The Black Fashion Fair is teaming up with the Brooklyn Sewing Academy this summer with a goal to educate Black and brown students who may not otherwise have access to knowledge and training in sewing, pattern making, and fashion illustration.
Class sizes will be small and intimate and each student will receive a new sewing machine they can take home and practice on to begin their journey. All lessons and materials are offered at no cost to students.
“If anything, my time at FIT showed me not only is there a lack of representation, there is a lack of outreach to Black and brown communities,” said Antoine Gregory, founder of the Black Fashion Fair, a platform that puts Black fashion talent front and center with an online designer database and a curated virtual marketplace. “I think as we continue to advocate for change and inclusion, these partnerships will create real opportunity.”
Amy Verrier, director of education and Timothy Westbrook studio creative director of the Brooklyn Sewing Academy, were keen to collaborate on educating the next generation.
WWD: Can you give me a little back story on the Black Fashion Fair? What it is and how did you come up with the idea?
Antoine Gregory: Black Fashion Fair at once is past, present and future. It represents an undervalued and often overlooked community of designers and a culture that the industry appropriates without context or care. Through conceptual retail, educational and cultural experiences, our mission is to support the ideas and continued growth of Black designers and Black-owned brands while elevating the place of Blackness within fashion.
It is our responsibility to contribute to the conversation surrounding Blackness in fashion. It is necessary that we are able to own the narratives around our stories and give agency to our communities.
Black Fashion Fair began as a thread on Twitter in 2016. I had begun listing Black designers and where they could be shopped. The thread at the time gained a lot of traction. I have always used my platform to advocate for Black designers and Black talent within the industry because in my experiences, I would be the only one in a lot of these spaces. We continued and continue to see that Black designers are not present in equal percentages in fashion editorial, during fashion weeks globally, and in retail, as their contemporaries.
What we wanted to do with Black Fashion Fair was create space and visibility.
WWD: What brought about the partnership with the Brooklyn Sewing Academy? Why did you see the need for this partnership now?
A.G.: I know and hear from so many creatives who are Black, who share my experiences, who do not see themselves represented in many areas of the industry. Especially in design. As a community that has been historically ignored, there is a need for change and inclusivity.
It’s important that we are giving Black creatives the recourses to be the change. Black Fashion Fair’s partnership with the Brooklyn Sewing Academy is not only an opportunity to educate, it is a call-to-action.
I think the work the founders, Amy Verrier and Timothy Westbrook, are doing speaks directly to what our needs are. I am happy to create and share this space with them. The students will be able to learn skills such as sewing, pattern making, and fashion illustration. We will also have industry professionals who come in and hold Q&As. Together we can impact communities that may not otherwise have access to these resources. We are creating an environment where they can be seen. We are setting the stage for Black designers to flourish in the future.
WWD: What mentorship and internship opportunities will be given to students and how will it be determined?
A.G.: Students who are a part of our Black Fashion Fair: Brooklyn Sewing Academy initiative will be given the opportunity to intern with Black designers within our network. We will be connecting students with both emerging and established designers. We will also bring in industry professionals to speak and share their experiences. It’s imperative that our students see and know the many different areas of fashion design and business.
WWD: The percentage of Black students enrolled at fashion institutions such as F.I.T, Parsons, The Academy of Art University, among others is definitely low. Do you think Black students have a bigger challenge applying and getting accepted into these schools? How can the broader industry work to overcome this?
A.G.: I absolutely think Black students are challenged in both areas. I am a graduate of F.I.T., I did not see many students who looked like me. I had two Black professors. I understand how that can be discouraging because it was.
Historically and currently, Black students are underrepresented in schools and ultimately our industry. Through our partnership with the Brooklyn Sewing Academy, we aim to address what is institutional racism through education and training. Our goal is to give future design students the tools and resources to compete in the admission processes when they do apply to fashion institutions.
Fashion continues to perpetuate the idea of diversity and inclusion without actually addressing how we arrived at the need. To see real change we need to be able to get in the room and often that is through education. The optics of change are not acceptable. Your company and schools can’t be diverse if there are not opportunities [to] meet Black creatives.
WWD: Do you see the program growing in the future?
A.G.: We are beginning our classes small and under COVID-19 guidelines. We will grow in size as we continue to see a need within our communities and as the world opens up. We have so many great projects lined up that center Black designers that we’ll continue to share throughout the year. We are excited to take on our first class of students as partners this summer.
WWD: What are your hopes for Black and Brown students/creatives in the future of fashion?
A.G.: Black designers are the future of fashion. Black culture has and continues to be a major contributor to the industry. Black designers deserve to be the ones telling their own stories. I hope that we are given space.
WWD: As the Brooklyn Sewing Academy, what prompted you to collaborate with the Black Fashion Fair?
Amy Verrier and Timothy Westbrook: When we first founded the Brooklyn Sewing Academy we had two main goals. The first, to create a community of creatives working together and sharing their skill and ingenuity as a resource. The second goal is to use skills to create intersectional support to various philanthropic efforts close to our hearts. We have set a high standard for technical approach and execution at the Brooklyn Sewing Academy. We provide a direct and affordable approach to sewing and industry education. When Antoine first approached us to be the educational component of this program it was an immediate yes for us. There is no shortage of creative excellence, only a shortage of access. We are honored to be able to team with Black Fashion Fair and teach the next generation of designers.
WWD: What changes do you hope to see in the industry in the future?
A.V. & T.W.: Environmentalism and representation are two of the biggest issues in the fashion industry. Consumer education and access to educational resources for emerging designers will be the biggest solutions to these problems.
Supporting the creativity of emerging designers, especially those marginalized by systemic issues, is key. Their voices have the power to shape the industry. It is important to direct resources to these groups so that their voices are not lost amidst the exclusionary and competitive nature of the fashion industry. This is especially pertinent during this specific time of shifting global ideology.
WWD: What hopes do you have for your students?
A.V. & T.W.: Creatives are a phenomenal breed of human. They create something from nothing, with nothing. The types of young people applying for this program already have the creative energy flowing within them, imagine what can be possible the moment that they not only come into contact with sewing tools and skills, but also have a strong education beyond just teaching themselves from YouTube videos. Very often arts curriculums can stifle the creative processes. We are excited to see what comes from nurturing each student in their individual learning style. We are starting with a smaller class size in order to provide a specialized and customized education based on the style of each young designer. If from this program we yield merchandisers, photographers, models, painters, etc. then we are overjoyed to have been a part of the process. Creativity is not linear, so our hopes for each student is as unbound as the imagination they each have. Our only hope is to have them “graduate” feeling supported, confident and motivated within their individual creative journey.
The admissions process will be open for two weeks beginning April 28, 2021, closing on May 8. Lessons are accessible to individuals aged 15 to 19 — all thatʼs required is to fill in the Black Fashion Fair: Brooklyn Sewing Academy sign-up form at blackfashionfair.org/brooklynsewingacademy. Individuals selected will be notified via email with further details.