design student Jose Salazar

Each June, we see brands and businesses awash in rainbow flags, efforts at supporting the LGBTQ community that become much less visible as July sets in.

So, as the debate goes on about whether Pride has become too corporate or the moment has lost touch with the movement, WWD catches up with fashion’s next generation about what Pride Month means to them, how they celebrate it and what they’d like to see change amid the industry’s new or renewed commitments to diversity and inclusion.

As FIT design student Sydney Shuba says, “Pride Month, to me, is a celebration of queerness. Gender and sexuality are so fluid and so intimately unique to every individual person. Pride is an opportunity to display that uniqueness. It’s a time to highlight queer identity, be thankful for it, and fight for the rights of vulnerable queer folks.”

The Pratt Institute / Jose Salazar

Jose Salazar  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

J.S.: Pride to me is about reclaiming my truth and no longer being ashamed of it. Growing up in a society where homophobia is heavily present, I was never comfortable with being who I am. Pride is a beautiful thing to me because it allows me to be loud and proud of a part of myself which I had to hide for many years. It is also a reminder to my past self that I made it through, as a queer Hispanic kid growing up in a country where gay marriage is still not legal, I never imagined myself being who I am today, so it’s important to me to remind myself that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I celebrate Pride by trying to engage with what’s happening around my community. Even though society has progressed a lot in the past couple of decades, there is still a long way to go. I like to think about ways I can help out in my community, not only during June but all year round. 

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

J.S.: I understand why many people feel like corporations supporting Pride have become disingenuous. I do believe that it has become a marketing strategy and many brands are just joining in for the ride and trying to profit off the LGBTQ+ community, however, I don’t think that is always the case. I appreciate brands that help out during Pride but it is also important to keep an eye out for what they do for the community outside June. 

WWD: What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a fashion design student?

J.S.: I think the biggest and most common misconception about being a fashion design student is that it’s easy. I think from an outside perspective, it can look like a fun option for someone who doesn’t have their career choice figured out yet. I mean, who wouldn’t wanna play around with clothes all day, right? Unfortunately, it is not as glamorous as it may seem from an outside perspective. Being a fashion designer requires a full-time investment, in my case, I had to pack my bags and move to New York alone all the way from Peru. Forcing me to start a new life at the age of 18, but I can confidently say it was fully worth the risk. I think fashion is one of those careers where you have to be very passionate about it, to the point where even if you have to pull an all-nighter, you wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. If fashion is something that you are interested in, I do encourage giving it a try. 

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years?

J.S.: I am not fully sure yet, I don’t personally want to launch a brand right after graduation, I would rather get a job first and learn under someone else’s resources, ideally gain experience before I launch my own brand. However, 10 years from now I do see myself having my own label. I would like to create a brand that is fun and accessible for people who are looking to express themselves through clothing. 

Parsons / Rene Gutierrez

Rene Gutierrez  MONICA CASSELL

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

R.G.: Pride is queer people’s lives coming to the forefront and being celebrated. Beyond the rainbow parade it is also displaying the history of the injustices experienced, still being experienced, and celebrating our struggle and journey of self-discovery. Every day is Pride for me when I walk out the door. I don’t dress in codes to conform to heteronormative expectations; I feel that I’m making a statement of visibility when I wear what I want in public. Of course, another means of celebrating Pride is going drinking and dancing in the West Village! 

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

R.G.: It is obvious our society uses gimmicks to profit through exploitation. I believe if they choose to appropriate the rainbow flag, most in poor design, they should at least be making large charitable donations to LGBTQIA organizations and resources. I would shift some blame to consumers as well. Shop smaller! Shopping actual LGBTQIA businesses through Etsy and other local channels makes a greater impact on a person’s livelihood. 

WWD: What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a fashion design student?

R.G.: The biggest misconception about being a fashion student is that it’s an easy and frivolous degree to pursue. My degree is more than just making clothes. A degree in fashion is intense; it is multifaceted in history, art, design, and social awareness. Something lost in the era of fast fashion is the story and the feeling a collection is telling. Parsons has taught me the design of your collection is only as strong as the supplemental knowledge that you are using to create it. Telling a story through clothing isn’t a literal translation in design, but the reasons we are creating tend to be very deep and personal to each of the designers who are putting their blood, sweat and tears into their work.

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years? 

R.G.: My brand in 10 years is a hard question because the future of fashion in 10 years is so unpredictable. My brand is called Bitch Jeans; it is a denim brand that focuses on hyper fem and brings couture techniques to the craft of denim. I would like to see made-to-order jeans become more relevant in our fashion system. Of course, we can have jeans that are standardized, but normalizing clothing that is made to measure is something that I think is necessary to revive. The art of tailoring and bespoke clothing has been lost in the last couple of generations. Restoring quality and value in the time taken to make clothing is something that I would like to reinstate with my brand.

Parsons / Kadeem Lamorell

Kadeem Lamorell  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it?

K.L.: Pride Month to me is about celebrating all the different things that make me who I am. It’s not just about my sexuality, but my personality, the way I move through the world, the community that I’ve fostered around me, and more. Not only is it a celebration of self, but it’s a celebration of how far we’ve come as queer people in this world. I take the time to look back at all the icons, like [gay liberation activist] Marsha P. Johnson, [who] fought for me and other queer people to have the ability to express themselves without attack and ridicule. 

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

K.L.: I definitely feel most corporations are not genuine in their support of Pride and queer people. We’ve only seen this huge rise in support of Pride once they’ve figured out the money to be made from us as a demographic. I’m sure there are some companies who supported us from the start, but a lot of it seems like bandwagon-ing today. 

WWD: What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a fashion design student?

K.L.: I feel like there’s still this lingering notion of the glamour of the industry. It all seems like fun, parties, socializing, and being stylish but it’s a lot of work behind the scenes. A lot of people don’t get to see what the workroom is really like. The stressing over deadlines, last-minute projects, heart-wrenching critiques, and more. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but design school really elevates your craft. 

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years?

K.L.: In 10 years, I’m hoping to see my brand being worn by all types of people. I want my brand to be truly accessible and remove the idea that designer brands have to be expensive and super exclusive. All people are deserving to [wear] good quality and good-looking clothing!

SCAD (The Savannah College of Art and Design) / Antoine Brandt

Antoine Brandt  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it?

A.B: For me, Pride Month means it’s specifically time to recognize and remind myself that I am normal and just like everyone else, even if I am gay or on the queer spectrum. It’s also a time for reflection as I thank and think of so many queer individuals who came before me and paved the way for me to live as open and comfortably as I do now.

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

A.B.: It is nice to know that corporations support and recognize minority groups and I can only hope that they put to practice and implement those values whether it be for Pride, Black History Month, etc., into their company culture, beyond just raising a flag one month a year.

WWD: What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a fashion design student?

A.B.: I think the largest misconception about being a fashion design student is when people ask me if I make my own clothing. I wish I had the time, energy and resources to see my visions through to wear 24/7! I am also a sustainable consumer and enjoy thrifting.

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years?

A.B.: Beyond making fashion designs that sell, I truly care about artistic expression and taking the time to develop as an artist and designer. To me, what is thrilling about being an artist is the constant evolution — challenging myself, experimenting, and cultivating new skill sets throughout the design process. My professors at SCAD really pushed me to explore ideas, push boundaries and collaborate with other artists. I hope my collections throughout the next decade represent my growth and experimentation as a more self-disciplined artist and creative.

FIT / Austin Nolan

Austin Nolan  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

A.N.: I am always looking to support anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community, not just during Pride Month. Pride does give us a megaphone to address ongoing issues and educate those around us on how they can really be allies. I celebrate Pride by always honoring our roots — two trans women who really got the ball rolling, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. I’m a pretty quiet person so I never voice myself too much, rather I look around and inside to feel welcome in my queer body. Many of the issues and stigmas our community faced in the ’70s we still face today, so Pride Month is taking strength in each other’s qualities and demanding humanity. 

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

A.N.: I think it’s inappropriate, to say the least. Changing the company logo for a few weeks doesn’t help when 27 trans women have already died in 2021. If these corporations really want to support the community then they need to open their wallets and provide for homeless youth or maybe folks suffering from trauma. There’s plenty of real work to be done, but nothing is accomplished from performative posting. Open your purse. 

WWD: What do you think the biggest misconception is about being a fashion design student? 

A.N.: That we have no brain. There’s quite a lot involved in the design, you have to know your history and references when creating. Nobody wants to copy or knock-off someone unintentionally so you need to be well-researched. Design students don’t get enough credit for the work they do, there’s a whole lot that goes on behind the garment and presentation. 

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years? 

A.N.: Right now I’ve barely started and this point was never really supposed to happen, so I’m enjoying how things shape and change. In 10 years who knows, but I would love to see it more accessible with lowered prices and a bigger range of products. I never set out to make something for myself, I only wanted to help my friends feel more comfortable. 

FIT / Sydney Shuba

Sydney Shuba  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

S.S.: Pride Month, to me, is a celebration of queerness. Gender and sexuality are so fluid and so intimately unique to every individual person. Pride is an opportunity to display that uniqueness. It’s a time to highlight queer identity, be thankful for it and fight for the rights of vulnerable queer folks. 

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

S.S.: I definitely think that Pride Month has turned into a huge cash grab for mega-corporations. Any company can slap a rainbow on its logo and get kudos for being progressive. Meanwhile, their actual business practices toward queer folks can vary wildly. A great example of this is how Disney sells rainbow Pride Month merch while simultaneously choking out smaller animation studios that would be more likely to create projects produced by queer creators. 

WWD: What do you think the biggest misconception is about being a fashion design student? 

S.S.: I think there are a lot of misconceptions about fashion students, but the one that affects me most is the assumption that we will actually get to be creative in our field of work after school. In reality, a lot of the entry-level jobs in the fashion industry are not ones that allow for much creative expression. 

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years? 

S.S.: I have no idea where life will take me in the next 10 years. There is so much that can happen and so many opportunities still to come. I think I’ll be happy no matter what I do, as long as I can continue to create beautiful things by hand, and spend time with my wonderful partner and found family. 

FIT / Steven Panoncillo

Steven Panoncillo  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

S.P.: Many regard Pride Month as a time for celebration, unabashed self-love and sexual freedom. While it most certainly is all these things, I feel that it should be seen as a time for self-reflection above all else. The queer community owes everything to the trans POC who initiated the Stonewall riot and stood immovably strong in the face of oppression. It seems that many white and white-passing gay people forget the gratitude and responsibility owed to the other members of our community and spend the month of June drinking shirtless and evading accountability. At least 27 trans people have been senselessly killed this year alone and the POC in the queer community still face a surplus of internalized racism, fetishism and oppression. Pride Month cannot be a month we are proud of until we look within ourselves and realize that the community needs to course correct from the inside and actively villainize those who perpetuate toxicity and bigotry. It’s totally legit to party and celebrate who you are, but keep in mind that many queer individuals still feel that their community does not value or celebrate them at all.

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

S.P.: I find it intensely upsetting when brands put on a facade of allyship because not only does it show the queer community that corporations have no clue what Pride is actually about, but it prevents actual LGBTQ+ brands and designers from maximizing their customer base during this month! News flash to every brand with rainbow stripes behind their logo: Performative allyship is extremely detrimental to our community and the real way to support Pride is to hire and feature queer creatives and their stories. The way to show the queer community that a brand is actually dedicated to change is to have a diverse team of queer people spearheading dynamic campaigns that make LGBTQ+ customers feel truly represented, and for the brand to donate a portion of proceeds for the month of June to charities aiming to aid with financial, housing, and health-related issues faced by POC in the LGBTQIA+ community.

WWD: What do you think the biggest misconception is about being a fashion design student? 

S.P.: I think the biggest misconception about being a fashion design student is that going to an art/design school caters itself to diversity. It’s easy to imagine the glamour of a fashion school with rose-colored glasses, but actually attending provides a reality check pretty quickly. Many professors were active in the fashion industry for a long time, but have been teaching for just as long. On many occasions they have brought outdated and unacceptable values into the classroom, such as making racist and sexist comments toward student work, too often referring to darker-skinned fashion drawings as “exotic.” It still saddens me incredibly to reflect on the sheer number of professors I had who entirely refused to learn how to pronounce the names or learn the faces of my Asian peers, attempting to undermine their self-worth and make them feel lesser. There have been petitions and moments of student unity where we have collectively tried to get our school administration to hold these professors accountable and raise our school above the outdated racist views, but progress is not easily won, and I can only hope that the future fashion students stand with one another when their peers are faced with microaggressions.

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years? 

S.P.: The ethos for my brand is to create an empathetic and cathartic experience by using my collections to tell my story as a queer person and drag queen. My aesthetic highlights both the triumphs and the horrors faced as one explores their identity, and in 10 years I hope my brand can be a beacon for people finding themselves to look at my collections and feel empowered to embrace and finish their own stories.

FIT / Gustavo Toledo

Gustavo Toledo  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

G.T.: Pride Month doesn’t really make sense to me. Pride to me means living your truth. It means knowing where you came from, knowing where you’re at, and knowing where you’re going. It means knowing that you’re not alone. Being a Brazilian international student and the only out-of-the-closet queer person in my family, Pride to me means having the courage to go explore the world on my own in order to better understand who I am and what I am willing to live my life fighting for. Those are not things that should be celebrated in just a single month. The timespan of a singular month is important to open the discussion and to bring visibility to the movement and raise awareness of all the struggles queer people go through, nonetheless, Pride should be celebrated on a daily basis. I celebrate Pride by going out wearing 7-inch platform boots just to chill at a park with my friend. I celebrate Pride by wearing exaggerated makeup with 3D-printed pieces to go out on a Friday night. I celebrate Pride by showing people that they have a reason to celebrate who they are, too — by breaking boundaries, making room for discussions by inspiring young kids who look confused and amused wondering why I’m dressed that way. Pride is about unapologetically showing people — and yourself — who you really are, it is about connecting with people who have suffered from similar trauma as you have and knowing how hard it must have been for them to be there with you at that moment. Sure, Pride Month is essential, but so is fighting for the queer trans BIPOC lives on a daily basis.

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

G.T.: I feel like the best analogy I can think of is as if they were giving us a happy birthday card after not checking on us for the whole year. Sure, it feels great to be remembered on a day/month where everyone is expected to remember you. But if that is the only action you’re taking toward the feeling of Pride, it does feel performative. If you want to use the Pride rainbow flag, mention things that you are actually proud of while at it. Such as a high percentage of queer/trans/BIPOC workers in your company, resources for people like that to adjust to the environment where they are being put in. Checkups with the employees and actually hearing and incorporating their feedback. Safe transportation, making sure they are being properly fed, using the correct pronouns, enforcing a safe space, building a community, being transparent about your values. Give us a reason to be proud of you, too.

WWD: What do you think the biggest misconception is about being a fashion design student? 

G.T.: I believe that the biggest misconception about fashion design students is that we are mostly queer and that there is a huge amount of cis gay male students. The majority of my classes were composed by cis straight girls, with two or three other queer men. It’s somewhat crazy to think about that. When you think of fashion design, we oftentimes think of extravagant, colorful and unconventionally shaped garments — the same type of garment found in the ball scene, dominated by queer, trans, and BIPOC people. Yet when it comes to higher education the presence of that group of people is significantly smaller, the very own avant-garde leading group. I believe that is due to the discrepancy in opportunities that we have when growing up. Oftentimes fashion design programs are looking for a more “ready-to-wear” style, they want to “prepare you for the industry” which basically means simpler, more conventional looks — the opposite of what queer people tend to create, simply because of the way we are used to expressing ourselves. It’s hard to create simple and conventional garments when your very own life has never been simple and conventional.

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years? 

G.T.: It’s hard to say. I moved to the United States in 2019 to study Biomolecular Science. In 2020 I transferred to fashion design after deciding to follow my dreams and to live a life in which I would be able to fully express who I am. In 2021 I have had Doja Cat wear glasses I 3D-printed for Chris Habana in the Grammys, have helped with a 3D-printed top on her video with SZA, have made a dress for Bebe Rexha, and have had my very own 3D-printed piece shipped to Costa Rica for collaboration with Marco Garro. I will keep working hard to make sure that in 10 years from now I’m gonna have a comfortable living situation while creating even more pieces for anyone I admire as a person. I want to have a bigger platform so I can use it to help those in need, just like I had people with bigger platforms help me. I wanna be able to employ queer/trans/BIPOC workers, I want to keep shipping things out to other countries, collaborating with other trans/BIPOC/queer people, and I want to keep creating pieces that are not considered traditional and/or simple, but that will allow a group of people to feel seen and to thoroughly express how they feel and who they are.

FIT / Isairi Vorholy

Isairi Vorholy  Courtesy photo

WWD: What does Pride Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it? 

I.V.: To me, Pride Month reminds me that I am so grateful to live in a period of time where I can more openly be myself regardless of my sexuality and gender identity. I think of it in the context of the pioneers, trans women of color, what they have done for the community, and how they had to endure dangerous situations just to be themselves. Of course, living in NYC, going to the Pride parade is a must and I’m so excited that with vaccines and better conditions we can celebrate carefree-ly!

WWD: How do you feel about seeing corporations post rainbow flags throughout the month of June? Do you think they’re just ticking a box?

I.V.: I’m actually glad that there has been discussion on how companies and corporations utilize Pride Month in their favor. It’s not very surprising as corporations will literally monetize anything just to turn a profit. Unfortunately, I do think many companies use LGBTQ+ narratives to make their companies look better.

WWD: What do you think the biggest misconception is about being a fashion design student?

I.V.: The first thing I hear when I tell others that I’m a designer is, “wow that must be fun.” While that is true there is a huge misconception that we designers just sit around and doodle all day. It’s a very intense industry and it requires full dedication.

WWD: Where do you see your brand in the next 10 years? 

I.V.: For me, I’m really interested in the intersection of gender and fashion. We have a fashion industry that solely exists on a gender binary and I think I’d like to focus my future brand on blurring those lines. These are very exciting years ahead for the industry and I think I, as well as a lot of my peers, are ready to completely shift how the industry works to make it more inclusive and sustainable.