By Veselina Grassi
Since 1976, every president in the U.S. has officially designated February as Black History Month. This is an annual recognition of the achievements and rich cultural heritage of African Americans, and their central role in our history and society. As part of our Black History Month celebration at Repurpose, we want to raise awareness about the incredible impact that the black community has had on fashion. Black designers and models have been leading, innovating, and transforming fashion through their creativity, talent, and strength, while paving the way for black people and other people of color in the industry. In this week’s article, we celebrate five black designers who have made a strong impact on the fashion industry.
1. Aurora James
Photo of her store, Brother Vellies, in Greenpoint Brooklyn. By Emily Andrews.
Aurora James is the Founder and Creative Director of the luxury accessories brand Brother Vellies. The brand incorporates traditional African design practices and techniques, resulting in truly unique handmade pieces produced across the globe. In June 2020, Aurora founded The Fifteen Percent Pledge, an initiative urging major retailers to commit 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. During the first year, more than two dozen corporations committed to The Fifteen Percent Pledge.
2. Kerby Jean-Raymond
Pyer Moss runway show for NY Fashion Week 2018. Photo by John Lamparski; Credit: Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Kerby Jean-Raymond founded Pyer Moss in 2013. He considers the brand to be an “art project”, which leverages the fashion platform to challenge social narratives and encourage dialogue. Blending street style and high fashion, the brand continuously re-defines itself with collections incorporating storytelling, activism, and social commentary. In 2021, Kerby Jean-Raymond launched the “Wat U Iz” collection, which features everyday objects, such as a bicycle, chessboard, and refrigerator, created by Black inventors. The collection celebrates Black inventors and shows an approach to fashion that is both thoughtful and disruptive.
3. Stephen Burrows
Pictured: Stephen Burrows’ collection for Henri Bendel. Photo by Charles Tracey, Central Park in 1970.
Stephen Burrows is one of the most talented and celebrated American designers in modern history. A graduate of FIT, his creative style is strongly influenced by art, music, dance, and the female form. He participated in the “Battle of Versailles” in France in 1973 and is the winner of the 2014 André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement award as well as the Pratt Institute Fashion Lifetime Achievement Award. Stephen Burrows is known for his imaginative combinations of bold color designs, and for bringing African American models to the fashion runway
4. Kiki Kitty
Kiki Kitty at the 2016 K. Milele Spring show: Everlasting Sun during NY Fashion Week. September 8, 2016. Photo found on riseartdesign.com.
Kiki Kitty, whose full name is Kianga Peterson, is the creator of K. Milele, a luxury resort wear collection. Inspired by art, fashion, and travel, the brand is a vibrant collection of unique and stylish pieces for those who love to travel the world. Kiki attended FIT, where she was recruited as a designer at FUBU and then became the creative director for FUBU Ladies. Over the years, Kiki has also worked on collections and creative projects for Sean Combs, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Tommy Hilfiger, and Rihanna.
5. Charles Harbison
Image via https://harbison.studio/
Charles Harbison designs ethically sustainable fashion with black, female, queer and marginalized identities at the heart of everything he does. Charles began his womenswear fashion career designing for Michael Kors, Luca Luca, and Billy Reid. In 2013, he launched his own collection, Harbison, which explores the designer’s central themes of ease, modernity, culture, gender, and sustainability. Strongly focused on sustainability, Harbison collaborated with Banana Republic to launch a limited-edition sustainable collection, made possible by Harlem’s Fashion Row. The matriarchs in his life, confident and strong Black women, are the inspiration behind this collection. The colorful designs in the collection are size-inclusive, and are made with organic and natural materials, as well as limited amounts of water during the production process.