The recent focus on the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd has opened our eyes to the vast inequalities and systemic racism that still exist around the world, from the daily brutality faced at the hands of the police to the starkly elevated Covid-19 death rates among members of the BAME community. It has also made us realise the important part we can all play in supporting the cause, whether that’s through educating yourself with books and films, signing petitions or, better yet, investing in their creativity. We’ve rounded up eight black-owned fashion brands that you should know about and hand-picked the hero pieces to add to your summer wardrobe.
Specialising in beautiful silk pieces with a modern twist, London-based brand Lisou is headed up by designer Rene Macdonald, who grew up in Tanzania but moved to the UK at a young age. The former stylist combines vibrant colours and bold prints to create stand-out pieces with attitude, from metallic rainbow jumpsuits to tangerine-orange jacquard suits. The brand places an emphasis on slow fashion and contributing to a positive global impact is one of their core beliefs; to that end, they donate the proceeds from one piece per collection to causes that help young Africans with medical and educational needs.
Established in 2008, this New York-based brand, helmed by designer Carly Cushnie, is known for its sleek, silky separates and elegant eveningwear, beloved by Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lopez. With a focus on sharp tailoring, clean lines and sculptural details, Cushnie’s slinky designs are heavily influenced by art and architecture, with each piece created to mould to the body. There’s also a strong emphasis on colour, with striking monochromatic pieces sitting alongside eye-catching fuchsia and warm jewel tones.
Founded by Nigerian fashion designer Dumebi Iyamah and based between Lagos and Ontario, Andrea Iyamah is best known for its statement-making swimwear, which features bold block-colour cutaway one-pieces and structural high waisted bikinis. But the label also makes custom bridal gowns and ready-to-wear designs, with striking dresses, floaty silk robes and voluminous, high waisted trousers featuring heavily. Every collection is strongly influenced by the brand’s African heritage, which can be seen in the nature-inspired prints and eye-catching colours used throughout.
British designer Grace Wales Bonner, who was born in South London to a Jamaican father and an English mother, is being hailed as one of the most exciting names on the British fashion scene right now, and with good reason. She recently turned her hand to womenswear after launching her men’s label in 2014, and her designs explore notions of race and gender through examining black cultural histories and heritage. Her impeccable tailoring and striking silhouettes have already seen her collaborate with Dior and have been worn by some of the most famous women in the world, including the Duchess of Sussex.
Artisan-driven fashion brand LemLem was founded by model-turned-designer Liya Kebede after a trip to her native Ethiopia, where she met a group of traditional weavers who no longer had a market for their craft. The label makes every piece in Africa, with the core collection crafted from locally sourced cotton and made using centuries-old techniques. “By employing traditional weavers, we’re trying to break their cycle of poverty, at the same time preserving the art of weaving while creating modern, casual, comfortable stuff that we really want to wear,” says Kebede. The resulting resortwear is chic, simple and effortlessly cool.
Recognised by many as the first black Italian fashion designer, Haitian-Roman Stella Jean seeks to highlight multiculturalism and diversity in her exuberantly colourful and joyful designs. Never one to shy away from presenting the enduring inequality in her home country, Jean’s AW20 lookbook features Italians who have all been subjected to racial prejudice. But her collections celebrate her homeland, too, whether it’s through pieces inspired by ancient Rome, hand-knit sweaters featuring serene Italian landscapes or the fact that her entire latest collection was produced in Italy.
Founded in 2014 by designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, who returned to her native Ghana after a stint studying fashion in London, accessories brand Aaks is focused on preserving the technique behind making raffia bags that has been passed down through generations of Ghanaian tribes. Their brightly coloured designs are all hand-crafted by women in Northern Ghana, using tradotional artistan weaveing skills. Made with ecologically harvested raffia from local family farmers and a sophisticated dyeing process formulated in house, no two bags are alike and each one typically takes around a week to complete.
Launched in 2013 by founder Aurora James, this New York-based accessories label aims to keep traditional African design practices and techniques alive, using artisans from across the African continent (including in Kenya, South Africa and Namibia) to create their fashion-forward footwear and handbags. Known for its sustainability credentials, with shoes made from vegetable-tanned leathers and soling from recycled trees, the brand looks to give back with everything it does – in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, James published a manifesto urging major retailers to commit to buying 15% of their products from black-owned businesses.