Is Fashion Really Moving Forward? (Part II)

Is Fashion Really Moving Forward? (Part II)

A Conversation with Six Black Fashion Design Students

Continuing our discussion with six black design students from FIT, we explore their decisions in pursuing careers in fashion, statements made through design and comments regarding the use of cultural symbols on the runway. Although the fashion industry has made some strides toward racial inclusivity, Blush is not the first publication which has observed that there is still a lot more to be done regarding diversity.  

Recently the CFDA partnered with Google to produce a forum titled “Black Fashion Founders,” where a panel discussed the effects of social media on black fashion designers, diversity on runway, pages of magazines, and nourishing of black talent at fashion schools including FIT and Parsons.

As the fashion industry continues to expand its awareness about the need for more black designers, we take a look at some of the top black designers and creatives who are revolutionizing fashion and style, helping to pave the way for more to come. Virgil Abloh, Creative Director at Off-White has been one to watch as he brings street style to the forefront of runways. Olivier Rousteing has been the Creative Director of Balmain since 2009 and has increased revenue for both menswear and womenswear collections as well as heightening Balmain’s popularity despite initially receiving a rough welcome as minority at the top of a Parisian brand. Other designers like Shayne Oliver, Laquan Smith, and Heron Preston are a few who have also found success within their brands. Even with a handful of black designers rising to the top, the question still lingers: why aren’t there more designers of color at the forefront?”  

Ariana Kingwood @ariana.ava/@ariana.ava.ny

Ariana is a 19-year-old from Peekskill, NY and a sophomore in Fashion Design. Her work is inspired mainly by architecture and feeling confident. Being biracial, Ariana has always felt unsure of where she fits in and has since owned her individuality, seeing it now as a motivating force not only with designing but also in her personal life. Her debut Spring 2018 collection features high-end streetwear unisex pieces, which she describes as  “edgy and chic” which allow the wearer to feel confident.

Blush: When and why did you decide to pursue a degree in Fashion Design?

Ariana: Well, my mom actually worked in the fashion industry for a while, so as a child I always grew up around that. But being who I am and trying to rebel and prove myself, I tried to gear away from it. Then one day my mom asked me, “If you could do something and be successful and wealthy from it, without looking at what people would consider a good job- if you could get paid for what you love to do, what would you do?” That actually stuck with me. I had to sit there for a moment and think, “What do I like doing?” Well, I like getting dressed in the morning, going thrifting, putting together outfits, cutting things up and making something new…that’s how I realized this is what I wanted to do to best express myself.

B: Has your family been supportive in your choice to pursue this field?

A: My family is super supportive of me but my mom paved the way for that to happen. My mom had to pay her way through college because she did not have a lot of support from my family, to them fashion was looked at as a hobby and not a career. When she became successful working at companies such as Michael Simon, where they produced high-end sweaters, and now having her own business making coasters, she proved herself and they began to take her more seriously.

B: What are the most influential sources of inspiration behind your garments?

A: I get a lot of inspiration from structure and architecture. I’m really into lines, clean lines and chaotic lines as well as crisscrossing. A lot of industry buildings inspire me, even the insides of these buildings, looking at the piping and things like that.

B: How do you feel about the recent prevalence of cultural appropriation in fashion?

A: I don’t even think it’s recent. I think it’s been going on for so long. I think recently there have been celebrities who are praised for coming up with all these creative ideas when really they’re basically just stealing black culture and the things we’ve been doing for years and our ancestors have been doing. It is really frustrating because it’s like when a black person does it, it’s almost looked down upon or it’s seen as “ratchet” but then if someone else of a different culture does it, it’s seen as stylish, trendy or even “cool.” So that’s the frustrating part about it, we can’t truly be ourselves. I have no problem with everyone dressing a certain way or having African or black culture influencing other cultures, but I feel like we should not only get credit for it but we should also be allowed to express ourselves in that way without being looked down upon. I think that’s mostly the issue.

Nico Achee @nico_achee

19-year-old Nico is a second year Fashion Design student and is originally from Maplewood, New Jersey. Nico aims to tell a story through his designs; he explores his diverse ethnic background and incorporates his Asian heritage in his clothing. He occasionally includes hidden messages in his functional pieces inspired by military uniforms.

Blush: When and why did you pursue a degree in Fashion Design?

Nico: Designers who are storytellers such as Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, and Rei Kawakubo really inspired me. In high school I began to experiment and started creating t-shirts and long sleeve baseball jerseys. I started customizing sneakers, taking Air Jordans from people and customizing the paint on the sides of the sneakers and selling them. It became the perfect output for me to do something creative and tell a story.

B:  Do you consider your garments to be political?

N: No, I hate politics. [Laughs] I wouldn’t say my garments are political. I would say it’s more personal so that it can relate to a younger audience.

B: How do you feel about the recent prevalence of cultural appropriation in fashion?

N: Well, I come from a really diverse family. I wish that people would really try to understand each other’s cultures so we could get to know each other better so we could then integrate versus doing things like appropriating someone else’s culture. Like, for example, a lot of people take Japanese characters and just put them on T-shirts and that was like an aesthetic or something. A long time ago people would just wear T-shirts with Japanese words on it and they didn’t even understand what it meant and that’s appropriating culture. They had something with Jeremy Lin recently in which he had dreadlocks and someone called him out for it and the guy had Japanese character tattoos on his arm and he didn’t even know what it meant or something like that.

Taylor Byron @_trawhh

25-year-old Taylor is from New Windsor, NY. She is in her third year majoring in Fashion Design. Finding most of her inspiration from graffiti, Taylor uses some of her designs to make political statements exploring racial discrimination and diversity. One of the biggest achievements of her career so far was a display of her work in the 2017 FIT AAS ‘Breaking Boundaries’ exhibit which showed her serious dedication, artistry and love of design.

Blush: When and why did you decide to pursue a degree in Fashion Design?

Taylor: After getting an Associates in Business Management, I realized I did not want to do that for the rest of my life and then decided I would pursue fashion, which has always been a dream of mine. My mother is a seamstress and her and my family has supported me along the way.

B: Do you consider your garments to be political statements?

T: Sometimes, yes. The garment [featured]* was a political statement and it was about diversity and all the groups of people that have been discriminated against. It’s my little statement to the world to bring attention to it because it’s an issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention but it’s something that affects our day-to-day lives.

*The designer’s statement to the world which aims bring awareness to those who have faced police brutality due to racial discrimination. She believes that it is an issue that doesn’t enough attention, yet has a huge impact on communities.

B: Why do you feel there is such a lack of diversity in designers, specifically black designers?

T: I feel that mostly everybody wants to follow the European way of designing and what European designers do, so it doesn’t leave much room for everybody else and specifically black designers. For instance, the different factors of our heritage and culture that some incorporate into their design aesthetic, from the various forms of colors, patterns to the untapped ways of styling an outfit that may be different than the European standards.

B: How do you feel about the recent prevalence of cultural appropriation in fashion today?

T: It’s kind of uncomfortable in certain aspects. Sometimes you see things on the runway and all of a sudden it’s this big thing and it’s like, wait… we got a whole bunch of backlash for this and now everybody is taking it and twisting it around and making it something new. This is something I have dealt with in my day-to-day life. So it’s uncomfortable. It hasn’t gone anywhere so it’s either you can sit there and watch it happen or you can do something about it. So as a black designer I don’t want to just sit and watch it, I want to do something about it instead.


Producer Jewelle Trotman Creative Direction/Story by Sean Rodriguez 

Interviews by Brinley Knopf & Turandot Yuan

Designers featured Nico Achee, Taylor Byron, and
Ariana Kingwood

Photographer Heather Leigh Cullum

Makeup Artists Jazmin Thomas, Aniyah Smith, and Taylor Ryan

Hair Stylist Melissa Papillon

Models Salome Brown, Bintou Camara, Tracey Clayton,
Helena Koudou, Troy Pollidore (Red Model Management), Semaje Wicker

Videographers Dylan Stephens & Gabbie Caberto

Video Editor Nestor Menjivar

Production Assistant Kayla Nicholson-Buckham

Did you miss Part I? Click below!

Is Fashion Really Moving Forward? (Part I)

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