Did someone say Black Girl Magic? Five HBCU fashion students had the opportunity to present their designs during New York Fashion Week and it was an event to remember. Birthed in 2019, Footaction’s No 1 Way design program partnered with Function Apparel and Accessories Studio (FAAS) and PENSOLE in late August of last year on a mission to uplift recent graduates and current students at historically Black colleges and universities. No 1 Way serves to champion the next generation to continue evolving their self-expressive style and proving to themselves there is “No 1 Way” to pursue their passion.
The five finalists — Chakierrah Stinson (Tuskegee University), Brianna Thomas (Dillard University), Lenora Gray (Clark Atlanta University), Sharonda Richardson (Clark Atlanta University), and Nachae Davis (Clark Atlanta University) — had a once in a lifetime chance to be mentored by FAAS founder, Angela Medlin. They traveled to the company’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon, to participate in a three-week masterclass that focused on bringing their creative designs to life in the most functional and fashionable way. The best part? Receiving firsthand knowledge on the industry from Medlin — who has an extensive resume — herself.
R29Unbothered had the opportunity to interview Medlin and the five contestants about their journey throughout this competition and what to expect from them next. We know for sure that this opportunity will continue to be a great one for Black and brown designers looking to break into the industry.
What was the inspiration behind creating FAAS and the process?
Angela Medlin: This inspiration started several years ago. I’ve been 30 years into the industry working for NIKE, Adidas, Levi Strauss and Co., The North Face, and Eddie Bauer, and this has been percolating for three decades. I can be a director for Nike and continue to create amazing products, but I’m better served giving other people the opportunity to change the future of what the industry looks like. As a director for designers who are starting to show us what can be done through sustainability, innovation, and technology using digital development instead of producing several protos, it’s more important that I show them how to do that and be their mentor that I didn't have. I tell the students that my 30 years in the industry was training for what I’m doing now.
How important was it to you as a Black woman to make sure that other Black women would get an opportunity to learn from you?
AM: It was the priority because most of my 30 years in the industry I was the only person of color on my design team, and it wasn’t until I was at a level where I could make hiring decisions that I could bring in more people of color who were talented. I want to see more people that look like me, especially when they’re designing for the consumer that looks like them. It’s important that whoever is designing understands the community and culture, and I don’t see how you can move forward in this age of social media and the extent of exposure without incorporating more diversity into hiring talent. A lot of times as women we are the hidden figures in the background of amazing innovations and it’s a moment to bring that to the forefront.
What inspired your collection for the competition?
Brianna Thomas: The collection was really inspired by my HBCU experience. It embodied what I would wear and what my peers would wear.
What is something you learned throughout the program?
BT: I learned a lot because I didn’t study fashion. It's just a passion of mine that I really wanted to pursue. I study marketing and a lot of things I learned were around product creation and what the go-to’s are for the fashion industry like pattern making. We made all of our 3D renders sustainably through a software that I’ve never heard about before and that was really interesting.
What can we look forward to seeing from you since placing 3rd in the competition?
BT: I’m definitely going to invest my prize money more into my fashion, such as building my skills and get the training I’ve never had before.
What was the design process like?
Le’Nora Gray: Working with FAAS, I learned more about functional apparel, and I’m typically a luxury designer, so at first it was a challenge understanding how to make products functional. I had to understand what the consumer needed on a day-to-day basis versus a red carpet type of moment. My process was really gaining an understanding on what aspects will go into the design that will make it functional, pretty, and transition into different seasons.
What was your inspiration behind your designs?
LG: Women who travel! so that was part of my design process as well. I was learning about women who travel, understanding women who travel, and that lifestyle is a whole other world. I really took time to understand what they need to support them when traveling.
Was it challenging working with a certain fabric?
LG: We used fleece, and the challenge wasn’t working with the material; it was designing something that would look appealing. It was hard for me to see what my creation would look like. Also, the contrasting fabrics my designs had fleece and nylon.
What is the inspiration behind your designs?
Nachae Davis: My main inspiration was inclusivity and I really focused on all women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. I wanted women to look at my design and see themselves in it no matter how they look or where they are from.
How has going to an HBCU played an influence in your designs?
ND: Going to an HBCU really influenced my design because walking around campus everyone has their own style and I wanted to create something that people could look at and style in a way that could be personalized to them. Being on campus, I saw how everyone liked to add their own zest to what they wear.
What was your favorite part about the competition?
ND: Something that surprised me about this competition was that I thought, walking in, that it would be structured as such. Instead, it was very educational and we were able to gain skills and knowledge that I can now take into my professional career thanks to Ms. Angela.
What do you plan to do since you’ve won the grand prize?
ND: Now that I’ve won, it’s really new for me to have this kind of attention since I’m really low-key. It’s a lot of exposure. The prize money will help me catapult my design label, because prior to that I didn’t have the capital.
What was the process like for you?
Chakierrah Stinson: When we first started the program, it was online and Angela helped me open up my mind to different ways of thinking about designs. When we went to Portland, we really got to learn more about the industry. We toured different athletic brands and we got to meet different industry insiders throughout the three weeks. Angela is really talented and I aspire to be like her one day.
I know you deconstruct athleisure wear into your own designs, did you incorporate your style into your designs?
CS: I knew coming in that I wanted a very sporty look and you can't get any more sporty than a hoodie and joggers. My thing was making it different, so I made a hoodie and jogger that could convert into 10 different outfit looks. While I was in Portland, we spent the entire time perfecting it to make sure it functioned really well.
What can we expect from you next?
CS: I really hoped that I won and placed anywhere. I sew in my room so I want to get a studio to design in because I love sewing and I want to have a nice layout to work in. I want to have a line as well as work with some influencers.
What did you take away from the program?
Sharonda Richardson: One thing I had taken away from my three weeks in Portland is that I need to get over myself. I had a challenge with critiques and I had to see that it wasn’t because of my designs but because the creative director saw that I could do more with my designs.
What is your design background history?
SR: Everything I knew prior to attending Clark Atlanta University was self-taught. So even though I went to school at first as a biology major, my passion has always been designing. The first design I ever made was my prom dress, and even though I really love bridal designing I would love to incorporate sustainability into my bridal dress designs. I’d love to use the 3D render software we used at FAAS when designing because you would be able to see what changes need to be made in the design before making it.
What can we look forward to seeing from you?
SR: I definitely want to launch my line this year in August and reach my goals of having my bridal designs out in a boutique.