On Saturday night, the newly launched Black Design Collective (which aims to remove inequality in the fashion industry with resources such as mentorship and an e-commerce platform) officially set its plans in motion with a fete that presented its first scholarship and honored costume designer Ruth E. Carter for her work on “Black Panther.”
Among those who flocked to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles to help founders Angela Dean, Kevan Hall and TJ Walker celebrate the Carter’s breadth of work (which includes more than 50 films in a 30-year timespan) were actresses Loretta Devine, Gabrielle Union, Malinda Williams, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, models Roshumba Williams and Beverly Johnson, celebrity stylist Elizabeth Stewart, as well as designer Tina Knowles-Lawson.
Taking the stage in a sparkling magenta suit by African-American designer Christopher John Rogers, Union, who worked with Carter on the TV series “Being Mary Jane,” noted, “Every fitting I’ve ever had with Ruth was in her home. She welcomes us in. She makes us feel protected. She literally gives us wings so we can all fly. Who really is doing that? She made Mary Jane a fashion icon. That wasn’t me, Mary Jane would have been in some basketball shorts. That was Ruth. [My] New York & Company [line] was like ‘Being Mary Jane. ‘I want to create a line inspired by Mary Jane. Well, you don’t get inspired by Mary Jane without Ruth E. Carter.”
She continued: “She doesn’t talk about it. She is about it. So all of us in here who get that baton passed to us, the Black Design Collective, that’s what this is about. It’s not about talking about diversity and inclusion. It’s not about begging somebody for scraps at their damn table. It’s about saying, ‘I don’t need your table in your whack a– house. I’ll build my own house. The house that Ruth E. Carter built.’”
After a wild wave of applause, Carter settled the crowd.
“I didn’t have those mentors that you see here today with the Black Design Collective,” she said. “We were out there getting our work done, struggling to have our designs seen. And now here comes an organization which is all about support and inclusion and I think we should support that in every single solitary way because they’re important.”
Earlier on the red carpet, the guests spoke of the Black Design Collective’s importance and the joy of supporting black designers.
“It’s important because that is the way,” said Knowles-Lawson, who scouts black talent along with Beyoncé, Solange, Kelly Rowland, and stylist Zerina Akers on Instagram. “When we were doing the show in Africa, that is what Beyoncé mostly wore, and on tour, she wore a lot of black designers. We try to discover new black talent and put it out there. We’ve been very supportive of that. From the very beginning, I used to be the stylist for them, we brought in unknown black designers.”
Although Carter’s ensemble wasn’t by an African-American designer, she wore someone who she felt comfortable welcoming into the fold.
“Well, I wanted to wear my own design,” Carter said. “When I put it on, I chickened out because it needs a little more tweaking. So I decided to wear Stella McCartney because I like her philosophy. She does a lot of recycling. She’s coming up with ways where we can take some of those clothes that they bundle and drop around Third World countries and create garments. She belongs with the Black Design Collective because she’s got the right idea about sustainability and inclusion, which I think will help everybody.”
Up next for Carter is more work centered around the African diaspora with “Coming to America 2” and her first Broadway play.
“It was written by a black woman; it’s called ‘On Sugarland,’” she said. “It’s going to premiere around Thanksgiving.”