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brandsTuesday, 23 February 2021

Black History Month 2021: Celebrating Black Style

US Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, has been celebrated in the US and Canada between February 1st and March 1st since 1976. Since then, other countries have designated their own Black History Months — including the UK, who hold it during October. 

 

The month-long American holiday was born out of ‘Negro History Week’ and today continues to be a poignant period dedicated to acknowledging, commemorating and celebrating the hard work, sacrifices and achievements made by Black people all over the country. 

 

It also marks a moment to hold up a mirror to the ways in which we uphold racial injustices — in both the personal and the public spheres. Of course, the fashion world is no exception to this and, although groups like Black in Fashion Council now exist, there is still a long way to go in terms of representation and inclusivity. 

 

Within the last year, we’ve seen the crucial role fashion can play in supporting Black-owned clothing brands, paying homage to historical figures and proving a political point. You only have to look as far as VP Kamala Harris in power trouser suits, pearls and a simple pair of Converse to unpack the power of appearance. Fashion, though sometimes frivolous, has proven itself to be a force for change.

 

We’ve talked to Black creators from our community about commemorating Black culture and sharing their go-to Black fashion designers — as well as their favorite ways to spread Black joy. With the month already in full swing, it’s time to hear from the experts about what influences their style.

Kia Marie wears Apparis vegan leather trench, and Bottega Veneta bag and boots.

 

Kia Marie @thenotoriouskia
Sustainable Content Creator & Stylist

 

Hey Kia, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you?

I honor Black history every month, not just during Black History Month. Blackness is a part of my identity and the stories I tell. Black history is American history and should be celebrated every day. During Black History Month however, I’m much more intentional with what I share. I use this time to really highlight and elevate Black voices, our Black heroes and Black businesses.

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

My family first and foremost — they are the source of my joy. Covid-19 has made it hard to see them as often but I always take time out of my day to spend time with them via FaceTime. Tumblr is also a go-to source for Black joy. My friend Josef has an amazing Tumblr page dedicated to Blackness and it brings me so much joy, nostalgia and inspiration (https://josefadamu.tumblr.com/). 

 

Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion?

I never saw myself having a career in fashion. I didn’t know anybody that was into fashion or had a career in it. This is the reason representation and access is so important. If you see, you can believe it. I’ve always had my own style but it wasn’t until I graduated from college that my love for fashion really blossomed. 

 

What advice would you give to those who encounter racial bias on their journey?

Without any formal training in fashion it was hard to get in the door at some of these brands — even retail was hard. So rather than waiting for someone to give me an opportunity, I created my own. I started with a style blog in 2009, then I started doing closet styling the same year. In 2011 I started my YouTube channel and it’s been history ever since. My advice for those who encounter any type of bias is to understand what’s for you will always be for you. Keep fighting for your dreams no matter who’s in your way. If there’s no way, make a way.

 

What are your favorite Black-owned fashion brands?

I’m really into streetwear Tier, Visionary Society and Savant. They are all NYC-based brands. I also love Telfar and Daily Paper.

 

Who are your Black style icons and how do they influence your personal style?

My older sister was my first influence growing up, so naturally I wanted to wear everything that she did. She loved Mary J. Blige and TLC and they had this tomboy, hip-hop, colorful vibe. Everything was baggy. That’s why to this day I love oversized clothing — it’s an ode to the era in which I grew up in. 

 

Grace Jones, Rihanna, Solange and Tracee Ellis Ross are also amazing Black style icons that I take cues from. Grace Jones’ boldness, Rihanna’s confidence — she could make a paper bag look good — Solange’s eclectic, very Black aesthetic. Not forgetting Tracee’s ability to dress mature yet youthful (and of course her beautiful hair).

Coco Bassey wears Stella McCartney, Prada Cleo Bag and Balenciaga Triple S trainers.

 

Coco Bassey @cocobassey
Content Creator & Digital Marketer

 

Hey Coco, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you?

As a Black woman, every aspect of my everyday is a reflection of the people who came before me. That said, I love educating my audience about how they can support Black creators, businesses and communities.

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

Comedy shows. I love watching comedy special reruns on Netflix — anything by Dave Chappelle is always worth a second listen, and I really enjoyed Wanda Sykes’ comedy special as well.

 

Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion?

My foray into fashion has been more or less completely self-made. Coming from a professional marketing background in the corporate world, I wanted to use my professional skills to create something for myself in a field that I loved. That was the start of my blog and Instagram in 2013, and I built it up to where it is today.

 

What advice would you give to those who encounter racial bias on their journey?

Victims of racial bias don’t have a responsibility of doing anything more than showing up as their authentic selves — saying otherwise places the burden back on the victim. I’m more interested in learning what the perpetrators and enablers of racial discrimination are going to do. Will they educate themselves against the intrinsic biases that filter into the workplace and affect minorities every day?

 

What are your favourite Black-owned fashion brands?

Victor Glemaud is one of my favourites — I love his knitwear pieces, the classic, simple silhouettes make them so easy for everyday wear and they look so elegant in their simplicity. My friend Asiyami also has a beautiful line called A.AU. The detailing in every piece is unlike anything I've seen before, absolutely stunning.

 

Balmain is always one of the designers I look forward to seeing at Paris Fashion Week. The strong tailoring paired with glamorous design elements always makes for a stunning fashion moment.

 

Who are your Black style icons and how do they influence your personal style?

I love Rihanna’s bold style, especially during her Paris Fashion Week days. Every look was so iconic, and it always inspires me to step outside my fashion comfort zone. For glam inspiration, nobody did it better than Diana Ross.

Mecca James-Williams wears Peter Do and Tibi.

 

Mecca James-Williams @meccajw
Creative, Stylist & Founder of meccajw.com

 

Hey Mecca, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you? 
Black History is celebrated everyday for me, but this month is a celebration of our heritage, legacy, and determination to live and excel despite the odds we face daily.

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

My go-to sources for Black joy are my niece and nephew. Their joy is such a beam of light and it pushes me to continue to fight and live for a better future for them.


Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion? 
I started in the fashion industry about a decade ago, working my way up from various fashion wardrobes into the teams of brands such as Opening Ceremony, Vogue Japan, and Conde Nast International. The jobs I had there played a huge role in the stylist and creative I am now. I learned industry standards, met some of my favorite peers and colleagues, and worked on some iconic photo sets and campaigns. 


What advice would you give to those who encounter racial bias on their journey?
During my career, I experienced racism and racial bias, sometimes not getting chosen for roles, promotions, or opportunities due to that bias. My advice would be one I wished I followed more often, ‘Be Vocal’. Advocate for yourself, and know when it’s time to leave for peace of mind and dignity. 


What are your favorite Black-owned fashion brands? 
EDAS, it’s my best friend’s line, and I see all the work and intention she pours into her craft and design. Wales Bonner too.
 

Who are your Black style icons and how do they influence your personal style?

Cecilia Tyson is a style icon that is truly inspiring me right now. I am currently reading her memoir, and the power this woman possesses in her fashion and hairstyles is iconic.

Monroe Steele wears Joseph Knit Dress, pre-owned Chanel Belt, Chanel Earrings and Giuseppe Zanotti Platforms.

 

Monroe Steele @monroesteele
Style Blogger, YouTuber & Co-Designer

Hey Monroe, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you?

I celebrate Black History month by reading some of my favourite books by Black authors, like ‘The Book of Night Women’ by Marlon James or ‘Barracoon’ by Zora Neale Hurston. I also enjoy watching a ton of my favourite classic Black American movies like ‘Coming to America’. 

 

I also like to show extra support to Black-owned businesses that I love — from beauty brand Hyperclear to clothing brand Fe Noel. Honestly, I shop these brands year-round and February isn’t any different. But during February, I amplify those businesses more on my platforms because I know it’s at the forefront of people’s minds. 

 

Black History Month to me is a celebration of what Black Americans have accomplished for this country and a time to acknowledge our contribution. Black History is American history.

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

One of my sources for Black joy is connecting with my family — whether that be a family Zoom call or FaceTime. My family and the time we share always puts a smile on my face. We are always cracking jokes and laughing, so it’s one of my major sources of Black joy in my life. Another thing that brings me joy is dancing. I love how it puts me in a good mood and makes me more in tune with my body. 

 

Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion? 
I started blogging back in 2010 when there wasn’t a term for ‘influencers’ or ‘content creation’. It’s been hard simply trying to break into the fashion industry with no fashion experience and I’m sure being a Black woman didn’t make it any easier. I was determined to see myself and people who look like me in those spaces so I never gave up. I knocked on every door and kicked down a few to have a seat at the table. If you are a woman of colour you will most certainly experience racial bias in the industry. It’s so systematically ingrained into society that it’s hard not to experience it at some point. 

 

What advice would you give to aspiring individuals who may encounter racial bias on their journey? 
My advice would be never to give up. To speak up, speak your mind and to know your worth. 

 

What are your favourite Black-owned fashion brands? 

I absolutely love Jade Swimwear, Fenty and Telfar. Some of my favourite Black-owned fashion brands include Fe Noel and Christopher John Rogers for wearable artistic pieces. I also love Something By Sonjia. Sonjia Williams creates the most incredible pieces from her signature denim paperbag-waist trousers to her cosy knit loungewear sets. 

I love a good vintage-like tee and From The Arxhive is a newer brand that specialise in vintage-like tees with a Black experience message. Their tees are super soft and I love pairing them with a high-waist jean and killer heel for that laid-back model off-duty look. Hanifa is another brand that I adore. Her last virtual fashion show went viral because it was so amazing.

 

Who are your Black style icons and how do they influence your personal style?

My style icon is Tracee Ellis Ross, I’m inspired whenever I see her in the media. Tracee knows how to have fun with clothing — she uses colour blocking and I love how often she wears Black designers. I find myself recreating a lot of her looks and she has helped me to hone in on my own style.

 

You can shop Monroe's FAREFTCH edit here.

Nasteha & Nuni @theyusufs
Owners of @themillennialsuite

 

Hey Nasteha and Nuni, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you?

We view it as a time for other people to remember the injustices Black folks have been subjected to for centuries. We don’t celebrate, we educate — and we take the time to remember our ancestors and lineage. We are very proud to be Black and we thrive every February. For us, it means power in knowing that the times will continue to change for our people. 

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

Spending time with our family, being able to take a good day off for our mental wellbeing, having a successful month full of creative ventures — and also exchanging ideas and having meaningful conversations with like-minded Black women within our community.

 

Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion?

I (Nasteha) did a lot of work with different reputable brands for many years. Nuni was a model for many years, both print and runway. As Black women in the fashion world, we’ve always stood up for ourselves and never allowed anyone to treat us differently. 

 

What advice would you give to those who encounter racial bias on their journey?

Unfortunately, we of course experienced racism, but we stayed firm that we belonged in the fashion world. We never let ourselves be pushed out or turned away from what we loved because of a system that didn’t want us to succeed — and that’s one thing we would love for our Black sisters and brothers to know. Just because you encounter someone or something that doesn't validate your Blackness, please don’t abandon what you love. There will come a time where you are loved in your creative space. If that means being your own boss, so be it.

 

What are your favourite Black-owned fashion brands?

We love what Telfar has done for itself in the last couple of years. We’re extremely proud of it. To add to our current list — Pyer Moss, Daily Paper and Hanifa.

 

Who are your Black style icons and how do they influence your personal style?

We absolutely adore Diana Ross and her daughter Tracee Ellis Ross. We want to channel their energy as we get older in the fashion world. It’s also nice that they are relatives like us.

Delanique wears Oliver Peoples eyewear and Salvatore Ferragamo tote bag.

 

Delanique @delanique
Founder of @skintellect.co

 

Hey Delanique, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you?

Growing up in Jamaica, Black History Month wasn’t quite a part of my experience in the way that it is today. Celebrating being Black and my history was just a birthright that I didn’t have to think about to be honest. But being a Black-Caribbean person living in the United States allowed me to dig a bit deeper, beyond my Caribbean heritage. 

 

So whenever Black History Month comes around I usually watch documentaries that tell Black stories, continue to educate myself about Africa’s history (the history pre-slavery), and actively supporting Black-owned brands across all categories. These are all things I do before and after the month of February, but there’s a sense of pride that lingers during this moment.

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

I revel in music. It’s my source of both healing and joy, especially since I have a very low tolerance for trauma. 


 
Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion?
It wasn’t until I was at university that I developed a sense of style, or an interest at all. This led me to study Fashion Marketing, and I landed an internship at Valentina Kova in a hybrid public relations/e-commerce role. I then moved on to work with Desigual and Coach before transitioning to the agency side of the business.

 

What advice would you give to those who encounter racial bias on their journey?
My biggest advice is to go where you feel welcomed. There are so many fashion brands that are not racially inclusive, but then there are so many others that are. It’s absolutely inspiring to challenge tone deaf brands and people. But it’s mostly exhausting, so focus on the spaces and people that bring you joy, especially in a career that is already extremely tough.


 
What are your favourite Black-owned fashion brands?
Telfar is a real cultural phenomenon, especially the brand's sought-after shopping bags. Then there are other pieces like Telfar's cable knit off-the-shoulder jumper that's more of an individualistic style.

In the spirit of vibrant colours, bold prints, and overall clothing that makes women feel good, there are three Black women-run fashion brands that are insanely inspiring right now — Kai Collective, Orange Culture, Hanifa and Fe Noel. 

 

Who are your Black style icons and how do they influence your personal style?

Both Tracee Ellis Ross and Rihanna are my absolute favourite style icons. Their free-flowing personalities bring so much life to their style — both in their everyday and red carpet attires. The way they play with colour, texture, shapes, and patterns really excites me and inspires me to be a little more daring. Whenever I want to step out of my comfort zone, I’d ask myself, ‘What would Rihanna do?’. Even if I don’t go all the way, it still helps just a little to shake myself out of the funk.

Igee Okafor wears the Jacquemus Baou floral jacquard shirt, Ami Paris pleated wool trousers, Etro logo-plaque suede loafers.

 

Igee Okafo@igeeokafor
Founder & Editor In Chief @bondofficialusa

 

Hey Igee, how are you commemorating Black History Month and what does it mean to you?

I am celebrating Black History Month this year with a project that means so much to me personally. As the Founder and Editor-In-Chief at BOND OFFICIAL, it’s imperative that I am responsible for immersing myself and my culture in the stories we choose to tell. 

 

I’ve dedicated our February Issue to everybody who authentically celebrates Black Culture and is interested in looking at ways we can continue to improve the Black experience on every level. My team and I spotlighted 23 diverse Black men who were willing to share their perspective on what it means to propel the Black experience forward on various subjects. 

 

Celebrating Black History Month for me is a reminder of how far we’ve come and how much work we have left to do. Enforcing the idea through blends of knowledge, activism, art and shared experiences is my priority. 

 

What’s your go-to source for joy?

Naturally, music. Nothing makes me happier than listening to uplifting tunes originated and curated by Black culture and talent. 

 

Could you tell us a little about your journey into fashion?

A lot of how I choose to consume fashion today is because of how I am reminded of my mother. Growing up, she had incredible taste and always had the best of everything. 

 

My journey into fashion started when I launched my personal style blog, veryigeeokafor.com. I started it for fun, but it slowly became more personal and serious for me. I had just moved to New York City and wanted to explore my individuality with fashion as a vessel. I was also interested in seeing how I could insert myself in the industry and my blog allowed for that opportunity with journalism. I started writing about fashion in other publications as a freelancer and started getting invited to fashionable events. Then through hard work, networking and Instagram, I learned my business and offered various services I had been cultivating.

 

What advice would you give to those who encounter racial bias on their journey?

While I haven’t intentionally experienced racial bias of any sort, my advice to aspiring individuals is to continue working hard. Focus on the goal whilst staying humble and open minded. I truly believe anything is possible. 

 

What are your favourite Black-owned fashion brands? 

I am currently very excited about brands like MATEO NEW YORK Fine Jewellery, Martine Rose, Oswald Boateng, Pyer Moss, and Wales Bonner. I am very attracted to simplistic aesthetics with tints of intricacy, and all of these brands do this in a timeless and intriguing way. 

 

Who are your Black style icons and how have they influenced your personal style?

I must pay homage to the queen herself, my mother. As previously stated, she was one of my earliest introductions to self-care, as well as what it means to use fashion to elevate one’s self-confidence. My appreciation for fragrance and luxury, I gained from her. She was also at the forefront as it pertains to supporting me launching igeeokafor.com back in the day which started it all. 

 

That aside, my earliest memory of admiration in the fashion department was Michael Jackson. His jackets and sunglasses combo really stood out to me. I’ve tried to incorporate bits of those style exaggerations into my personal style. Michael always looked very clean, even when he wore more flamboyant clothing. It never looked messy — I carry that on. 

 

These days, I respect the likes of Spike Lee, John Legend and Pharell who are able to showcase a mix of classic and contemporary styles in ways that feel true to their personalities.

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