ESSENCE Fashion House reveals major retailers are ’embarrassed’ by lack of black designers

Brandice Daniel founded Harlem’s Fashion Row when “less than about 1–2% of designers in department stores” were “color designers”.

According to her, this statistic is still true today after 14 years of fighting for equality in fashion. “It hasn’t changed since I started. That same stat has stuck,” she said in a conversation with fragrance master Chris Collins, celebrity stylist Groovy Lew and ESSENCE associate editor Cori Murray at ESSENCE Couture House.

Harlem’s Fashion Row provides training, resources and opportunities for black designers. Fe Noel, who worked with the company, is now sitting on the shelves at Saks Fifth Avenue.

“There’s more now but it still hasn’t moved the needle a ton,” Daniel added.

In 2020, Brother Vellies founder Aurora James, who recently dressed AOC for the Met Gala, publicly called for department stores to start stocking 15% of their shelves with black designers. His cry became a non-profit initiative called 15 Percent Pledge.

Daniel, who brokered major partnerships with sports giants and grassroots black designer ready-to-wear retailers, revealed that the disparities in the fashion industry were so severe that some companies were literally ashamed of their lack of diversity.

She says that when she visited their headquarters, they blocked her from seeing the results of their lack of inclusion.

“And then when you walk into retailers and brands, they don’t even want me to walk on their design floor,” she revealed.

She repeatedly said that the response to her request to see the inner workings of a company’s design floor was, “No, we’re really sorry, we’re not taking you there.”

Companies are clearly aware of their creative shortcomings.

“They’ll be like, ‘we’re embarrassed to take you there because we know you’re going to follow and we don’t have enough black designers,'” Daniel said.

Hopefully they’re embarrassed enough to do something real about it before 2035.

TOPICS: african american designers black designers brandice daniel essence fashion essence fashion house Harlem’s Fashion Row