As the sun set over New York City on Wednesday, a melting pot of people entered the Shopify store in the SoHo neighborhood decked out in black designer outfits (Telfar duffel bags and Hanifa dresses among them) for the fashion show. Black Fashion Accelerator by Afropunk x Shopify. .
The fashion show is the culmination of the first year of the Black Fashion Accelerator program, a partnership between Afropunk and Shopify designed to offer professional development to a cohort of nine emerging fashion designers to help them create more profitable and sustainable brands.
“Black-owned businesses are underrepresented in the US, and Shopify is committed to making entrepreneurship accessible to anyone, anywhere,” said Amena Agbaje, Marketing Program Lead for Black Entrepreneurship. on Shopify. “There is nothing more inspiring to me than offering Black entrepreneurs the tools and support to get their businesses off the ground.”
Over the course of six months, the inaugural class of designers was offered access to experts and resources in the fashion industry, including exclusive mentorship from Chris Bevans, 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist and Brand Creative Director of Dyne sportswear.
BFA 2022 Designer Class Includes Bronté Laurent, founder of Par Bronte Laurent; Archie Clay 3rd and Tajh Crutch, founders of use wings; Jelisa Smith, founder of Fleek House; Melissa A. Mitchell, founder of Abeille Creations; Valerie Blaise, founder of Avvoune; Paakow Essandoh, founder of Mizizi; Sophia Danner-Okotie, founder of Alsoa, and Sylvester Ndhlovu, founder of RuvaAfricWear.
The Shopify store had large open windows that gave way to a multi-level stage, where models emerged from the tight-lipped crowd to showcase designer collections. DJ Mixshow and host Gitoo entertained the crowd with Afrobeats tunes and conversational slang that gave the show a warm, family atmosphere.
Okotie’s collection for her brand Besida, titled “Masego,” which the designer says means “blessings” in Tswana, a language spoken in Botswana, included Ankara cotton reversible long wrap skirts, an Ankara caftan with an asymmetrical hem and a Ankara top/skirt combo that can be worn four ways. Besida takes a sustainable approach to his designs, paying homage to the designer’s Nigerian roots and how people there, Okotie said, naturally embrace zero-waste and sustainable practices.
“We really try to make sure that we source our fabrics specifically from Nigeria, and our team of artisans are in Nigeria. I always say that we Africans know how to take one thing and make the most of it,” Okotie said. “We’re actually very sustainable by nature, that’s what influences our sustainable designs. I have people who have been wearing my clothes since 2015 because we make sure the clothes are so well made that you never feel the need to throw them away.”
In addition to designing sustainable fashion, Besida also pays the West African women artisans who work for the brand a living wage, a factor that Okotie says helped financially equip many of the workers to enroll in higher education.
“Two of my tailors quit this year and I was tempted to hurt myself until they told me they were going to college. They could rely on this steady salary to save money to pay for school, all from a year of work,” the designer said. “Now, they are going to study mass law and communications, so I am very proud of that.”
Inspired by the Zambian space program of the 1960s, the new Mizizi collection, called Afronaut, put a futuristic spin on the idea of black people wearing personalized Mizizi on a trip to space. The models, sporting afros and holographic sunglasses, wore oversized jumpsuits that simulated space suits, fitted knit T-shirts and short sets printed with the brand’s logo on the sleeve and the word “afronaut” in the center, and baggy jackets. and lightweight with drawstrings for streetwear. chic look to the galaxies.
Essandoh created Mizizi in 2013 while attending the University of South Florida and said the idea for the brand was a passion project that would allow her to connect with other cultures. The Ghanaian-American designer said it’s important to represent other cultures through his streetwear designs, specifically those in the African diaspora.
“The African diaspora, to me, means community. We may not necessarily be the same or have the exact same cultures, but there is an underlying comfort that is there whenever we connect with others in the diaspora,” she said. “You can feel safe wherever you are wearing who you are and still celebrate your culture at the same time.”
Fashion influencer Claire Sulmers, founder of fashion blog Fashion Bomb Daily was among those in attendance, as was Monique Rodriguez, founder of black-owned hair care brand Mielle Organics, who styled all of the models’ hair for the parade.
As for what the fashion industry should prioritize to support black entrepreneurs in fashion, Essandoh says the Black Fashion Accelerator is a good example to replicate.
“What the accelerator program is doing is exactly what needs to be done,” said the Mizizi founder. “Connecting young people with people from across the fashion industry who have backgrounds in different areas and who are just like us and invest in fashion education.”