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Celebrating Black History Month: Leaders in Fashion

POSTED January 31, 2023 IN: Community

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From the runway to the red carpet and cities across the globe, we are paying tribute to the insurmountable influence that Black designers – both past and present – have had on the fashion industry, as well as paving the way for future designers and bringing about action and important conversations surrounding representation and diversity.

This Black History Month, we are putting the spotlight on several designers who have been trailblazers in fashion. We invite you to learn more about their captivating stories on our blog and while shopping in store, and be sure to keep an eye out for some of their brands and designs during your next Goodwill treasure hunt!

Ann Lowe

Ann Lowe was of the first widely recognized Black fashion designers in America, and her legacy helped to pave the way for many other Black designers following her in the fashion industry. Two of her most notable pieces were the bridal gown and bridal party dresses she designed for former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She also designed a hand-painted floral gown for actor Olivia de Havilland when she accepted an Academy Award in 1946. During her career, Lowe operated several store locations in New York City, and she was the first African American to own a store along the famed Madison Avenue shopping corridor.

Willi Smith 

Considered a pioneer or perhaps the inventor of streetwear, Willi Smith is one of the most successful Black designers of the 20th century and used clothing as a way of breaking stereotypes surrounding race, class, sex and gender. He found inspiration in his surroundings and had the desire to make fashion more accessible and affordable – without doing away with unique and artistic design.

Patrick Kelly

Born in Mississippi, Patrick Kelly quickly became recognized in Paris and is the first American designer to ever be admitted to the prestigious Cambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter, which governs the French ready-to-wear fashion industry. Kelly’s southern roots often became incorporated into his designs, which included racial imagery and expression of Black joy – all with the hope of designing clothes that “make you smile.” Since passing away, a coalition of Black fashion industry professionals created The Kelly Initiative, which honor’s Kelly’s legacy through a 4-point action plan that is aimed at increasing the fashion industry’s transparency and accountability in terms of Black professional inclusion.

Dapper Dan 

A self-taught tailor, Daniel Day – more widely known as Dapper Dan – is known for introducing high fashion to the hip-hop industry, working with artists such as LL Cool J, Jay-Z, Salt-N-Pepa and more. In a New York Times interview, Dapper Dan called himself the “father of logo-mania” fashion, which is when a brand’s logo is very evidently repeated across an article of clothing or accessory. After a legal challenge brought on by Fendi over trademark infringement, Dapper Dan’s popular Harlem boutique was forced to close. Years later, he would rise to fame again while partnering with Gucci, after the fashion house was accused of culturally appropriating one of his designs.

Virgil Abloh

As the first African American to lead Louis Vuitton’s menswear department, Abloh not only advocated for more diversity representation at Louis Vuitton but used his role to create collections inspired by Black culture and social justice. Abloh also was the founder of the popular street fashion brand Off-White, which has worked hard to create opportunities for minority populations in the fashion industry. Abloh died in 2021 at age 41.

Jerry Lorenzo

Not long after founding his luxury fashion label, Fear of God, Jerry Lorenzo rose to fame after his work attracted several celebrities, including designer Virgil Abloh – founder of Off-White. With just $14,000, he built a fashion label that has now gained global attention. According to its website, Fear of God is “crafting timeless, wearable garments,” and the brand’s “distinct interpretation of the American expression has become an emblem of contemporary culture.”

Kahlana Barfield Brown

A Seattle native, Kahlana Barfield Brown is known nationwide as a fashion and beauty expert. From regular appearances on the red carpet and on TV to being a key component of ‘InStyle’ magazine’s editorial team, she uses her knowledge and experience to inspire future generations. Barfield Brown was the first designer to collaborate with Target’s “Future Collective,” which features collections in partnership with a rotating roster of style and cultural influencers, and she has a wide following on social media where she highlights cutting-edge and creative ensembles.

Emma Grede

While growing up in East London, Emma Grede saved just about every cent she made while working a paper route to purchase fashion magazines. Today, she is the CEO of her own brand, Good American, which was founded in partnership with Khloe Kardashian in 2016. Grede has said previously that “Good American has always been more than just a fashion brand – it’s a platform for inclusivity and body positivity.” She is also the chairwoman of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, which is a nonprofit organization that encourages retailers to devote at least 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

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