This week, during NYFW, the Black in Fashion Council — founded in June by The Cut’s Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner and publicist Sandrine Charles — and IMG gathered 16 Black designers to showcase their work to the press and buyers, as well as hosted town halls between brands and editors. For some, like womenswear designer Kendra Duplantier, the Discovery Showroom event — that took place online at NYFW.com and in-person (following strict health and safety protocols) in New York and Los Angeles from February 14 to February 17 — marked their NYFW debut. Others, like Edvin Thompson of Theophilio, are Fashion Week regulars.
“We wanted to make sure that we were a resource to as many Black designers as possible,” Peoples Wagner tells Refinery29. “Many are trying to figure out the finances of their business throughout this pandemic.” Following last year’s debut showroom event, BIFC was able to add 12 more designers this season, with the roster including brands like Chelsea Paris and Come Back As A Flower.
According to Duplantier, who launched her brand in 2019, she didn't really know what to expect. “I just pack[ed] my collection on the plane, and [went].” It wasn’t until she got to New York’s Spring Studios and met the other designers in her showroom space that the importance of this opportunity really hit her: “I'm so new, so it was nice to know that people who might've seen my work could come and actually feel and see it.” Though the press has been taking note of Duplantier’s designs since the summer — when Beyoncé’s stylist and the founder of Black Owned Everything, Zerina Akers, added her to its directory, thus getting her pieces in front of over 231,000 potential shoppers — the designer still feels like she’s fairly unknown in the industry. With that in mind, getting to meet editors and buyers was invaluable — as was getting to know the other designers.
After spending the day sharing the space with Third Crown and Beads Byaree, Duplantier says that they “became the best of friends.” “We were air-dropping each other files, posting each other on social media, and talking about doing photoshoot collabs,” she explains. For someone who’s spent the last decade trying to build a brand on her own, all the while still working full-time jobs elsewhere, according to her, this was an experience she likely wouldn't have received without this event
Mims, the founder and designer of handbag brand EDAS, also believes it was about meeting people and getting them to experience her designs, which are sold at online retailers like Farfetch to Selfridges, IRL. Henry, one-half of House of Aama echoes that: “It was important for me to meet with my colleagues and people in the industry because there is a lot that we can learn from each other.”
Michel, the designer behind Michel Men, says that the ability to see other Black designers — specifically women — finding space in the industry and amplifying each others’ talents was the best part. “[Before,] it felt like all of our dreams were the same and all of our ambitions were the same, and that there was only [ever] one spot,” Michel says. “But the reality is, there are so many different stories to be told. Being here today, and seeing the different collections, I finally realized that my story doesn’t look like anybody else's story.” In turn, being a part of the Discovery Showroom allowed her to see that “there shouldn’t be any sort of insecurity involved with sharing space with other great creatives.”
According to Peoples Wagner, the Discovery Showroom was designed to do just that — help designers, whether by providing wholesale opportunities and exposure, or giving them a place to make friends with other designers and regain a sense of hope in the industry. “We just want... to give them what they need to continue to flourish and be as creative as they desire,” she says.
This is something a runway show could never accomplish, be it in 2021 or otherwise. Get to know the designers and listen to the town halls at NYFW.com.