Before we begin, let me just say this.
Black History is American History and it is richer than any one month in a year.
It is also constantly being made.
With this in mind, over the next few weeks we will pay homage (via Instagram) to the fashion innovators, emerging designers, and thriving brands who are rewriting the rules of sustainable fashion around the world. Our list consists of up-and-coming artisan brands like Beadz by Flex (Johannesburg, SA) to the well established players like Felisha Noel of Fe Noel.
This is our tribute to the black fashion pioneers across the diaspora thriving at the intersection of sustainability and culture.
It's 28 Days of Black. _____________________
February 1 - February 7
1. Omi Woods
Omi Woods jewelry are contemporary heirlooms that celebrate all of our connections to Africa and her diaspora. Each piece is individually and ethically handmade with fair trade African gold and globally sourced conflict-free fine metals.
“My main mission is to make jewelry that reflects African cultures in materials that are built to last. When creating jewelry, I wanted to focus on pieces that can be passed down as a way to continue that tradition for people who went through the middle passage."
In doing so, she has built a leading-edge jewelry line that reflects the rich heritages and histories encompassing Africa and the diaspora.
In addition to her one-of-a-kind necklaces, pendants, bracelets, and more, she also puts meaning behind every part of her business—starting with the brand's name.
Omi means 'water' in the Yoruba language. Together with Woods it pays tribute to founder Ashley Alexis McFarlane's Jamaican-Ashanti-Maroon heritage; the word Jamaica derives from the indigenous Taino word 'Xaymaca', meaning 'land of wood and water'. Source: Martha Stewart, omiwoods.com
2. B. M. Franklin Company
Brandon Franklin's journey into the craft of hat-making started in 2009. After working for Ralph Lauren, he stumbled upon one of the oldest hat-shops in NYC, that started in 1922.
In 2015 B.M. Franklin & Co was born. Based in NYC, our classically trained artisans work with the finest fur-felts and hand-woven straws from various countries. Brandon's passion for detail and fellowship is felt through one-on-one consultations and hat-making experiences. We are dedicated to using quality tools, superb craftsmanship and the finest materials from around the world to create each and every piece. Source: bmfranklin.co
3. Chelsea Paris
“Designing shoes is an art form for me, and I love seeing my pieces come to life and going on that creative journey.” Theresa Ebagua
In 2012, Chelsea Paris designer Theresa Ebagua resigned from her tech job and leapt wholeheartedly into the footwear world. Her shoes reflect a fusion of African artistry, international influence, timeless design, and European craftsmanship.
4. Beadz by Flex
Founded in 2016, Beadz by Flex is a contemporary accessory brand based in Johannesburg, SA. The brainchild of designer and sculptor, Katlego Mashilane, Beadz by Flex mixes semi-precious gemstones and brass to create made-to-last, one-of-a-kind beaded bracelets in an array of sizes and styles.
Mashilane's creativity was discovered in his early childhood days when he found himself assisting his grandparents as they crafted Basotho hats and grass-mats during school holidays in Mapulaneng, a town situated in the heart of South Africa's Mpumalanga province.
Created by Tanzanian-American sisters Mwasi Mwitula and Rahel Mwitula Williams, ILAVA is a socially responsible lifestyle brand that uses fashion to empower women and inspires change around the world.
“...profiting for the sake of the community is our driving force.” - Rahel Mwitula Williams
ILAVA creates a culture where women will embrace the uniqueness and versatility in African clothes without feeling out of place in mainstream society.
Their latest collection, Furaha, means JOY and is designed to celebrate the versatility and promise of life. From Tanzania to the US! Winter to Summer! Cold to Hot!
“Founded by Dechel Mckillian, Galerie opened its doors in 2017 after Mckillian decided to take a step back from her whirlwind career as a wardrobe stylist for music superstars including Drake, Lil Wayne, the Blackeyed Peas, a then-unknown Nicki Minaj, and Lionel Richie. Her globetrotting lifestyle helped her see the devastating impacts of fashion and consumer waste on the environment.”
7. Beads Byaree
"Create the things you wish existed."
Bold. Unapologetic. Black. Beads byAree.
Beads Byaree is an innovative handcrafted jewelry line, hatched from of the whimsy of designer Areeayl Goodwin's imagination. Her pieces are evocative, each reflecting her ability to literally make her dreams a reality. Her work has been heralded from ESSENCE to VOGUE, and worn by Beyoncé, Tracee Ellis Ross and Mary J Blige.
8. Tree Fairfax
Our magic is stored in our hands.
“Tree Fairfax at its core is a minimalist leather goods brand, producing handcrafted timeless designs that impact how you move about the world.
Each bag is created so that you can move around lightly; carrying only what you need. Each piece is hand cut and stitched using locally sourced, high quality leather. Tree Fairfax uses leather hides with natural imperfections and incorporates them into each bag, giving you a one of a kind piece while also cutting back on waste.”
9. EE Styles
EE Styles is an Atlanta based lifestyle brand founded by Ashlee Hartsfield. Hartsfield merges the beauty of West African culture with her own personal style to create one-of-a-kind apparel and accessory items, designed in Atlanta, but handmade by talented women in Ghana.
10. Eleanor Anukam Footwear
“I’m designing for a fashion forward lady with broadened global influences with a thirst to disrupt fashion.” states founder, Eleanor Anukam. "I envision a style that is sexy, modern, and feminine."
Supported by the finest manufacturing resources in Brazil, Eleanor sources the most exquisite leathers and hardware handcrafted by master cobblers. Source: eleanoranukam.com
11. Keeyahri Footwear
Keeyahri Footwear has accomplished in two years, what others have yet to accomplish in ten.
Feathers, faux fur, pops of color, curious shapes, architectural concepts and innovative designs. Keeyahri is a shoe label focused on empowering women to embrace a fierce sense of confidence, starting from their feet and radiating up. The Keeyahri shoe collections are released in small-scale seasonal collections.
Founder and Artistic Director Keya Martin, swapped her corporate career to take up space in the fashion world. Her journey has pushed her to embrace the shoemaking process while rewriting and redefining the rules of shoe design.
"Taking an artists’ approach to contemporary design, Keya designs each shoe by manipulating fabrics and hand-selecting details that convey sensuality." Source: Hello Beautiful
14. Arlokea Jewelry
Arlokea is an ethical jewelry brand, that partners with nonprofits to give back, AND shares information about who makes each and every piece of jewelry with customers.
“You’re helping somebody in the global community with fair trade,” Joelle Cowie, founder of Arlokea.
Next to images of an upcycled leather choker or teardrop bead earrings, shoppers will find information showing exactly where the items are made and who made them. They are a member of the Fair Trade Federation and ensure that all of the artisans (a team of 6,000 females from around the world) receive not just the minimum wage, but fair wages which are generally double the minimum wage in their home countries. This ensures that basic needs- shelter, food, health care, transport and education- can easily be met by the working mothers providing for their families.
As an ethical jewelry brand founder Joelle Cowie works to ensure that each brand partnership is aligned with the company's values of fair trade, sustainability, and transparency.
15. Chen Burkett New York
Each collection is sourced and crafted with the utmost care. The brand takes pride in its unique sense of "cultural couture" which is largely influenced by the diversity of Chen Burkett's own ancestry. Her collections feature rich, vivid African prints framed in regal silhouettes that easily find themselves at home in their everyday surroundings.
From riding the subway to walking the runway, Chen Burkett New York is quotidian glam at its best: a versatile label that successfully combines comfort and convenience with style and cultural significance. Source: chenburkett.com
16. Ivory B. Bag
Ivory B. is a brand designed for the multicultural woman on the go. The brand uses authentic mud cloth from Mali, called Bògòlanfini or Bogolan fabric, to craft each page they produce.
It's signature collection, The MANDING, combines mudcloth and other materials, like leather and cotton, to exude modern African luxury and sophistication. The MANDING Collection is named after the Manding or Mandingo Tribe, direct descendants of the Malian Empire of Mali, West Africa. The Manding people live primarily in Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea and other West African countries and are known for their beautiful tradition of designing Bògòlanfini or Bogolan fabric. Bogolanfini is a handmade Malian cotton fabric traditionally dyed using a process of fermented mud that dates back to the 12th century. The MANDING Collection consists of four uniquely designed handbags of varying sizes from the Zoblazo bag, a dainty clutch purse, to the Bamako bag, a swank overnight bag. Source: ivoryb.com
Established in 2018 in Detroit, Diop is a diaspora inspired streetwear brand that mixes the traditional Ankara fabrics of West Africa with the street culture of the West. With distinctive cuts and contemporary design, Diop's collection of tops and bandanas are for those who believe fitting out is better than fitting in.
Created by Mapate Diop, an American born Nigerian and native of Detroit, the brand celebrates cultural diversity and aims to build a community its customers can be proud to be a part of. In response to the pandemic, Diop was one of the many brands designing and selling stylish face masks to address a growing safety need.
"With our mask sales, we’ve been able to donate over $80,000 to over 40 different local, regional and national relief efforts and charitable initiatives focusing on COVID-19 relief."
Source: weardiop.com, seenthemagazine.com
18. Brother Vellies
Founded by Aurora James, Brother Vellies is a handcrafted shoe and handbags brand, with items being made in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco. The brand aims to keep traditional African design practices and techniques alive while also creating and sustaining artisanal jobs.
A Toronto-native and New York City-transplant, Creative Director and Founder Aurora James amassed an impressive resume of fashion industry experience prior to starting Brother Vellies. Her background in fashion, journalism, art, music, photography, and horticulture joins a forever-passion for artisanship, design, and humanitarianism to create truly one-of-a-kind pieces that will remain in your wardrobe forever. Source: Brothervellies.com
19. Studio 189
Studio One Eighty Nine co-founded by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah, is an artisan produced fashion lifestyle brand and social enterprise that has recently won the prestigious CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative for Sustainability. The brand is made in Africa and produces African and African-inspired content and clothing.
The brand currently operates a store in Accra (Ghana), an ecommerce site, a manufacturing facility in Accra, and supports various community led projects in Africa and in the USA. Studio 189 works with artisanal communities that specialize in various traditional craftsmanship techniques including natural plant based dye indigo, hand-batik, kente weaving and more.
Studio One Eighty Nine's story is rooted in the materials they use. The brand focuses on working with sustainable natural fibers such as organic cotton that is grown in Burkina Faso and is GOTS certified and government certified. They cotton they use is grown in Ghana, as is the dried grass. Silk items are sourced from Italy and the USA. The brand also uses recycled fabrics such as recycled cotton and recycled glass. Technology also plays a role, as the brand uses fabrics made out of new tech such as pineapple pinatex leather, which contains pineapple fibers, and tencel fabric made out of wood.
Studio 189 focuses on empowerment, creating jobs and supporting education and skills training and partners with organizations such as the United Nations ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, NYU Stern School of Business and has collaborated with brands including Lexus. EDUN (LVMH), Fendi, Nike, Opening Ceremony, The Surf Lodge, Okay Africa and Yoox Net a Porter. Source: studiooneeightynine.com
20. Zou Xou
Katherine Theobalds created and founded the brand Zou Xou in NYC. Inspired by the artistry of local Argentinian shoe design, Katherine cultivated her vision for fashion footwear and launched Zou Xou in 2015. It is an extension of her unique and laid back style, redefined and elevated for the modern day woman. Zou Xou's name is inspired by a character that the actress Josephine Baker played in the 1930s.
At the core of Zou Xou beliefs is that handmade objects have value because they connect the past to the present through skill acquired by generations of know-how. Continuing to make things by hand preserves those skills for future generations.
The brand also believes it is important to recognize the connection to another human being that objects have. Everything that is purchase has an impact on another human being somewhere, and the impact should be a positive one.
For these reasons, all of Zou Xou shoes are made by hand in small batches with attention to craftsmanship in an effort to make fewer, but better fashion objects. Ones that will spark joy, inspire confidence and last longer. Consuming less lowers our carbon footprint and raises the bar for large fashion manufacturers. The brand pays a fair wage because the labor that goes into each pair is a skill that took the person who made it years to perfect, and that is not to be undervalued. Source: localecletic.com