My earliest memories were my mom rapping along to Lil Kim "Now you wanna buy me diamonds and Armani suits. Adrienne Vittadini and Chanel 9 boots", our dedication and brand loyalty to the fashion industry is what attracted me to the clothes itself. I wanted to be like Queen Bee in the "Crush on You" video dressed in monochromatic looks and candy colored furs. Designer fashion and logo mania in the black community is what drives street style and in turn dictates the fashion industry.
My whole life I loved fashion, but this sentiment was never an equal exchange. These were the days when I always had an answer. The confidence and innocence that once cascaded through my pores, my existence, lead to a drought and a love lost. I could name drop every single fashion editor and identify a Givenchy pre-fall look from a mile away. I'd spend hours at home carefully examining Styledotcom ignorantly obsessing over Mary Kate Olsen's $60,000 accessory that magnified this effortlessly boho chic aesthetic that I once desired to attain. By seventeen years old, becoming a fashion writer & editor was my calling I felt lucky that my purpose had revealed itself. I knew who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, so shouldn't that have been half the battle?
It took quite a while to unfold that the industry I worked so hard to be a part of, and quite frankly slaved for had no love for me or my people. The irony in it all. I spent six whole years working in fashion and four of those years juggling to get a degree in Fashion Merchandising only to acknowledge that I was knocking on a door that didn't want to let me in. Although I wasn't welcomed, my time, free labor and genius was always embraced. However, the unspoken terms presented to me were I'd have to remain in the shadow and my hard work and contributions did not deserve any compensation, with the exception of the occasional unwanted beauty freebies & samples I couldn't fit this size 12 physique into. I felt lost, like I was forced into a foreign place and could no longer speak my native tongue. It struck me to my core that we became merely a garnish in an industry that exists, thrives off of and is inspired by us. We are the innovators and the influencers, we created style. In an industry that thrives off of our culture, we are the bed of parsley that you slide to the side of your plate. We serve our purpose, then are pushed out of the meal, like discarded muses. The question that emerged was " At what point do we receive the merits and opportunities produced from our existence?"
Throughout time, the trends forecasted and materialized are all a reflection of us and our lifestyles. It's a je ne sais quoi that can't be mass produced, as they may try. I've witnessed high fashion brands robbing us of our culture whilst disregarding our clout. Alessandro Michele's disastrous Dapper Dan design theft at Gucci and Demna Gvasalia's Ruff Ryder's t-shirt are the most recent viral examples of this.
As day one brand ambassadors and commissioners of style, very little credit has been given and representation is merely existent. Instead, brands would prefer to delegate a budget to "influencers" like the Kardashians whose livelihood is dedicated to studying and mirroring black women- from our swag, to our physical features and hairstyles. Society would beg to differ because they love everything about black people & our cultural impact, but they don't love us. The nerve of Kylie throwing in a kinky Kanekelon ponytail with her slicked down edges still makes my blood boil. It's no coincidence that Kylie and Khloe's clothing lines (which I refuse to name) have exclusively stolen designs from independent black designers Destiny Bleu and Plugged NYC. When it's a product of our lifestyle it's labeled as ghetto, but remove the melanin and suddenly it's avant garde and groundbreaking- long nails, layered jewelry, bantu knots & braided styles, plump derriers, the list is never ending.
Our existence is the root of all progressiveness. I don't need diversity just be a trend, I need it to be a custom. Why should it be a second thought to place people of color in the positions that are deserved? Don't throw us a freelance title, emerging yourselves in our talents, but refusing to fairly compensate us. Cast us on the runway; from the spectrum of browns to varying textures of curly mane, the options are unlimited.
Exposing the industry is one part, but at what point do we make these sacrifices so that our exposure actually has a financial impact? Acknowledgment is the first step, but action is what brings change. We were conditioned that these high fashion labels we drape ourselves in are a sole representations of status. The Chanel and Louis bags, the Gucci belts symbolize that " you got it". But, why do need to validation from material items which don't benefit us, aside from the obvious aesthetic? Take a stand in supporting black owned brands and resisting spending our money on brands that don't support us. If our buying power is estimated to reach 1.4 trillion by 2020, why can't we be more mindful of what we invest in and who we invest in? We're more than an influence on the fashion industry, we are the fashion industry. Our culture doesn't need to be bleached, we just need our influence to be embraced and appropriately represented. It's a good time to question why we choose to hold on to and support things where reciprocity is absent.
Photo by Teen Vogue