i love fabrics that play with light—anything iridescent or metallic or shiny; sequined—but anything that plays with light is associated with having money. Some of my white professors in art school saw my work and thought it was tacky. They wrote it off as out of touch and too tailored. What was hot, what was “fashionable,” was minimalism, like The Row—being so rich that you don’t even have to show it. The women who have inspired me the most are the ones who registered and understood my work in all of its complexity: first lady Michelle Obama, Tracee Ellis Ross, Cardi B, Gabrielle Union.
The people who initially reached out to me for interviews and pulled my stuff and actually used it were Black women. Black women understood why I didn’t shy away from color and from showing off the body in some garments, but in other garments completely obscured it in a way where the clothes still read as femme without having to be overly body conscious. The more that stylists and editors pulled the work, and the more that people in general started to see the work, the more that white people understood it to be…not “valid,” but they saw it.
Growing up in the South and coming from a family that didn’t have a ton of money, and obviously growing up in the church, you press your shirt. You would make sure that your tie matches your socks, your handbag matches your hat and your shoes. Being put together and showing the world and each other that, yes, I can also look nice, I can also speak well, I can also do all these things—that was my experience. I always wanted to make clothes that performed polish.
The other day I was in my studio and I was at the rack of canary yellow and bright fuchsia and turquoise and this weird oyster-gray taffeta, just picking up these things that I dreamed in my head. I’m really happy doing what I do, and I get excited by it. That’s a formula that works for me. When I lead with my heart, with what I want to do and what I feel excited about, people feel that in the clothes, and those are the things that people want.
When I came back to the studio after the COVID shutdown, the idea of making clothes that I know will be expensive felt trivial and irresponsible and selfish—and also out of touch with my reality, because I’m not rich. But I also have to remind myself that that’s not the point of the exercise. The point of the exercise isn’t to make things that are unattainable, but that will last the test of time, and that mean something, and are of quality. It reminds me of why I got into this in the first place, which is to make something to long for, something to really want, and then when you get it, you can’t let go.
grew up on the internet. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I was also able to see things that I wouldn’t have normally had access to if I didn’t have a computer—all these different types of music and aesthetic references. I was looking up fashion, which for a boy wasn’t necessarily something that my parents were trying to get me to look at.
My pool of references and the things that I could see myself doing didn’t always match up to traditional markers of Black art and Black aesthetics. I never felt like I needed to perform my Blackness. I was like, Okay, I guess I can blend this and that to make it very me, instead of how people see me. I never felt a restriction based on my race.
My dad worked for and went to a historically Black college. I was in the barbershop every Saturday. So I was surrounded by Black folks. I went to majority-Black elementary and middle schools, so I was looking at Black inventors, writers, or historical figures from a young age. I became obsessed with Black fashion designers. I knew of Lawrence Steele and Ann Lowe and Patrick Kelly. I found LaQuan Smith on Tumblr when I was in middle school. I always knew that there was a possibility for me if I worked hard enough—that’s an important part of representation. The more you see yourself in things, the more empowered you feel to be able to go for those things.
Because the work that I would eventually do with my collection was so complex, I knew that people weren’t going to think I was Black. Black people aren’t normally allowed to express complexity, we aren’t allowed to be “the weird one” or the one who thinks of something new. But I was less surprised that people in the fashion industry didn’t think I was Black, and more surprised that they would say that to me. “You’re so eloquent.” It’s like, “Well, girl, duh.” They needed to let me know that what I was doing was somehow exceptional because not only was the work good but I also happen to be Black, as if my Blackness made the work that I was doing so much more excellent because it wasn’t typical of a Black designer—which is not true.
Now I think we’re at a point where white people are having to find multiple Black people to support to perform anti-racism. Like, “I am anti-racist because that’s what is fashionable.” In fashion and in capitalism you want to align yourself with your target audience. Fashion is about youth, and the majority of the youth are actually quite progressive, so people have to change their way of thinking. For me, it’s like, Who has historically at least tried to be on the right side of history? And I lean into those folks and those publications and those individuals to allow them to support me in a way that feels genuine.
I’m not going to be so proud as to say, “Oh, I don’t want your cover,” or “I don’t want this feature.” As long as it aligns with me and my brand, I’ll move forward with it. I just don’t want to be tokenized. Especially at this moment. It’s a long time coming, and I actually am loving the fact that white people are so uncomfortable. I live for it. I’ve been uncomfortable for the past 26 years, so it’s about time that you’re uncomfortable for a few months—and hopefully forever moving forward. For so long, Black people, we’ve been expected to perform. We’ve been expected to think about how we speak to white people. We’ve had to think about how we show up to places. We’ve had to think about how we treat other Black folks, whether we bring them with us or we shun them away out of fear of having to be “the only one,” whether it be in fashion, tech, politics.
I think if people in power, specifically white people in positions of power, actually want to change the world for the better, they need to say, “Okay, I have to take a hit,” or “I have to step aside for other people, specifically minorities, to be in spaces and to have access.” It cannot just be okay to pick my collection up because you need to stock Black designers—especially if I don’t fit your product category or your aesthetic. Find other Black designers that fit that aesthetic and invest in them. You must give deposits. You need to hire Black models, writers, editors, and stylists, but also trans stylists and nonbinary stylists and models. There needs to be a reckoning in all spaces.
People have to dig deeper, much deeper, and it can’t just be, “What can I do?” It should be, “What can I do, and then how do I supplement that? And maybe I should ask the people that I’m supporting if what I’m doing is enough.” Yes, I’m one of the most visible Black faces in fashion currently, but I also feel a responsibility to point out other Black people who are just as talented—Pierre Davis of No Sesso, Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa, Edvin Thompson of Theophilio, Shanel Campbell of Bed on Water—and give them space. If we’re expecting Black excellence, we can no longer accept white mediocrity.