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3 Black Denim Designers You Need to Know

From shopping guides that highlight Black-owned businesses, to retailers curating products made by Black designers, players from across the fashion industry have made various efforts during the past year to bring Black-owned companies to the forefront of fashion. But sometimes it’s better to know more about the person behind the product. And what garment is more personal than jeans, after all?

Here, three Black designers share why they’re drawn to denim and how the enduring fabric is a platform for self-expression, creativity and fulfilling their dreams.

Aalim Abdul, founder of Aalim Abdul

RIVET: What made you want to create a denim brand?

Aalim Abdul: Denim was my canvas for self-expression during a time that I was beginning to figure myself out. As a young teenager searching for comfortability in his sexuality, free-styling and customizing my jeans was my way of outwardly expressing those colorful feelings. It slowly became an outlet for me to unapologetically be myself. I knew this was an experience I wanted to
share with others.

RIVET: Who is your customer and what do you keep in mind when designing for them?

AA: Because I don’t live under gender norms, my customer is just a fashion-forward individual with a strong sense of self who’s not afraid to loudly express themselves. This creates room for inclusivity and freedom of expression. My jeans are for all people. As a bespoke designer, during the design process, I intentionally make sure no two pairs of denim are the same. This encourages my customer to recognize [what] sets them apart from others.

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RIVET: What does being a Black fashion designer mean to you?

AA: For me being a black fashion designer is about creating for a bigger purpose. Everything I do is centered around storytelling. It’s all about creating a message that can advance Black art and challenge others to think outside of the box. Extracting inspiration from my experience as a queer Black man is at the heart of what I do.

Aalim Abdul, Alexis Colby and Sheila Rashid share how they are turning their creativity into denim businesses.
Aalim Abdul Courtesy

RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years?

AA: My goal is to be in a position where I am releasing collections without constantly taking long hiatuses. As a creative working a 9-5 job, life gets overwhelming. Often times, I tend to take a step back for an extensive amount of time to regroup. Having my brand fully sustained without these long breaks is where I want to be.

I also want to give a voice to those coming up after me. One thing I’m big on is creating opportunities for other young Black creatives who may feel pressured to go to a school or institution in order to groom their natural creativity. My current experience as a self-taught designer is proof that it’s possible on your own. Whether it’s on the front or back end of my brand, curating a space in the future for these kids is a huge part of why I do this.

Alexis Colby, founder of Bit of Denim

RIVET: What made you want to create a denim brand?

Alexis Colby: I’ve had a love for denim since college. I had a brand back then, VampedCo, where I would make shorts and hand stud and tie-dye them. Once I moved to New York City, I got back into denim and made a denim rug for my room. It was so fun creating with denim, I stuck with it and Bit of Denim was born.

RIVET: Who is your customer and what do you keep in mind when designing for them?

AC: I create for individuals—not the masses—so my customer is someone who likes to stand out. Someone who likes unique pieces that are [one-of-a-kind]. When creating, I make sure to push the envelope and think about what I haven’t seen been done with denim and execute from there.

RIVET: What does being a Black fashion designer mean to you?

AC: It means creating my own mini-world in the world of fashion. Let’s be honest, this industry isn’t built for black designers to succeed, so it’s up to all Black creatives including myself to work hard and push our creativity to the fullest potential. We need to build our own lanes.

RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years?

AC: In the next five years, I see Bit of Denim tapping into footwear, expanding into retail in Japan and Europe and expanding our creativity in the art world with installations. Big things on the way.

Sheila Rashid, founder of Sheila Rashid, LLC

RIVET: What made you want to create a denim brand?

Sheila Rashid: I wanted to create a denim brand because initially, I wanted to wear my own denim and have my own fits since I couldn’t find what I was looking for elsewhere.

RIVET: Who is your customer and what do you keep in mind when designing for them?

SR: My customers are people that appreciate the art of denim. I tend to make staple pieces that you can essentially wear every day. I like to call it luxury denim. I tend to pay attention to details and the flexibility and durability of fits and styles.

Aalim Abdul, Alexis Colby and Sheila Rashid share how they are turning their creativity into denim businesses.
Sheila Rashid Courtesy

RIVET: What does being a Black fashion designer mean to you?

SR: Being a black designer means to be a blessing. I get to do what I love for a living.

RIVET: Where do you hope to see your brand within the next five years?

SR: In the next five years, I see my brand reaching new and recurring customers through e-commerce, social media and word-of-mouth. I see more collaborations and new collections.

Victor Vaughns Jr. is an associate editor for WWD.