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HBCUs, Nostalgia and Upcycling Inspire the Latest Drops

With the holiday shopping season in high gear, brands and retailers are rolling out special products and give-back initiatives.

Urban Outfitters, Levi’s, Macy’s and Rue 21 are among the retailers updating their end-of-year assortments with limited-edition collections and unique partnerships. From collections designed by rising talent at HBCUs to the return of Y2K-era names, here’s a look at the latest drops delivering newness to the physical and online shopping experience.

Top of the class

Student designs are at the center of Urban Outfitters’ newly released Summer Class of 2021 HBCU capsule collection.

From concept to creation, the 24-piece collegiate apparel and accessories collection was designed by five students in the brand’s 10-week internship and mentorship program in partnership with three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Howard University, Clark Atlanta University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Produced by Ebbets Field Flannel, the line, officially licensed by the collegiate licensing company CLC, includes Champion sweats and long-sleeve tops featuring the students’ original graphics, and three premium letterman jackets that represent the three schools. Tote bags, hats and playing cards round out the assortment.

The collection retails for $20-$700 and is available exclusively on Urban Outfitters’ e-commerce site. Purchases include a donation to the students’ respective alma maters.

“Being able to share our resources with HBCU talent, and to work alongside these students creatively as they developed their own product, made Summer Class enriching not only for our students, but for every UO employee who got to be a part of the program,” said Dalila Shannon, Urban Outfitters women’s divisional merchandising manager and Summer Class mentor.

Summer Class of 2021 HBCU capsule collection
Summer Class of 2021 Courtesy

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With the success of the inaugural Summer Class internship program, Urban Outfitters said it will continue the initiative in 2022, expanding the program to additional HBCUs.

This week, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation also announced a $2 million pledge to support scholarships for Black, African and African American students, including those at Morehouse College, Spelman College and 10 additional HBCUs, through the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) over a five-year period.

The scholarships build on the commitments the company established in 2020 to address systemic racism and racial injustice. “The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation works to make the dream of a better life a reality by championing equity and investing in historically underserved communities,” said Roseann Lynch, Ralph Lauren Corporation chief people officer and head of the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation. “Our hope is that these scholarships will deepen pathways of access to education for our future leaders and help enable them to pursue their own dreams.”

Brooklyn born

Rue 21 is home to a new collaboration that taps into nostalgia. The teen specialty retailer recently launched a collaboration between hip-hop group Public Enemy and ’90s streetwear label Defend Brooklyn.

The men’s and women’s collection retails for $19.99-$75.99 and includes T-shirts, hoodies, joggers, jackets and baseball shirt. Items feature co-branded graphics and feature phrases that reference Public Enemy hits like “Fight The Power” and “Bring Da Noise.”

Rue 21 and Defend Brooklyn are long-time partners. The companies previously collaborated in 2019 on a limited-edition line that celebrated the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.”

Public Enemy x Defend Brooklyn
Public Enemy x Defend Brooklyn Courtesy

Defend Brooklyn supervised the designs and collaborated with Public Enemy’s art collective, headed by Chuck D, to ensure the style and authenticity stayed true to both brands. “It just made perfect sense, in a world where counterfeit is common, we want to maintain a brand and vibe that is timeless,” said Alex Write, Defend Brooklyn CEO. “Public Enemy and Defend Brooklyn is exactly that.”

The collaboration was initially just between Public Enemy and Defend Brooklyn but when Rue 21 got wind of it, the retailer immediately wanted in on the partnership. “We love collaborating with musicians and we are dedicated to bringing culturally relevant moments to our customers every chance we can,” said Bill Brand, Rue 21 CEO.

All items in the collection are available on Rue 21’s e-commerce site and a portion of the collection is available in all Rue 21 stores nationwide.

Upcycled charm

Bentgablenits, the Toronto-based design collective that reinvents existing garments, and Levi’s bowed their second collection of upcycled vintage Trucker jackets and 501 jeans. Each garment features Bentgablenits’ motif of hand-dyed flowers constructed from vintage fabric in addition to the brand’s signature hand-sewn embroidery.

Bentgablenits x Levi's
Bentgablenits x Levi’s Courtesy

“We always thought about doing embroidered denim,” said Angelo Nitsopoulos, Bentgablenits co-founder. “And we all know who the strongest denim brand in the world is. So, when you merge lead designers that embroider with the strongest denim company, it creates some cool things.”

The upcycled indigo collection launched Wednesday exclusively on the Levi’s app. The jeans and jacket both retail for $298.

In addition to indigo styles, the collection includes “extremely rare” vintage black Truckers available exclusively on the Bentgablenits website. “Everyone loves blue jeans,” Nitsopoulos added. “But I always like when a brand or a designer does an exclusive, because it’s something different from what everyone else is wearing.”

Throwback gift

Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, the streetwear brand that rose to fame during the Y2K era of bling, is back with a giftable capsule collection exclusively available at and in 50 Macy’s stores.

The collection, available in sizes XS-3X, centers on hallmark pieces including dresses, tracksuits, outerwear and more. Throwback tees and oversized hoodies feature the brand’s signature cat logo. Denim items span jackets, zip-front dresses, bootcut jeans and skinny jeans. The pieces are emboldened with elements like heavy destruction, all-over logo laser prints and faux-fur trim.

The collection retails for $39.99-$129.99.

Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons
Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons Courtesy

“We are thrilled to welcome back the iconic Baby Phat brand with a must-have holiday capsule,” said Durand Guion, Macy’s Fashion Office vice president. “Kimora’s impeccable eye for detail, diverse cultural heritage and fabulous fashion sense will inspire both her existing and new fans to express their unique personal style.”

Tying this holiday capsule up with a bow, Simmons has also joined Macy’s as its 2021 Ambassador for its Make-A-Wish Believe campaign, which is built around writing letters to Santa. For every letter written to Santa online at or dropped off in Macy’s stores through Dec. 24, the retailer will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million.