The NYFW Schedule Is Up, But Where Are The Black Women Designers?

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There has been a lot of talk about Jeremy Scott’s decision to ditch the upcoming season of New York Fashion Week (NYFW)…probably because he was who a lot of attendees wanted to see. Me included.

If you don’t know who he is, check his receipts. Jeremy Scott has dressed celebrities from Lizzo and Madonna to Kanye West and Offset. Known as the people’s designer, he is the creative director for Moschino and his streetwear tends to carry an underlying political message while wrapped in current pop culture trends.

His departure from fashion week in February means something. Opting out signifies looming problems within the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and its NYFW schedule.

But to be honest, the CFDA’s problems didn’t start there.  We should have been talking about the NYFW schedule weeks ago.

Since the schedule was first released, there has been an even more glaring issue that I can’t ignore: The absence of Black women. As a fashion lover and frequent NYFW attendee, I’ve checked the list more than once looking for my melanin sisters.

Out of the current 79 designers, fashion houses, and collections listed, there are only three Black women on the official schedule: tennis champion and mompreneur Serena Williams, millennial newcomer Tia Adeola, and Caribbean couture creator Felisha Noel. That’s less than 4%.

While I am ready to cheer these sisters on – and can’t wait to see what #blackgirlmagic they put on the runway – I can’t help but question why aren’t there more of us?

Despite what some critics say, NYFW still holds weight in the fashion and entertainment industry. Without question, I look forward to this patterned pomp and circumstance every 6 months, every year.

Showing at fashion week can make or break your career. There are several Black women designers worthy of this coveted opportunity. So why aren’t more showing in February? Why aren’t more on the list?

It can’t be a matter of not having enough Black women designers, because a five second search on Google, or of past fashion week schedules, for that matter, will show how many fabulous Black women there are creating art through clothes. A small class in “Tracie Ellis Ross” will do this, too. From Cushnie to Shanel Campbell, some of her top fashion moments were created by Black women.

The flexibility of the schedule also can’t be an issue. The CFDA’s NYFW schedule changes regularly and can be updated within days of the start. I’ve walked the halls of Spring Studios where many shows take place. There is ample gallery space and opportunities – trust me they have room. Periodt.

And, we know interest is not the problem. Attendees have been calling for more diversity in NYFW and the greater fashion industry for a while. These calls sometimes seem to fall on deaf ears, however. Lindsay Peoples Wagner, one of the only Black women editor in chiefs of a major mainstream fashion magazine, touched on this in a brilliant The Cut article in August 2018 where she discussed being “everywhere and nowhere” at the same time.

Stylish strides have been made, but we know there is a long way to go.

Similar to the reason we fight back against the misuse of our bodies and exploitation of our culture – recent examples include letters from a historically Black fraternity on polo pants and terrible cornrow wigs donned at Paris Fashion Week – we must continue the conversation about the right to take up space in this important industry.  It is obvious that decisions are being made without Black women at the table.

As Peoples Wagner noted, “Black people are rarely to be found in positions of power.” It is time for that to change.

The lack of Black women on the official NYFW schedule is unacceptable in 2020 and frankly rude AF. Black women are integral to the lasting success of NYFW – not just this season, but every season. We have and continue to contribute much to the fashion industry from designers and models to stylists, fashion writers, and influencers.

In a society that seems to be moving toward more diversity in almost every major field and industry, I urge leaders of the CFDA to pay attention.

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