A group of black designers has forged a new organization called Black Design Collective to help address issues surrounding inequality in the fashion industry. The organization’s mission is to provide black designers with resources, mentorship, an e-commerce platform and business opportunities.
With headquarters in Los Angeles, the group looks to create a platform for black designers to develop, produce and market their products globally, as well as create mentorship programs for aspiring designers. Additionally, a scholarship fund will be established to help young designers in their pursuit of a higher education in the field of fashion, design and costume design.
The organization is headed by designers Angela Dean and Kevan Hall, who serve as president and vice president, respectively; TJ Walker, one of the original founders of Cross Colours, who serves as treasurer, as well as costume designer Ruth Carter.
The Black Design Collective has been in development for about a year. The idea behind it is to bring awareness to the history and relevancy of the global impact of black designers, said Dean. “Between the four of us, we came together and just started talking about what we thought were some of the needs in the industry,” said Hall.
According to Dean, the organization hopes to serve as a conduit for designers to sell their goods globally, to provide opportunities to do collaborations with large companies, retailers and manufacturers, and to collaborate with different types of brands to gain exposure for them. They are also looking for ways to promote their members through fashion shows, pop-up shops, media collaborations, trade shows and fashion events globally, and a potential signature Black Design Collective brick-and-mortar store and online retail outlet.
Asked whether they felt the Council of Fashion Designers of America was doing enough for black designers, Hall said, “We wanted to specifically focus on our black talent, and we wanted to really support the black designers in a specific kind of way. The CFDA does an incredible job. We wanted to focus on some of the needs that the black designers might have within the business world. There might be ways to strategically help them find financing, factories and resources, and really to navigate the world of fashion.”
“The CFDA does an amazing job with the African-American designers who have come through, but there are so many more who need assistance, and that global platform is our key ultimate goal. We appreciate what they [the CFDA] are doing,” added Dean.
Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, believes that this new organization can strengthen the industry. “Any time experienced people in our industry can organize to support the industry and support peers in the industry, it is a good thing. I think it’s great what Kevan and his partners are doing.”
Kolb believes that the CFDA does a lot in the areas of inclusion and diversity. “In recent years, we’ve been doing more. I don’t think we can ever do enough. Clearly, I think the membership is underrepresented with black designers, and we can do a better job in connecting to black designers, so that they feel there’s a place at CFDA where they can get involved and benefit from the organization,” said Kolb.
The founders of Black Design Collective hope to encourage their members to participate in fashion weeks around the world to increase their exposure. They also plan to have a web site where people can see all the collections of their members. They will feature capsule collections of the designers and will link back to the actual web sites of the designers.
Primary members, who are black designers in business for five years or more, will be charged $50 for dues for the first year. There’s also an associate membership for black designers in business under five years for $40 annually. The organization is offering affiliate memberships for people associated with design, such as photographers, models, fabric sources, and production, for $30 a year. The affiliate members don’t have to be black. Student membership is $20 a year.
Currently there are 40 members including fashion designers, costume designers and stylists. Among the fashion designer members are Kerby Jean-Raymond (Pyer Moss), Waraire Boswell, Charles Harbison, Sergio Hudson, and Kenneth Nicholson. Costume designer members include Antoinette Messum, Gersha Phillips, Alita Bailey and Rita McGhee. The plan is to assist costume designers within the film, entertainment and television industry, said Hall.
The organization will provide a membership directory, which will include contact information for members to have access to industry professional members including photographers, models, stylists, hair/make-up artists, graphic artists, pattern makers, fabric sources, sample makers, technical designers, financial, legal, bookkeeping, social media and designers.
People have donated seed money to the non-profit organization. Right now it’s based in Los Angeles, but there are plans to have a New York presence as well. They are currently working out of Hall’s Los Angeles atelier.
Walker, a professor at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, is organizing the mentorship program to help students navigate the world of fashion. They have set up a scholarship program to help students attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. “We’ll be working with them and helping them through their studies and after they graduate, help them navigate the world of fashion, to assist them with their résumés, their interview skills and help them in the job,” said Hall.
Black Design Collective is planning a scholarship gala on April 13 at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, where they are honoring the breadth of work of Ruth Carter, who’s nominated for an Academy Award for her costume design for “Black Panther.” The FIDM Museum currently houses all the costumes from the Academy Awards at its 27th annual “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” exhibit. One of the main highlights is Carter’s original costumes from “Black Panther.” The gala will serve as the kick-off for the organization.
New members are sponsored through other members. “We’re open to membership, but we want someone to sponsor the person in,” said Hall. The organization plans to host Master Classes, workshops and seminars, both online and in classroom settings, on topics such as “Navigating the Retail Landscape,” “How to Work With Small Boutiques Versus Major Chains,” “Understanding the Cost Analysis of Your Supply Chain,” “Converting Social Media Success Into Profit,” and “Financing Your Business as a Start-up and Mid-life.” The organization is currently assembling a board of directors to enlist experts to assist the membership.
Discussing some of the common problems black fashion designers are facing, Hall said, “I think financing is always an issue. That’s one of the things we want to look at. How we can create an avenue to have greater financing for designers?” Dean added: “Being inclusive in the bigger picture of things being done. It’s very important that we can create a platform to have some kind of inclusiveness so everybody is included in the opportunities that are available. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out for black designers.
“We want the fashion industry to see us collectively and powerfully to really see our value. Sometimes when you are alone and have your own company and business, in a big pond, you may not have collective support, it’s difficult to rise. We just want to show the relevancy of us. We’re not trying to be exclusive in our nature. We want to be inclusive. Our story should be told and seen as important as well,” said Dean.
Hall, who was the designer for Halston from 1998 to 2000, launched his signature brand, Kevan Hall Collection, in 2002. His designs have been worn by such celebrities as Céline Dion, Sharon Stone, Charlize Theron and Salma Hayek.
Dean, who does custom design in the music and entertainment business, has been designing for 30 years. She has designed clothes for such celebrities as Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle, Nancy Wilson, Priscilla Presley, and Dyan Cannon. She was also asked to design for Hollywood’s eight leading ladies — Halle Berry, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Michele, Elise Neal, Loretta Devine and Regina King — for the collector’s edition of the 30th anniversary Essence cover, the highest-selling issue in the history of the magazine.
“There’s a lot of things that people don’t know that we do that has major impact. I’m a perfect example of that, and no one knows,” said Dean.