The Fashionable Side of Black History Month 

From the motherland to the land of the free, Black designers across the globe have  revolutionized the fashion world in ways that cannot be overstated. The Black designers of the  past have broken down barriers and created some of the most memorable looks of all time,  and now today's Black designers are rising through industry ranks. The problem? Neither  generation has been receiving rightful commendations for their mind-blowing feats. Well, it’s  time for that to change.  

This year, let’s celebrate Black History Month by honoring fashion’s unsung heroes and  elevating promising contemporaries. You’ll find that the history of black designers is even more  fascinating than you could’ve ever imagined. 

What fashions could possibly be more quintessentially Black than those from Africa itself? The  head wrap is so ubiquitous across the continent that it goes by different names, with West  Africa calling it thegele idand Southern Africa alternating betweendoekandduku. Traditional  African clothing is a glorious rainbow of patterns that signify religious and political beliefs and  colors that symbolize concepts like love and purity. It only makes sense that African Americans  who had finally begun to embrace their heritage would adopt the gorgeous aesthetic. 

Here’s a secret that’ll no doubt surprise you as much as it surprised me: the African prints that  became popular in the United States are actually European embellishments of 8th-century  Chinese and Indian designs. The patterns became associated with Africa because they sold  like hotcakes when they were brought to West Africa in 1867. Fast-forward to over a century  later, where African businesswomen have reclaimed the prints, becoming revered success  stories by capitalizing on their continued popularity. 

Meanwhile, America’s Black designers found their own success as early as the 1940s, when  fashion phenoms Ann Lowe and Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes reigned supreme. Lowe rose  above the racism of her time to become the first Black designer to reach international fame, a  legacy solidified by her creating history’s most photographed wedding gown for First Lady  Jackie Kennedy. Valdes earned her presidency of the New York Chapter of the National  Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD) through opening the first Black owned boutique, beautifying Black icons like Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge, and  conceptualizing the first draft of the Playboy Bunny costume.  

The latter half of the 20th century saw the developing careers of a couple more Black  designers, both in the States and overseas. Willi Smith began his streetwear brand WilliWear in  1976, and a decade later he was the one of the most successful African American designers.  Tracy Reese’s eponymous Detroit brand was launched in 1998, and its founder has since been  deemed the first Black female designer to capture the hearts of the modern fashion industry.  Ghanaian-British Ozwald Boateng started his career in 1994 as the first Black tailor to open a  shop near Savile Row, and his career soared to heights that won him the Veritas Award from  Harvard University in 2014. 

Today’s Black designers are destined for the same greatness as their artistic forebears.  Rihanna’s Fenty brand has taken the world by storm, due in no small part to its superstar  founder being a Black woman making groundbreaking strides in high fashion. Even better, this  new era of Black fashion is, well, unapologetically Black. Pyer Moss’s creations are inspired by  the everyday Black American experience, especially the hot topic of police brutality. Asiyami  Gold established A.Au with the goal of espousing the virtue of embracing one’s African roots, 

and AAKS’s beautiful bags are made possible by the local Ghanaian artisans who are finally  receiving credit for their overlooked talents.  

The parallels between past and present are undeniable proof that Black people are trailblazers  in fashion, and we just can’t hold back our excitement for what the future holds.

Written by Guest blogger, Nia Hunt.