10 BIPOC-Owned Fashion Houses You Need to Know
Despite the endless talent of Black, indigenous, and designers of color, they are severely underrepresented on runways, red carpets, magazine spreads, movies, and more.
The irony is, Black, brown, and indigenous cultures are often the ones being borrowed from to create many of the trends we see translated across mediums, which are then sold by major retailers, and often fall into what we perceive as “cool,” or “in style.” We see this in how streetwear and 'Sneakerhead' culture has helped brands like Balenciaga to become purveyors of cool, and in how fashion mavens, like Dapper Dan, have shown that what was considered “ghetto culture” for years in high-fashion circles, is and always has been, Avant-garde Logomania.
According to Law Roach and Jason Bolden, stylists to a bevy of A-list stars, like Celine Dion, Ariana Grande, Zendaya, Mary J. Blige, Yara Shahidi, Ava DuVernay, and Alicia Keys, the lack of representation in BIPOC designers, stylists, and other industry talent persists due to a mixture of gatekeeping, elitism and implicit bias.
In a video that garnered over 135,000 views and received coverage by media outlets from Today to Teen Vogue, Roach and Bolden addressed the elephant in the room within an industry where the majority of decision makers are white, and routinely exclude Black, brown, and indigenous talent in high-power jobs, i.e. covers, movie sets, and red carpets, which pay large sums of cash. The pair also responded to comments made by WWD writer, Booth Moore, whose coverage of 2021’s Golden Globes asked, “where were the Black designers?”
Law and Roach discussed how Moore’s comments affected them, with Bolden pointing out, “Booth’s article should’ve stated how Black culture has lifted and brought back Hollywood, [but instead], she offered her impression of how we need to perform as [Black people], and decided to put the weight of the red carpet back on Black women.”
As Bolden pointed out, WWD and major publications skipped out on a huge opportunity, not only to hand the mic to Black, brown, and indigenous designers and industry talents, but also, to put a range of BIPOC designers in front of consumers eager to discover fashion's newest creators.
But luckily, we’re stepping in to do just that with a list of ‘10 BIPOC Fashion Houses You Need To Know.’
1. Bianca Saunders, a Briton with West Indian heritage, creating menswear.
A new but mega-accomplished talent in the industry, Saunders has already appeared on Forbes’ 2020 30 Under 30 List, won the British Fashion Council’s NewGen Prize, and shown in four London Fashion Week seasons.
A 2017 graduate of the Royal College Of Art, her work has been covered by countless major publications and has been lauded both for its celebration of Black culture and its gender-bending aesthetic, creating much-needed conversations around contemporary masculinity. But, what does that actually mean in terms of Saunders’ creations? Close your eyes and visualize men in cinched silk shorts, sheer deconstructed trench coats, clingy T-shirts, and knitted crop tops.
2. Evan Ducharme, a Vancouver-based designer of Métis heritage.
Ducharme, who comes from a long line of dressmakers, launched his brand in 2012 after attending Vancouver’s Visual College of Art and Design. Since then, he has showcased his work during Vancouver and Toronto’s Indigenous Fashion Weeks. Ducharme often draws inspiration for his lines from his indigenous background, as he did for his collection Atavism, which celebrates his Métis practices as well as his family’s history.
For one of the prints in Atavism, he utilized a census document, incorrectly listing his great-grandfather ‘French racial origin’, which was then scratched out and replaced with “Indian tribal origin.”
3. Goom Heo, a South Korean, menswear designer based in London.
Unlike many designers, Heo switched from creating womenswear to menswear while studying at Central Saint Martins in London. Typically, this is viewed as a major shift, but Heo has been vocal about her ‘why’ for designing clothing being facilitating personal expression, not gender. Heo fails to disappoint, with fashion critics and street style stars alike applauding her imaginative incorporation of geometric patterns, a mixture of fabrics, and eye-catching accessories.
4. Felisha Noel, a Brooklyn-based womenswear designer, of Grenadian ancestry.
Noel has had many career highlights including dressing Michelle Obama, showing at NYFW and Harlem’s Fashion Row, collaborating with Nike, and being featured in Vogue Italia. She started her career at 19 when she opened a vintage store in Brooklyn, which is now Fe Noel’s brick and mortar store. Noel draws on her Grenadian background for her ready-to-wear collections, consisting of vibrant colors, upbeat prints, and many ultra-feminine silhouettes.
5. Rhuigi Villaseñor, the Los-Angeles-based, Filipino, Founder of Rhude.
Ever since Villaseñor started Rhude in 2013, his brand has been a magnet to A-list celebrities. From rappers, athletes, sneakerheads, and models, Rhude has grown a cult following, and for the past two years, has had a slot on Paris Fashion Week’s schedule. His beginnings were far less fabulous, as he recounts not having the money to complete the job for Kendrick Lamar, leading Lamar to send him $100,000 upfront, which, understandably, changed his life completely.
Villaseñor has yet to look back, routinely selling out virtually everything he creates–sneakers, T-shirts, joggers, and now, even pieces for home, including pool tables adorned in Rhude prints.
6. Anifa Mvuemba, the Founder of Hanifa, bearing Congolese origins.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mvuemba’s runway debut made history as the first 3D, virtual fashion show. After watching invisible models don her Pink Label Congo line, countless industry voices called her show a “cultural reset.” On the inspiration behind her nine-year-old brand, Mvuemba describes Hanifa as, “a woman’s journey to a life without limits...utilizing captivating designs, bold colors and unique textures, our feminine designs illuminate natural curves.”
7. Robert Wun, the Founder and Creative Director of his eponymous, London-based brand, born in Hong Kong.
At a glance, Wun’s flowy creations give the impression that the wearer could be preparing to take flight. Given the ease with which he does this, it’s easy to see why he was commissioned by the Royal Ballet for in 2016. His use of dramatic cuts, draping and fabrics evokes several emotions, but a sense of freedom is apparent. Wun creates his own rules with his designs, and he has been recognized for it, having received a nomination for the International Woolmark Prize in 2016.
8. Oluwole Olosunde, a New Yorker with Nigerian roots and Creator of Against Medical Advice.
It’s safe to say that Olosunde is unlike any of his designer peers. By day, he’s dedicated to his craft, but by night, Olosunde puts on his scrubs and heads to the emergency room, where he works as a nurse. Not only does this bring an interesting perspective to his work, it helps him to fund his line, which already has fans, including British rapper, Skepta.
While the pandemic has dampened some of Olosunde’s plans for Against Medical Advice, it has given him inspiration, like his “pandemic pack,” consisting of loose-fitting shorts that depict thermal images of people and their temperatures.
9. Charaf Tajer, a Parisian of Moroccan descent, and Founder of London-based, menswear brand, CASABLANCA.
Like countless designers of color, Tajer is self-taught and started young, though not necessarily as a designer. He once served as a consultant to Supreme, as Art Director of Paris’ Le Pompon, and even started his own creative agency. Nonetheless, his work led him to launch CASABLANCA in 2018, a feat that he describes as his “life-long dream.” His undeniable, creative eye helped him to get collaborations with fashion’s fan favorites, including Pigalle, Pain Au ChoKolat and Off White.
10. Jason Rembert, Creator of Alietté NY, of Black-American descent.
An outlier in the industry in many ways, Rembert took ‘the path less traveled’ before launching his hugely successful career in fashion. Though he dreamt of studying at FIT, he accepted a full-ride scholarship at Hofstra to study mathematics.
Rembert continued to follow his love of fashion as a student, and landed an unpaid internship at Elle, which catapulted him onto the scene. Soon after, he worked as a stylist, before taking the big leap to design, and the rest is history. Now, Rembert works with A-list clients, from Issa Rae, who he dressed for the CFDA Awards, to Zendaya, who appeared in his creations in her latest project, Malcolm and Marie.
The designers on this list are just a few of many BIPOC talents in fashion, proving the points made by stylists Jason Bolden, and Law Roach a couple of weeks ago: not only is the talent there, they’re ahead of the curve in how they're telling their stories, being inclusive in models they cast, and even in how they're producing and selling their garments, and traditional fashion houses are taking note.
But, even if fashion never frees itself from operating from the confines of exclusivity and white supremacy, new, diverse talent will continue finding ways to open its adorned doors.