Brandon Blackwood has struck fashion gold, selling nearly half a million handbags from his namesake label over the last two years.
The upstart designer, once rejected by Barneys New York for a purported lack of vision, has quickly made himself a household name. While he founded his label in 2015, he burst into the larger consumer consciousness in the summer of 2020 with a canvas tote bag design that states “End Systemic Racism,” where a brand logo or monogram would typically lie.
What simply became known as the “ESR” tote has since grown into a brand that issues sometimes up to 200 new bags per season — most of which sell out.
Late Thursday night, Blackwood switched up his format and introduced his first virtual runway show — exhibiting a new collection of around 150 handbag variations. The show was also meant to present fans and media with a fully fledged vision of what the Brandon Blackwood collection can and will be.
Each bag was styled with a one-of-a-kind, spectacular piece of outerwear — most of them made in colorful fur and festooning in shape and texture. There were sometimes matching hats or shoes, and many of the looks were styled with Blackwood’s first sunglasses — two nostalgic shapes, fabricated in different acetate colors. Blackwood’s partner Roberto Johnson designed the sunglasses and also styled the brand’s runway show.
Blackwood said that leading up to this show, he began to feel pigeon holed in fashion media for his ESR tote design, all the while selling thousands of other bags in a variety of shapes and materials. This presentation, he said, is his way of breaking out of that mold. “I think this collection is kind of reintroducing ourselves and solidifying some facts,” he said.
“I feel like this happens all the time, especially with Black and POC designers, they find the one thing you are good at and keep pushing that narrative. We made the ESR tote and people thought we only make canvas totes. But [meanwhile] we have shown our versatility with satchels and minibags.
“I think my customers and our retailers, they love it — they see the sales. I think, in general, the fashion press keeps up this brand narrative that we are the ESR tote and that’s it, when our numbers say otherwise. So we are reintroducing ourselves that we have the capability to make accessibly priced bags with great materials and quality,” Blackwood said.
The designer said he creates with no particular inspiration in mind, but rather aims to create solution-driven bags that would appeal to his wide range of friends.
“I always think about what would be cool, what would my friends want to wear — I never have a mood board,” he said, leading the designer to layer in different fabrications like shearling and puffer materials this season, as well as some bamboo hardware motifs.
But with a reach as wide as Blackwood’s brand, which is now regularly shipping to Japan and Europe, as well as yearlong warm climates like the Caribbean, he felt a need to consider different usages. “When we were doing teasers of the fall collection on social media, people kept writing, ‘We are in California, we are in the South — how are we going to wear a shearling bag?’” Blackwood said, pushing him to introduce some bags with mesh or other lightweight materials.
Blackwood said his brand has grown by 50,000 percent since 2019, which was ultimately a head-spinning crash course in business management, supply chain logistics and customer service.
The designer had originally planned to air his runway video in September, but supply chain delays pushed back the date. He said most of the bags will be available to ship immediately — a factor he learned was important over the last few years when some customers took to social media to lambast long lead times or production issues.
“We stopped our pre-sale model to avoid wait times, it makes things way easier. Sadly, it was three girls on Twitter that did that whole circulation when we ship thousands of bags a week,” said Blackwood, adding that their viral commentary was ultimately a positive thing, as it led a lot more consumers to discover his brand.
Prices for Blackwood’s new collection of bags remain between $150 and $800, while sunglasses are a firm $80 — an important factor for the designer, who said he aims to dress the masses. While the runway show’s fur coats will not be put into production, they will be available for private shopping appointments. The coats are a preview of what’s to come next fall, when Blackwood said he will introduce a commercial collection of outerwear — also aimed at being accessibly priced, ideally between $150 and $500.
Next up is a sourcing and production research trip with friend and mentor, Luar’s Raul Lopez, during which Blackwood will suss out how to best make shoes. He said ready-to-wear is not far off either.