- These luxury fashion business owners want to transform an industry that was shaken by coronavirus.
- The disruption of the pandemic and initiatives like Black Pound Day helped them grow.
- “Each of these brands are amazing and have forged a lane for themselves.”
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Black Pound Day, a campaign encouraging people to buy from Black-owned businesses on the first Sunday of every month, launched a month after the killing of George Floyd spurred Black Lives Matters protests across the world.
The focus on Black-owned businesses, particularly in industries where there are historically underrepresented, was big.
“We sold out pretty much all of our remaining stock and gained a few hundred new followers on Instagram,” says Jide Onwuazor, who founded Velviere, a menswear luxury fashion apparel.
He isn’t alone in wanting to transform an industry within which Black people have been historically underrepresented and which has been shaken by coronavirus.
Onwuazor’s company was beginning to produce its spring and summer range when lockdown hit. The pandemic’s impact on luxury fashion was huge. Kering, the French luxury goods company responsible for brands such as Gucci, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga, suffered a 15.4% drop in profits in the first three months of 2020.
“After a few weeks of being down about it, I started to view it as a positive and thinking of ways that I could use the downtime to improve the business,” Onwuazor adds.
Other Black luxury fashion owners acknowledge the pandemic gave them the room to grow. Ardelle Fawehinmi, who owns luxury womenswear brand Ardelle, and Fisayo Longe, who owns womenswear brand Kai Collective, agree with Onwuazor.
Fawehinmi, who has a master’s degree in fashion and dreamed about starting a brand at a young age, says the lockdown gave her the chance to “show what we are about and what we can offer to women.”
“I’ve always been extremely interested in the way women choose to adorn themselves … I studied fashion for both my undergraduate degree and my MA, so starting a brand has always been a dream of mine,” she says.
She adds schemes like Black Pound Day and the BLM movement have “shined a light on brands, like ours who are still growing but have something valuable and unique to bring to the table.”
Longe, who started her career as a fashion blogger back in 2012, says her Kai Collective has grown a lot during the pandemic. She attributes this to the BLM movement and mainstream media platforms “shedding light on Black-owned businesses” because of it.
The popularity of its Gaia Dress, modeled by US Rapper Saweetie and beauty influencer Jackie Aina and featured on Beyoncé’s website in June just before the BLM protests started in London, “has definitely helped,” she adds.
Longe acknowledges the positive impact of monthly Black Pound Days, saying they boosted revenue and were “very helpful” but she adds: “I would love for us as a society to get to a point where we wouldn’t need to depend on incentives like Black Pound Day to help Black brands get the recognition and sales they deserve.”
“I’ve always had an interest in fashion but never ever thought it would be something I would be doing day to day. My background is investment banking and regulatory reporting so the worlds are very different but have their synergies.”
Onwuazor says: “I’ve found that I can take some of the skills from my past and use them in this industry and that has made the transition a little easier. Whilst it was never a dream of mine, owning a fashion brand has always been something that has appealed to me.”
The British Fashion Council tried to boost diversity and inclusion in the industry by launching the Diversity and Inclusion Select Committee in September. In the US, then-editor -in chief of Teen Vogue, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, and consultant Sandrine Charles launched the Black in Fashion Council.
The council will hold companies who pledge to increase diversity accountable for their lack of representation. Black luxury brands such as Pyer Moss, Stella Jean, and Laquan Smithare showcased at fashion weeks across the globe but representation there has continued to be poor.
Fewer than 10% of the 146 fashion designers at the major fall 2018 shows for New York Fashion Week were Black, The Cut has reported.
Fawehinmi, Longe, and Onwuazor all agree that inspiring the next generation of Black fashion designers and stylists is crucial if there is going to be a lasting change in their industry.
Onwuazor says: “Remember, you aren’t the first person to have the idea and won’t be the last. So how will you stand out from the rest? Study your market, look at your competitors, look at the brands that inspire you.”
He mentions the promotion of Virgil Abloh to be Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of menswear in 2018, calling it “huge” and “super important, probably more than he might even believe himself.”
“I think this is an industry [where] you need to see it to actually believe in it,” he says.
“Black luxury designers/brands exist and are emerging. They perhaps aren’t as prominent and as recognizable to the everyday man but each of these brands are amazing and have forged a lane for themselves.”
Fawehinmi says: “More Black people should be hired not merely because of their skin color and the current climate we are in, but because they’re more than qualified for the roles, and have worked just as hard as their white counterparts.
“Community before product is my motto,” says Longe. “We just need more Black staff to be hired. There are more than enough qualified Black marketing execs, models and creative directors who would be happy to work for some of these large luxury brands.”