It would be a grave understatement to suggest that black culture has had anything but a profound impact on the global fashion and beauty industries since, well, time immemorial. In fact, according to the book How To Slay: Inspiration From The Queens And Kings Of Black Style by Constance CR White, the loosey-goosey flapper style of the 1920s allegedly came to the fore in part from the need to allow for vigorous movement after black teens introduced an energetic dance called the Charleston.
Elsewhere, African-American jazz musician Cab Calloway was instrumental in the popularisation of the baggy zoot suit, which dominated the wardrobes of men of all colours in the 1930s, while in the 1980s Dapper Dan used the term “blackinise fashion” to describe how he imported bootlegged fabrics to be used on luxury leather, thus creating his own pieces, which was then picked up by hip-hop and sneaker culture. “Yet, despite being surrounded by black style, we often miss its beauty and innovation or fail to acknowledge it,” says White. “Style shaped by the African diaspora is ubiquitous in fashion today for people of all colours, races and creeds.”
Today, black-owned American brands such as Pyer Moss and LaQuan Smith, among others, have become key proponents in bringing their respective African ancestries to the foreground, influencing other designers in their wake. And here in the UK the likes of Grace Wales Bonner – who was awarded the Emerging Menswear Designer award at the British Fashion Awards in 2015 and focuses on Afro-Atlantic approaches (her coats have come emblazoned with Caribbean pearl, cowrie shell and bone beading on the back) – is easily one of the best design talents the country has to offer.
The ugly truth, however, is that black-led businesses are all too often cast to the side in favour of white-owned equivalents. Case in point, the nonprofit organisation 15 Percent Pledge asking for major American retailers to pledge 15 per cent of their shelf space (a drop in the ocean, one would imagine) to overlooked black-owned businesses, as black people account for that percentage of that country’s population.
Below, to help you do your bit for these brilliant businesses, we’ve outlined some of the best black-owned and led brands to support and celebrate right now.
Since launching his label in 2010, Queens-born African-American LaQuan Smith has become a major player on the NYC fashion scene. Smith spent his early years instructed by his grandmother who instilled a passion and skill for sewing and pattern making and today his men’s and women’s collections are super sexy, with fans as far spread as Lagos and as famous as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian West. laquansmith.com
If there was one bag that we wanted in 2019, it was Telfar’s shopper. Liberian-American Telfar Clemens started the eponymous, unisex brand back in 2005 and had the support of friends such as Shayne Oliver, the founder of Hood By Air. Clemens gives classic products a subversive twist, playing with colours, graphics and silhouettes and the designer entered the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund competition and won, receiving the $400,000 prize. There is a strong community, as Telfar told Business Of Fashion last year, of black and brown people who support the brand, Oliver included, that has got it to where it is today. telfar.net
Pyer Moss was founded in 2013 as a men’s and womenswear fashion label that focused on building a narrative around heritage and activism. Founded by Kerby Jean-Raymond, a Haitian-American fashion designer, after eleven years in the industry as a designer and pattern maker, Pyer Moss lends itself to using clothing to emphasise the political and social issues of the time and has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Reebok. pyermoss.com
Established by Grace Wales Bonner in 2014, Wales Bonner is one of the highlights on the London Fashion Week Men’s calendar. With a hybrid of European and Afro-Atlantic approaches, which stem from her own ancestry, Bonner was the winner of the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund and has even gone on to collaborate with Dior for its Resort 2020 collection. Her collections embody the multidirectional female black-British gaze on masculinity and her clothing is injected with influences from the British Afro-Caribbean music scene, which she knows a lot about as her grandfather was Jamaican. walesbonner.net
Londoner Bianca Saunders’ eponymous label draws heavily on her West-Indian heritage. Her Autumn/Winter 2018 collection titled “Personal Politics” focused on black male identities and challenging stereotypes of hypermasculinity, while her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection focused on the black male’s sexual identity. Sharp, minimalist tailoring is juxtaposed with rich, draped fabrics, offering a hybrid between hypermasculinity and fluidity. biancasaunders.com
Martine Rose established her eponymous label in London in 2007 and it has evolved from a tightly edited shirting collection to an internationally renowned and critically acclaimed brand and stands as one of the highlights on the LFWM schedule. Rose is inspired by her Jamaican-British heritage and her deep interest and personal involvement in the music and the different cultures of London – and community sits at the heart of the company (her shows have been held in spaces such as the covered markets of Tottenham and primary schools). She fuses together early 1990s-era rave and hip-hop culture with her family’s Jamaican roots, in particular her grandparents’ journey as part of the Windrush generation. martine-rose.com
In 2009, the late Joe Casely-Hayford launched a new luxury menswear brand that took his surname and saw him join forces with his son, Charlie. It was the first time in high fashion when both father and son actively partnered at the creative helm and it fused Joe’s Savile Row expertise with Charlie’s younger outlook. Today, after Joe’s death in 2019, Charlie leads the creative front, producing menswear that has been picked up by the likes of The xx. casely-hayford.com
Samuel Ross, the designer and founder of A-Cold-Wall* grew up in Brixton in a working-class neighbourhood and has Windrush heritage that he emphasises across his brand, through using design techniques such as embroidered African beads. A Virgil Abloh protegé, he regularly shows at LFWM and is heralded as one of the country’s greatest design talents. a-cold-wall.com
Exploring his dual-ethnic heritage, Daley uses his eponymous label, which he began in 2013, to widely question and reflect on the notions of multiculturalism (being of Jamaican and Scottish descent) within British identity. He uses internationally recognised manufacturers to present collections which reference music culture; for instance, Daley worked with members of the UK contemporary jazz scene for his latest presentation. nicholasdaley.net
Founded by Nyakio Kamoche Grieco, a first-generation American of Kenyan descent, Nyakio Beauty isn’t like a lot of 21st-century beauty brands that come as a result of mega Instagram influence or YouTube stardom and stems instead from personal travels. Forty-six-year-old mother of two, Grieco spent a lot of time travelling to Kenya to see her grandmother as a child and picked up the family’s beauty secrets that later sparked her interest in skincare. Her grandfather was a medicine man and stories about him extracting oils from nature to treat the skin inspired the brand. Standout (and now cult) products include the Maracuja & Yangu Rescue Oil and the Manketti & Mafura Anti-Aging Oil. nyakio.com
Designed in the US by the designer and young African-American creative of the same name, Des Pierrot is a New York- and Los Angeles-based brand that has been worn by big rappers such as Famous Dex and Quavo. Consisting of handmade apparel that often comes emblazoned with the phrase “Loverboy Club” on it, Pierrot is definitely one to watch. despierrot.co
Frustrated by the lack of skin-tone choices to go with her ever-expanding wardrobe, Nubian Skin founder Ade Hassan decided it was time to do something different. Nubian Skin launched with an edited collection of lingerie and hosiery to provide the essential underwear needs of women of colour and now has launched men’s underwear. nubianskin.com
Pholk Beauty is a natural skincare brand inspired by the folk beauty of the African diaspora and is the brainchild of Niambi Cacchioli, who wanted to make good skincare more affordable for women of colour. The brand is vegan and uses widely sourced ingredients, such as cold-pressed hibiscus oil sourced from Senegal, Ghanaian moringa and turmeric from Jamaica. pholkbeauty.com
Founded in 2010, Maki Oh originally started as a womenswear brand, but in 2019 it delved headfirst into the menswear game. Formed by Amaka Osakwe in Lagos, Nigeria, it has a global standing and shows during New York Fashion Week. Osakwe blends African craftsmanship, for instance adire, the Nigerian cloth dyeing process, with a European silhouette. makioh.com