With diversity and inclusivity woven through every aspect of our creative world, it’s little wonder that Black-owned fashion brands are taking their turn in the spotlight. From Grace Wales Bonner’s on-point tailoring and the bold, vibrant prints of London-based brand Lisou to Michelle Obama’s go-to Christopher John Rogers and the hugely talented LVMH prize winner Thebe Magugu, these are the Black-owned fashion brands to shop now.
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.
Johannesburg-based designer Thebe Magugu has more than a few prestigious accolades under his belt, including winning the LVMH prize in 2019 and being named a finalist in the 2021 International Woolmark Prize. So, it’s no wonder that brands and fashion heavyweights are queuing up to work with him, from Adidas – with whom the brand launched its first ever collaboration this summer – to Anna Wintour, who commissioned Magugu for a special project in Vogue’s latest September issue. His ready-to-wear pieces are all produced by local suppliers, artisans and factories, and are designed to bring to life his South African heritage and Africa’s storied history.
Christopher John Rogers
Despite only launching a few seasons ago, New York-based designer Christopher John Rogers has already garnered a cult following and a legion of devoted fans, which include Zendaya, Rihanna and Michelle Obama. They love him for his sharp tailoring and his exuberant use of colour – Obama chose a glittery custom-made trouser suit for her Becoming book tour, while Rihanna opted for a tangerine-hued strapless gown for one of her Fenty store openings. At just 28 the designer has already racked up numerous accolades, including the CFDA American Womenswear Designer of the Year Award last year. Expect big things.
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.
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, has become one of the most exciting names on the British fashion scene since launching her menswear label in 2014. It received such a rapturous reception from the fashion crowd that Wales Bonner soon found herself venturing into womenswear, where her designs explore notions of race and gender through examining Black cultural histories and heritage. Her impeccable tailoring and striking silhouettes have been worn by some of the most famous women in the world, including the Duchess of Sussex.
Founded by friends Camille Perry and Holly Wright in 2019, who worked together at Topshop before launching their own label, this London-based brand creates timeless pieces that perfectly balance feminine silhouettes with modern sensibilities. Named after the Danish word for strength and beauty, the label is best known for its elevated staples – think stylish day dresses, cotton-poplin shirts and well-cut jeans – which can be mixed and matched to create a chic capsule wardrobe. Made in small, considered batches and created using natural, organic and recycled fabrics, every piece is designed to be layered together and worn season after season.
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, she often infuses her designs with her activism and once created a lookbook featuring Italians who had 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 most of her collections are produced in Italy.
April & Alex
This London-based slow fashion brand was founded by British-Nigerian award-winning journalist and creative director Didi Akinyelure and has sustainability baked into its very core. Akinyelure’s bold and edgy designs – characterised by oversized silhouettes and ruffle details – are all made from reclaimed luxury deadstock fabrics that otherwise would have ended up in landfill. The self-taught designer has fashion in her blood – her grandmother owned a tailoring business in Lagos and her mother launched a Lagos-based ready-to-wear womenswear brand in the late 80s – so it’s no surprise that her designs have swiftly cemented her as one of Britain’s rising fashion stars.
We Are Kin
With its clean lines, strong silhouettes and statement-making staples, this emerging size-inclusive label is starting to make serious waves in the slow fashion world. Founded by Zimbabwe-born designer Ngoni Chikwenengere – who was named as one of Forbes’s 30 under 30 this year – the label prides itself on making garments that are void of trends and fads, instead focusing on pieces that are timeless, wearable and waste-reducing. Working with end of line fabrics at their East London factory, the brand’s innovative approach moves beyond the clothing they make – for example, last season they used 3D renders rather than photographs to show their latest collection – and the label is currently working toward B-Corp certification.
This cult New York-based label was founded by Haitian-American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond in 2013 in a bid to create ready-to-wear pieces that build a narrative about heritage and activism. As well known for its provocative showmanship and storytelling as it is for its beautiful designs, the label is always making waves, whether that’s due to Jean-Raymond becoming the first Black American designer to show on the couture schedule last year, or for highlighting police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement in their runway shows. The brand’s hugely popular collaborations with Reebok – which saw Jean-Raymond appointed as the sportswear giant’s creative director in 2020 before he stepped down in February 2022 – prove they’re as adept at streetwear as they are at high fashion.
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 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 traditional artisan weaving 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.
The founder of this Brooklyn-based brand, Felisha ‘Fe’ Noel, has been deeply influenced by her Grenadian heritage, and that sunshine-filled Caribbean glamour can be felt across every piece she creates. Her infectiously bright colours, vibrant prints and bold silhouettes are seen across everything from voluminous cargo pants and puff sleeved bodysuits to fashion-forward swimwear and fluid kaftans. Whether on the beach, the runway or the red carpet, this is dopamine fashion at its finest. The label also gives back with its Fe Noel Foundation, a program for young girls who are passionate about entrepreneurship.
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.