When designer Anifa Mvuemba debuted her virtual, 3D fashion show for Hanifa during the COVID-19 pandemic, she showcased her Congolese culture and distinct designs while redefining how we showcase fashion — using invisible models that were much curvier than what we typically see on the runway.
MAC knows a good ambassador when they see one, most recently Teyana Taylor, and they are not alone. In fact, a 2017 Nielsen study found that Black women were seen as leaders who set the pulse around the world for fashion and other trends.
Even with studies that show that Black women create trends in music, fashion and tech, we do not always reap monetary the benefits of #BlackGirlMagic. In fact, Black people are underrepresented in all creative industries including high wage careers in fashion, music production, graphic design and photography. Latinos are also underrepresented.
To date, Rihanna is the first and only Black woman to lead a luxury fashion house. As we approach a virtual New York Fashion Week and redesign upcoming shows to accommodate social distancing, we must reimagine how Black women can lead the fashion industry. Here are two ways we can all contribute to this goal:
Support Black Designers who are Committed to Giving Back
We must continue to support and sustain designers that are strategically working to give back to our community. If you are a consumer, support of Black designers, either via purchases or sharing their stories on the internet are powerful demonstrations of support. b michael and Pyer Moss have regularly created opportunities for young people. b michael speaks with students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) around the country and is also active in a number of nonprofits that support young, low-income, African-American and Latino youth who are passionate about the arts. Pyer Moss’ fashion shows have consistently invited and involved young people to experience their ground-breaking shows. Both brands have committed to messages of uplift and pride within the Black community.
If you don’t have the coins for these luxury brands, don’t fret. You don’t have to be Beyonce to support Black designers. You’re (free) voice matters.
Develop Talent in Partnership with Organizations with Expertise
Creative companies should work in partnership with organizations that support Black youth who are interested in creative careers to change hiring practices and to create enhanced internships and leadership pipelines. If you are in fashion or another creative field, you should work to build stronger and more diverse pipelines of talent into your organization. According to a study from Rice University, researchers found that arts experiences, including those in fashion, “resulted in reductions in disciplinary infractions, increases in compassion for others, and improvements in writing.” Partner with organizations to design internships for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or from local nonprofits that connect students to career development opportunities. Pathways to Creative Industries works with designers, educators, business leaders, fashion, music, and tech executives, to create access to opportunities in creative fields. Although many Black students say they are interested in arts-based careers, there are often many barriers to gaining access to fashion, music and design. Pathways to Creative Industries creates solutions and builds better systems for youth to enter into careers they care about and may lead to a family-sustaining wage.
If we can reimagine in-person runway shows and the way we experience Fashion Week during a global pandemic, surely we can work towards a system where Black people, including Black women not only set trends, but lead the way. Let’s ensure that the next generation of leaders reflects the population of the Black trendsetters around the country and around the world.
Dr. Joiselle Cunningham is CEO of Pathways to Creative Industries and Senior Advisor at CareerWise NY, under the NYC CEO Jobs Council. Dr. Cunningham previously served in the Obama Administration and received her doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.