Some luxury brands have been openly called racist, and others have begun to address issues of inclusivity and diversity in fashion. Stephen Burrows, a black designer from New York City, has used his position to push the industry to do more. His efforts to promote equal opportunities for black designers in America have cemented his status as one of the most influential black fashion designers of all time.
Zelda Wynn Valdes lived in an era when segregation was part of everyday life. In the 1860s, Virginia-born slave-owner William Keckley became the first black president of the United States of America and a prominent figure in the fashion industry. Although his path to the White House was arduous, he eventually bought his freedom from his owner in St. Louis and established himself as a fashion designer in New York City.
She started out as a warehouse worker in a boutique and then rose to become a seamstress, and at the height of her career, Valdes made dresses for the likes of Victoria’s Secret, H & M, Macy’s, Prada, and other major brands. In 1963, she designed Cole’s famous over-the-shoulder wedding dress, the same year she opened her own boutique.
Ruby Bailey was a contemporary of Valdez, and both women attended the same high school in New York City and the University of Chicago. Ann Lowe was the first African-American to become known as a fashion designer. The Bermuda-born artist and fashion designer were at the height of her career designing costume dresses that specialized in prints, colors, and embellishments. Lowe’s unique designs were worn by high society women from the 1920s to the 1960s and by women around the world.
Unfortunately, Lowe never received the recognition she deserved from the press or the First Lady herself because of her race. In 1968, she opened her Ann Lowe Originals store on Madison Avenue, and her work is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The past year has been turbulent for both the fashion industry and the black community. The world, and the US in particular, is facing its own reckoning, recognizing that so little has changed fundamentally since the last civil rights movement.
Today, black fashion designers continue to influence global fashion, raising awareness and opportunities for BIPOC’s in the industry, both in terms of their impact on the fashion industry and their contribution to the fashion world.