Banana Republic will introduce BR x Harbison, a limited-edition sustainable collection facilitated by Harlem’s Fashion Row, today.
Charles Harbison was the winner of the HFR x Banana Republic design competition last November. Harbison actually spent three years working at a Banana Republic in a shopping mall in Charlotte, N.C., while in college.
The collection was created using organic materials, natural dyes and limited water production. Retail prices range from $98.50 for the tops to $548 for the coat.
Asked about the experience of working with Banana Republic, Harbison told WWD, “It obviously was a big learning experience for all parties. It represents the new nature of a collaboration like this…I’m well versed in working with people and for people, but not particularly with a corporation in a collaborative way. It was a great opportunity to push the agenda that’s always been important for Harbison in order to reach a larger audience.”
And what is the agenda?
“Gender, queer inclusivity and size inclusivity, racial equity and representation. For Harbison, it’s always been doing so from the perspective centering on the narrative of the Black matriarch and the Black muses who were so key for me early to life, but doing so to the benefit of all our customers, regardless of their identities,” he said. He also wanted to push sustainability “which shouldn’t be left out of any conversation these days.”
Harbison said his L.A.-based company is nimble and small and has been able to engage companies that are at the forefront of circularity and recycled and organic fabrics. Of Banana Republic, he said the brand “is a well-oiled machine” and was already deeply involved in the sustainability conversation. “The desire was to bring all of that together,” he said.
His collection for Banana Republic is inspired by the matriarchs in his life and by the idea of the modern heirloom.
He described the aesthetics of the line as having “a sense of optimism and joie de vivre and something that’s rooted in American classics.” He said he took the idea of suitings and separates with a color palette that’s reflective of “joy and optimism and pulls from sunrises and sunsets.” The line features vivid pinks, poppy reds, champagne, neutrals and sky blue.
Asked if the collection is for one season or ongoing, Harbison said, “My goal is for it to be ongoing. I think we’ve established something really honest and authentic, and it would be wonderful to grow that. It’s largely dependent on the customer base responding to it, and I feel really confident about that.”
The collection features an array of easy cotton dresses with voluminous sleeves that pull from the desert and the West; a safari suit, and separates and suiting representing gender from a more inclusive point of view.
He said the line will sit in the women’s area at Banana Republic stores, but is genderless. “My hope is that with our messaging and the customers that get it, [the customers will] have no problem walking over to the women’s department to pick up the pieces. It’s something that I’ve been doing for years myself,” he said.
Ra’mon-Lawrence Radeke, senior director of women’s design at Banana Republic, said, “We are proud to partner with Charles Harbison to create an environmentally and culturally conscious collection that is authentic to both brands’ key pillars. Charles has been an absolute pleasure and inspiration to collaborate with throughout the design process. We hope that this partnership with Banana Republic, HFR and Harbison will influence others in the retail industry to follow suit and collaborate with designers of color who typically have not had as much opportunity to break into the fashion industry.”
Born in the foothills of North Carolina in the town of Lincolnton, Harbison earned his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University, and then studied world textiles abroad in Uzbekistan before attending Parsons in New York. He later worked at Michael Kors Collection in textile design and women’s wear before venturing out on his own with the launch of Harbison Studios in 2013. The designer was in business for six seasons in New York, but then took a five-year hiatus and returned this year.
He recently presented his first signature collection in several years. Banana Republic sponsored the event, which also featured his new collaborative line.
Discussing the influence of Harlem’s Fashion Row, which was founded by Brandice Daniel, on his career, Harbison said, “Having Brandice’s support and what’s she grown with Harlem’s Fashion Row is super important. It’s not only affirming for myself as a designer, but it’s affirming for our business,” said Harbison. Although he doesn’t like competitions, he said, “I put my hat in the ring for this because it was a partner that I’d love to have, which is Banana Republic, by an organization I trust, HFR.”
The collection will go into Banana Republic’s top 40 stores as well as its website. He said they’re prioritizing the Charlotte, N.C., store because the Southpark Mall unit was where he worked as a student. Banana Republic is throwing a launch event tonight to introduce the collection at its SoHo location.
Harbison said his mother, Dana Linebarger, was a key part of his inspiration and is featured in the marketing campaign. “It was an opportunity to honor her, and a means to allow so many different women to be seen and heard in the fashion conversation. She’s a woman in her sixties with a strong curvy body and is Black. And it matters to a lot of women that that image gets to be elevated in the fashion conversation,” he said.
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