FIT Symposium: Black Fashion Designers

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Black Fashion Designers Symposium hosted by the Fashion Institute of Technology via live stream, and it was exceptionally informative, and presented a much needed perspective of fashion design, and design business as it relates to industry professionals of color. The symposium featured a number of industry, and academic professionals that offered commentary on a range of topics such as professional practice, historic fashion designers of color--designers that are seemingly effaced from the canonical study of fashion--, and dress culture of blacks, and persons of color throughout the decades.

While I could pull out the copious notes that I took, and give a rundown of each of the equally amazing talks, I instead will talk a little of my favorite ones which were, the in-conversation with June Ambrose with Carly Cushnie, and Michelle Ochs, founders of the contemporary womenswear brand Cushnie et Ochs, and the other being another in-conversation on modeling with Bethann Hardison, and Veronica Webb. What I found particularly interesting about these two talks among the rest were the profound relevance of the conversations. The conversation with Cushnie and Ochs detailed the ins and outs of navigating starting an independent fashion brand, and keeping it growing, and relevant. Perhaps what I responded to most was the ladies' business acumen, and perspectives on business as designers, and businesswomen. While they did talk about, and present the contribution of having a clear aesthetic to some of their success, I enjoyed that they spoke candidly about marketing, staffing, and MONEY, especially as I am trying to start my custom designing, their commentary framed an invaluable insight to the feasibility, and reachability of making a living as an independent designer. (June Ambrose also facilitated a conversation on business and gender which I could go on and on about, but I encourage you to watch it for yourself!)

Cushnie and Ochs also spoke on social responsibility, and diversity a bit, which was later embossed by the talk with Bethann Hardison, and Veronica Webb. (As an aside, Bethann Hardison is such a character! I have no idea how I didn't know about her until this symposium, she is AMAZING). These two who have extensive experience in the modeling world made it extremely clear the junction between the modeling industry, and the fashion industry, something that I was not aware of the difference, and if you watch the talk, it will become very clear that they are not the same worlds. Ms. Hardison brought to light how modeling has become a career with less of a capacity that what it used to be, seeing how models are very much commodified now, and how the rise of the Instagram insert-name-of-whatever-art-career-here has really served to cheapen the role of professional models, and those who build their image, a fact that I can't help but agree with. All in all, it really gave me, and will give any designer something to consider when casting models for their next shoot.

Overall, this symposium provided a plethora of information, and considerations that highlight the accomplishments of people of color in the fashion industry, but are very relevant to everyone looking to have a stake in fashion. I have the link below to watch the full symposium, FIT is amazing for providing it; I encourage you to watch it, learn some cool new things, and as always stay relevant!

Link to Symposium:

Cushnie et Ochs Site:

Image by Edward Wilkerson. retrieved from

#research #fashion #history #fashionculture

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