Black History Month: Young Icons in the Fashion Industry

Black History Month: Young Icons in the Fashion Industry

Natalie Lambrelli


This Black History Month, let’s take a look at five of fashion’s most impactful young Black designers!


Aurora James

Aurora James is the Creative Director and Founder of Brother Vellies, a luxury accessory brand that utilizes “traditional [and sustainable] African design practices” and supports the work of the artisans who hand make all of their pieces. She works with “artisans all around the world who have been historically excluded from participating in fashion”, especially within the luxury sector. In doing so, James calls attention to a false yet prevalent and subconscious belief that fashion’s most prolific couturiers reside exclusively in European countries.

Described by CBS as a “fashion industry disruptor”, James is also the founder of The Fifteen Percent Pledge, an organization that aims to keep companies accountable for promises of “advanc[ing] racial equity.” It asks businesses “to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands” to reflect the fact that Black people comprise 15% of the U.S. population. The organization’s website encourages visitors to explore its extensive database of Black-owned brands across various industries, from Beauty and Fashion to Publishing and Technology. To date, twenty-nine companies have signed the Pledge, including Vogue U.S., Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Sephora.

Aurora James’ memoir, Wildflower, delves into her experience as a Canadian-Ghanian and its influence on her career journey.


Solange Knowles wearing Brother Vellies at the 2018 Met Gala beside Aurora James.


Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing the infamous “Tax the Rich” dress to the 2021 Met Gala beside Aurora James.


Torishéju Dumi

Torishéju Dumi heads the fashion label TORISHÉJU. Dumi’s work is heavily inspired by her Nigerian-Brazilian heritage, Catholic faith, and personal interests in History, Cultural Anthropology, in addition to 19th century décor and art.

Dumi attended the prestigious, globally-ranked Central Saint Martins Fashion School for both her Undergraduate and Masters degrees. She graduated a mere three years ago (in 2021), having received the Alexander McQueen-founded Sarabande scholarship. Just one year later, Dumi was also a winner of the 2022 Black British Artist Grant.

Fashion Editor Gabriella Karefta-Johnson encouraged Dumi to do a show at Paris Fashion Week, after releasing her first ever collection the year prior. Titled Fire on the Mountain (and opened by Naomi Campbell), the show paid homage to Dumi’s British-Nigerian heritage. It featured “apronlike silhouettes” and “loose, unfussy draping” (inspired by Nigerian lappa pieces) in “blazers and overcoats.” The show was hugely successful and landed Dumi her first retail space in Dover Street Market stores.


Zendaya wearing a Torishéju set to the Mexico premiere of Dune: Part Two, February 2024.


Naomi Campbell opening Torishéju Dumi’s first Paris Fashion Week show, October 2023.


Tracy Reese

Tracy Reese’s feminine designs are complimented by bright colors and intricate patterns. She launched her namesake brand in 1998 and achieved commercial success, securing partnerships with luxury retail giants such as Barney’s and Neiman Marcus.

Reese’s newest project is Hope for Flowers, a “responsibly designed and produced collection” manufactured by “local artisans in Detroit” using sustainable fabrics. The brand aims to reduce overproduction by utilizing digital prints, small batch production, responsible sourcing, and material waste solutions.

In addition, Reese is on the Board of Directors of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the NEST Artisan Guild, College for Creative Studies Fashion Accessories Design Program, the Turnaround Arts program, and the Detroit-based Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center.


Michelle Obama wearing Tracy Reese to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.


Tracee Ellis Ross wearing Tracy Reese to Spring Fashion Week, 2015.


Telfar Clemens

After graduating from Pace University in 2005, Telfar Clemens launched his namesake brand. It took a decade for the brand to gain notoriety, teaching Clemens the value of independence in production and investment; TELFAR does its own fulfillment, and often holds fashion shows off-season and in non-traditional locations. Clemens rejects the notion that luxury fashion necessitates exclusivity and a lofty price tag. In fact, the brand’s slogan is “It’s not for you- it’s for everyone.” TELFAR utilizes a dynamic pricing model, called TELFAR Live Price, which lowers the price of the most popular items.

TELFAR alters basics, incorporating “unisex designs with principles of comfortable sportswear and ‘simplexity.’” However, the brand is most known for their signature Shopping tote bags. They instituted the inclusive Bag Security Program, which allows customers to pre-order the TELFAR Shopping bag, ensuring that stock will not run out and pressure customers to purchase from re-sellers at higher prices.

Clemens has been awarded by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum for his accomplishments in fashion and accessories design.


Bella Hadid styling the TELFAR Shopping Bag with streetwear, 2020.


Oprah Winfrey showcasing the TELFAR Shopping Bag as “one of her favorite things”, 2020.


Olivier Rousteing

At only 25 years old, Olivier Rousteing became Balmain’s Creative Director. At that time, he was the youngest person to occupy that role “in Paris since Yves Saint Laurent” and one of the first Black designers to do so.

Rousteing attended Paris’ École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode. He started his career at Roberto Cavalli, where he headed the Women’s Ready-to-Wear collection. He joined Balmain in the same role before he took over Christophe Decarnin’s position as Creative Director.

Rousteing maintained the fashion house’s specialty for edgy, ultra-feminine couture. At the same time, he harnessed the power of social media and celebrity ambassadors as tools to increase Balmain’s prevalence in popular culture, long before it was the industry standard. Initially, this was controversial and threatened his credibility as a young Black designer. However, Rousteing’s ability to be forward-thinking has firmly established himself as one of fashion’s most highly-esteemed designers and Balmain as one of the most successful ateliers.


Beyoncé wearing a piece from the Balmain X Beyoncé collaboration while headlining Coachella, 2018.


Kim Kardashian wearing a Balmain dress for her Bachelorette party in 2014.

Shop Repurpose is proud to educate and empower young talent in the fashion industry through our RENEW Workforce Development program and mentorship sessions. Click here to learn more about the Shop Repurpose mission!

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