Fashion has come a long way in the past few decades, especially regarding representation.
Black women designers have always existed, but they rarely received the kind of attention or accolades their vision and hard work merited.
Even nowadays, knowing Black women designers is challenging unless you are actively looking for them.
So, let’s shine a spotlight on these women and celebrate their achievements in an often unforgiving and biased industry.
For many Black women designers, the runway is their primary source of income.
However, Tracy Reese surpassed that.
She has a profitable business venture that includes a home design line.
She also has two other fashion lines, the affordable Plenty and the eponymous Tracy Reese.
But Reese’s success didn’t happen overnight.
She experienced plenty of hurdles before she finally launched her first profitable brand.
For instance, she launched a fashion line in 1986 that was popular with both critics and women.
However, because of inexperience (And probably the lack of a helpful mentor), she closed the business 3 years later.
She then got a job at Perry Ellis Portfolio and gained experience.
Her experience and mentorship from Gordon Henderson allowed her following fashion line to become a success.
Ann Lowe was the grandchild of a plantation owner and slave.
Her lineage included dressmakers from Alabama who made clothes for the elite.
Lowe was no different.
She studied design in New York and made stellar designs for big names in New York like the DuPonts and Rockefellers.
She also designed the dress Olivia de Havilland wore the night in 1946 that she took home the Oscar for Best Actress.
Ann Lowe was clearly talented and had shown her creations could grace the grandest stages and the most affluent people in society.
However, she never received wide recognition for her works.
Her designs for major stores didn’t even include her name on the labels.
Still, Lowe became the country’s first Black designer to open her own salon.
She did this in 1950.
Married to legendary Stevie Wonder, Kai Milla is also a legend.
When the White House honored her husband, First Lady Michelle Obama wore a dress designed by Milla.
Milla started her own line after seeing a runway show by John Galliano for Dior.
Her collection has fun, colorful, sexy, wearable, and sophisticated clothes.
She has plenty of devoted fans, and her work consistently receives favorable reviews.
Maya Lake found inspiration from the Black Panther movement, Josephine Baker, and the Civil Rights movement.
This led to her distinct collection, Boxing Kitten.
The collection features vintage pieces in African print.
Most of Lake’s designs are reminiscent of the ’50s and have been worn by celebrities like Solange Knowles and Erykah Badu.
Elizabeth Keckley was a slave who unusually won her freedom.
She designed clothes for affluent clients who gave her loans that she used to pay for her and her son’s freedom.
After gaining freedom, Keckley moved to Washington, D.C.
There, she crafted dresses so elegant that she gained the attention of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.
She even started designing the First Lady’s dresses.
Keckley later joined Wilberforce University and led the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts.
The university still has her spectacular designs.
Essential Black Women Designers: Conclusion
Most of these Black women designers faced significant hurdles.
However, giving up wasn’t an option.
They are now legendary figures in the design world, and we should honor them for their grit, determination, and peerless talent.