim, and apparel.
Sami Miro Vintage was founded in 2017 and has used local deadstock and vintage fabrics since its beginning. The eco-conscious label prides itself on having a 15-mile supply chain in Los Angeles from start to finis, and boasts celebrity fans like Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, Rosalía, Selena Gomez, and Megan Fox. According to the brand’s website, founder Sami Miro’s ethos is simple: “Protect Mother Earth. Without her, we do not exist.” The designer was even awarded a grant from the CFDA and Fashion Trust US in 2021.
Creative director and Canadian-born founder Aurora James started Brother Vellies as a way to keep traditional African design practices and techniques alive. The New York-based artist designs shoes, bags, and accessories with sustainable accents like vegetable-tanned leather, hand-carved wood, and floral-dyed feathers. In addition to her fashion brand, the fashion expert also created the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a movement encouraging retailers both big and small to stock and supply 15% of shelves with Black-owned products.
Christopher John Rogers
Christopher John Rodgers won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in November 2019, and has been the designer behind several show-stopping looks on celebrities, including former first lady Michelle Obama, Lizzo, Rihanna, and Cardi B. The Baton Rouge-born, Brooklyn-based designer is known for his attention-demanding color blocking and bold silhouettes. Plus, his collaboration with Target in 2021 brought his style to the masses in the most affordable way yet.
Inspired by his grandmother’s love of sewing and pattern making, Queens-born fashion designer Laquan Smith started his brand at age 21. The luxury expert has been praised for his red carpet looks on Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and many more.
Another designer making fashion more colorful, Victor Glemaud is known for his effortless knitwear and color-blocked pairings. Before launching his namesake brand, the Haitian-American designer assisted Patrick Robinson and worked in fashion public relations. Now, he’s known for his own minimalist lines and breathable fabrics, which are great for daytime and evening wear.
Hernon Preston Johnson is a DJ, co-founder of luxe streetwear collective Been Trill, and founder of his eponymous brand Heron Preston. The apparel and accessories are workwear-inspired and have been favored by the likes of Yara Shahidi, Lori Harvey, and Kaia Gerber. Prior to his work in design, he did marketing and social media for Nike.
Kerby Jean-Raymond is a Haitian-American fashion designer and the founder of streetwear label Pyer Moss. His brand is founded on the notion that fashion should speak to heritage and activism. His fashion shows always highlight the Black experience and issues the culture faces, including police brutality and mental illness.
Slightly newer on the scene, Nigerian-born Teni “Tia” Adeola is a lover of art history and includes ruffles and other Renaissance elements into all her designs. Both her womenswear and menswear have elements of extravagance and softness all at once. Even though Adeola is only 25, her designs have been worn by celebrities including Gigi Hadid, SZA, and Dua Lipa. The brand has been sponsored by Nike since her college days and has been the footwear provider for all of the brand’s presentations.
Brooklyn-based designer Felicia “Fe” Noel creates clothing with one thing in mind: Women’s rights. “I want to tell women, ‘Let’s not leave anything on the table anymore. Not money, not experiences. We can have it all, and we deserve it all,” she says. Her popular Dre$$, a strapless corset gown with a ruffled petticoat made of paper money, was created to highlight the 30% retirement income gap between men and women.
Brooklyn-born designer Brandon Blackwood launched his brand in 2015, but he saw a huge increase in sales during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests thanks to his small tote bag that displayed the words, “end systemic racism.” A portion of the proceeds were donated to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a pro bono legal assistance program. The bags immediately sold out in two hours and have been seen on Tessa Thompson, Jessica Alba, and Jodie Turner-Smith. Now, Blackwood has expanded his brand to include vibrant apparel and footwear.
Anifa Mvuemba has a knack for creating celebrated pieces with her label Hanifa. Her knit dresses and cardigans have been seen on Bella Hadid, Zendaya, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashley Graham, Kylie Jenner, Tracee Ellis Ross, and more. During the pandemic in 2020, Mvuemba put on a 3D fashion show that went viral and challenged how other designers were able to present their collections.