BIPOC designers have always existed--it’s just now that they are finally getting the type of attention and exposure that seems to come easily to their white counterparts. From high-fashion to easy basics, the brands listed below are only a sampling of BIPOC folks making their names in the fashion and style industry. Look out for part 2 soon.
If you have an eye for classic art, you’ll be able to pick up the Renaissance-era touches in designer Tia Adelola’s work. Nigerian-born Adeola, whose solo collection recently debuted during New York Fashion Week 2020, makes wearable art for high femmes. Her soft, ruffled and yet edgy pieces are eye-catching; perfect for those of us who like to make an entrance. In keeping with the times, Adeola’s face masks are an artful combination of balaclava and the frilly church sock of your youth. Adeola, who’s collaborated with Nike and has fans like SZA and Gigi Hadid, is invested in bringing the Black body into spaces where it is traditionally left out, like the Renaissance Era that inspired her collection.
How old were you when you realized that you can be comfortable and show your stuff off at the same time? If you’ve embraced that notion but have not checked out Whitney Mero’s Onion, please visit her corner of the internet. Right now. The NYC-based designer makes everything in-house, to order, to your measurements, and has seemingly endless options, from fishtail dresses to crop tops to all camo everything. Follow Onion’s Instagram page—the designer occasionally announces first-come-first-serve sales on various pieces. They sell out quickly.
Bravo’s pieces, which are at once delicate and hardworking, embody the current trend of simple, handmade design that many others have embraced. Although her designs seem utilitarian—like a jumpsuit, or summer dress-- the prints and constructions are fluid and could be worn throughout the seasons. Bravo is committed to sustainable design and construction; her work is made-to-order from her Brooklyn studio, and she uses “Asa” (hemp) as her primary fabric, which will decompose once discarded.
Take 2 parts glamour, 1 part avant garde, and 1 part comfy. Shake. Pour out Sandy Liang’s intriguing, alluring designs, which range from soft, summery dresses and edgy basics to sweaters that will make you nostalgic for those long family road trips in the station wagon. Liang is probably best known for her range of fleeces, which look like a hug feels. For those of us who like a more tactile shopping experience, the designer just opened her first store to much fanfare in New York City.
This is a California brand for California vibes. Each sun-drenched design is made out of friendly fabrics like hemp, recycled cotton, and Tencel, and everything is produced in Southern California. Powered by designer Isadora Alvarez, each piece just makes you feel laid back, like couch-or-pool-or-patio sitting in a loose romper or easy slip dress.
If you are a slow and sustainable fashion enthusiast, you are likely familiar with Aliya Wanek, whose coveted pieces quickly sell out. Since launching her brand in 2016, this indie-designer’s star has skyrocketed. Inspired by her own struggle to find a flattering sweatshirt, Wanek can barely keep her perfectly cropped Tig, and prettily slouchy Ami sweatshirts in stock. The sweatshirts are just the hook--Wanek reels you in with her beautiful, functional jackets, dresses, and pants. Wanek loves to play with color, particularly as it relates to skin-tone (just look at the range here!), and is continually exploring the intersection of fashion and identity. She keeps her business small and local, working with seamstresses in her home base of Northern California, and producing by pre-order.
Have you ever owned a piece of clothing that felt like wearing a hug? If not--or even if so and you need more--a piece from Susan Kim’s Corrinne Collection should be high on your list. Each item is constructed by the designer in her Los Angeles studio; she sources fabric from the United States, specifically French terry, which yields the slinky, cozy, and beautifully draped dresses, jumpsuits, coatigans and tops (and more!) that Kim designs.
Born out of a friendship between two designers, Chantale and Krystalrae (proudly Hatian-American and Filipina-American, respectively), this small brand offers well made basics that are anything but basic. Committed to sustainability and inclusivity, Chan & Krys use up-cycled natural textiles and manufacture small batches in San Francisco or New York City. Current favorites include their Java dress, Nimo tunic jacket, and Humboldt shirt.
There are those whose print mixing and matching skills are to be envied...and there are those of us who stay away from prints in general because we just have no idea how to work them into our wardrobes. But the right print can make even the simplest silhouette really shine, and that’s what Mexico-based Hombre Necio (Foolish Man) does best. The brand produces basic (but beautiful in their simplicity) oversized box tops, jumpsuits, and dresses featuring unique illustrations of the natural world--stingrays, birds, whales, insects, and much more. Everything is dyed, cut, and sewn in Mexico, and although they do not have an online storefront, the designers are easy to communicate with via Instagram. Each piece feels like a treasure.
There’s hardly anything more quintessentially American than denim, so it makes perfect sense that this Indigenous-backed brand does it right. The majority of their goods are constructed from American-sourced materials and some are produced by pre-industrial methods. Steeped in the concept of living well, Ginew produces denim goods that are built to last, influenced by the traditional values and practices of their shared heritage, which includes Ojibwe, Oneida, & Mohican.
Korina Emmerich’s brand, EMME, expresses her Indigineous heritage (Coast Salish Territory, Puyallup tribe), while offering a colorful, modern spin on traditional designs. Everything, like these structured coats, are made-to-order in the designer’s Brooklyn studio. Emmerich is committed to sustainability and equity in the fashion and design industries, and works at the intersection of fashion, ethics, racial justice, and environmental preservation.
This big on color, plus-size friendly (sizing starts at US 10) company has been making waves since 2009. Spearheaded by designer Jasmine Elder, Jibri’s glamorous pieces are perfect for embracing your inner (or, really, outer) rich auntie. Even the loungewear is big on glam, because wearing a sequined kaftan and slides on a Sunday afternoon is exactly the kind of energy we all need. The majority of Jibri’s pieces are crafted at their home base in Atlanta, GA, making them a great ethical choice for bodies that are frequently excluded by other ethical and/or sustainable labels.
Folks whose working environments are more business and less casual know how hard it can be to find clothes that are comfortable, but professional, and also have a little bit of edge. Enter Chelsea Mak, whose collections capture this vibe. The designer defines her work best, through the tagline: “lady clothes for cool girls.” As a sustainable bonus, Mak also uses deadstock fabric for some of her designs.
Miami vibes. High-end. Avant-garde. These phrases all describe Simonett Pereia’s namesake brand. They’re the kind of clothes you put on to feel like a million bucks, even if you’re just going to spend the evening on the couch in front of the TV. And, while you’ll have to save your coins for some pieces, the brand overall is pretty affordable. Simonett also serves as a boutique, carrying other indie designers like Tigra Tigra and La Manso. Simonett also strives to reduce waste, and limits production to avoid excess inventory.
Now, more than ever, we not only want to feel good in our clothes, we want to feel good about our clothes and the labels who manufacture them. Brands often claim to be inclusive and diverse, but few live and breathe this the way Sotela does. Based in Los Angeles, this made-to-order brand produces clothing that offers a sense of comfort and ease; each piece can take you from a work meeting to your lounge time. The brand is committed to fostering body positivity, sustainable practices, and inclusive sizing.
Mozh Mozh, the brainchild of designer Mozhdeh Matin, offers values-driven designs that look like fun to wear. With the goal of bringing “traditional Peruvian crafts” back to popularity, and therefore reinforcing and ensuring the continuation of ancestral culture and artisanship, Mozh Mozh’s eclectic collections are funky, textural, and deeply sustainable. If you’re after exciting, but functional knitwear, or accessories reminiscent of fine sculpture, Mozh Mozh can provide.
Nana K. Twumasi is a writer, editor, and slow-fashion sartorialist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about her at nanakt.com / @fiftyfootroman on Instagram.