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As recently as the 1990s, many of the best-known Black-owned fashion brands were synonymous with urban street wear or hip-hop.
Supporting Black creators meant rocking baggy Karl Kani jeans with an oversized Fubu T-Shirt. Kids who had money (or wanted everyone to think they did) sported Tommy Hilfger, Guess, Polo.
There was almost no in between.
Thankfully, fast forward to today, and the world of Black fashion has exploded. Not only are several classic Black-owned clothing labels still around or experiencing revivals, side-hustling, entrepreneurial young Black folks are creating exciting bold new businesses, brands and looks.
They’re also wearing them. Most exciting: As folks who have been sleeping on historically Black colleges and universities have all of a sudden woken up and realized not only do these institutions exist, they’re also understanding that in many ways HBCUs are epicenters of fashion trendsetting globally.
This week, Reckon’s Alexis D. Wray does it for the culture by highlighting an emerging trend of HBCUs combining couture with community.
Please share this newsletter with a style icon who always dresses to impress.
Securing the bag
Being a broke college student no longer means looking brokedown every day.
Consider this: Students at HBCUs throughout the country are meeting up on campus celebrating one of the highest-profile brands in the world for what they’re calling Telfar Tuesday.
This trend is becoming increasingly popular at institutions like Howard University in Washington, D.C., Spelman College in Atlanta, and Elizabeth City State University in northeastern North Carolina.
“Sometimes, our HBCU lacks student engagement, so we have to get people to come out and be themselves. Sometimes that looks like putting on your bag, cute clothes, and going outside,” said Deleini Froyze, a junior at Elizabeth City State, whose sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., started the campus Telfar Tuesday tradition.
The sorority, one of the Divine Nine Black Greek letter organizations, started the event at their institution, to bring life to the campus and celebrate their love for the Telfar brand.
Telfar Clemens, a queer Liberian-American fashion designer, and creator of the Telfar bag started the brand in 2005. Its tagline — “It’s not for you. It’s for everyone” — is fitting considering everyone from media mogul Oprah Winfrey to Black women at HBCUs is carrying them now.
“It feels good to support another Black creator and designer,” said Brailynn Kitchings, a sophomore at Elizabeth City State and member of Zeta Phi Beta.
Read more about how new financial technologies puts couture within reach of today’s college students.
Ralph Lauren Corp. obviously isn’t Black owned. But you can’t knock the hustle of the Southern HBCU alumns behind the multi-billion-dollar fashion brand’s limited-release collection celebrating African-American collegiate life.
The Polo Ralph Lauren Exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collection, released in March, was the brainchild of James Jeter, who started out working at a Ralph Lauren store while still in high school before enrolling at Morehouse, and Dara Douglas, a Spelman College graduate, whose job title at the Ralph Lauren Library was director of inspirational content.
The campaign was subject to a bit of side-eyeing from social media users questioning the decision for a white billionaire to create a collection that seemingly harks back to the Jim Crow days. It was also widely celebrated by African Americans who applauded one of the best known fashion brands in the world centering Black life, culture and, perhaps more importantly, paying Black creatives.
Jeter, writing on his personal Instagram page, recounts: “Mother Morehouse changed my life and continues to inspire me. I am proud to share her story and Spelman’s story with the world and authentically represent and pay homage to our legacy.”
The drop also featured models who are students and faculty members from Spelman and Morehouse as well as photographer Nadine Ijewere and all-Black creative team.
Since the fashion industry just can’t get enough of HBCUs and Black college-aged designers and influencers, here are a few more items of note:
- The Social Change Fund United, founded by NBA stars Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, announced a Black-designed to celebrate six HBCUs.
- Last year, three HBCU students, Kah’Milah Ledgester, Trajan Baker and Sharone Townsend, won Target’s 2021 HBCU Design Challenge. The winners had their designs sold in Target stores, won cash prizes and other awards.
- If you’ve been paying attention to HBCU football, especially in the SWAC, you’ve probably noticed that Deion Sanders, the Jackson State University head coach and former NFL, hasn’t just upped the Tigers’ game on the field. He’s also brought a little swagger to the merch game.
The last couple seasons, Coach Prime has so popularized apparel featuring the simple Jackson State “J” that caps and hoodies were hard to come by. Well, now that spring ball is about to ramp up and eyes again on Mississippi’s capital city, you’ll definitely want to cop your J gear from JSU’s online store before it’s too late.
Parting advice. I’ll leave you with the words of Hogoè Kpessou, a college student who has been featured on our newsletter and website for building her Florida-based luxury brand. She often urges her social media followers that their retweet could result in her next sale: “The next sale could be on your TL.”
So be sure to spread the joy of your favorite Black brands.