After a year filled with social unrest and heightened divisions, brands and retailers alike are stepping up to show support for Black and brown entrepreneurs and businesses during Black History Month.
The parent to Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman is linking arms with the Black in Fashion Council’s (BIFC) Active Allyship Pledge, which commits to advancing Black professionals seeking opportunities in fashion and beauty.
“We are proud to partner with the Black in Fashion Council and join them in their mission to ensure that Black individuals are represented and amplified in our industry,” said Tapestry Inc. CEO Joanne Crevoiserat. “We have committed to expanding diversity in our Tapestry and brand leadership teams. Working with the Council will help us to build upon the progress that we have made in achieving these goals.”
Noting that BIFC now partners with more than 100 brands, co-founders Sandrine Charles and Lindsay Peoples-Wagner said working with Tapestry, which will host an “Unscripted” discussion featuring the pair in a talk on diversity and inclusion, will champion “long-term change” industry-wide. “There is still so much work to be done, and it’s exciting to see influential houses like Tapestry commit to making our industry more inclusive,” they added.
The accessible luxury firm is also seeking to aid emerging talent at the higher-ed level. Black Alliance, an employee resource group inside Tapestry, is hosting talent and sourcing fairs starting this month in partnership with seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). What’s more, Coach launched the “Coach Dream It Real Scholarship Program” in tandem with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to support HBCU students, while Kate Spade continues its efforts advancing the mental health and wellbeing of the New York City area’s women and girls of color. The brand’s foundation is distributing grants to groups including The Lower Eastside Girls Club, The National Counsel for Behavioral Health, The Grace Institute and The Moth.
Seattle-based department store chain Nordstrom announced its latest activation and popup, dubbed Black Founders, at its flagship location in New York City earlier this month. The event, which aims to celebrate Black-owned lifestyle businesses, showcases an array of products from eight American companies, including beauty, men’s and women’s apparel, accessories and footwear.
“We’ve long believed that we’re all made better by the diversity that exists within our communities,” Chris Wanlass, Nordstrom’s vice president and general manager for New York City Stores, said in a statement. “We are committed to improving the diversity of the vendors we partner with across all parts of our business, which will help us better serve the needs of our customers.”
Wanlass said the company decided to showcase a curation of Black-owned and founded brands at the New York City flagship’s Center Stage, a space designed to highlight a rotating cast of designers and products, to give them “our highest level of exposure by amplifying their voices.” The in-store space is designed with the look of a fashion archive, giving consumers the opportunity to browse and discover more about each brand and its founders. The collections will be on display at the Nordstrom flagship until March 28.
The eight featured brands and founders include Sharon Chuter of UOMA Beauty, Miko Underwood of Oak & Acorn apparel, Erika Dalya Massaquoi of womenswear brand The OULA Company, Elann Zelie of dress and lounge brand Zelie for She, John Dean of Renowned clothing, Jessica Rich of her eponymous shoe brand, Corianna and Brianna Dotson of Coco and Breezy Eyewear, and Nancy Twine of Briogeo Hair Care. In addition to getting prime shelf space at the NYC flagship, the brands are available through March at select Nordstrom stores across the country and Nordstrom.com.
Each label was selected by Nordstrom for the cultural and aesthetic resonance of its product range and the power of its story. Renowned, a menswear brand from Los Angeles founded by John Dean, for example, “tells stories from a perspective that is relatable to anyone chasing a dream,” Nordstrom wrote. The brand blends contemporary streetwear styling with patterns and motifs that are evocative of moments in Black history in the U.S., and aims to “create a brighter and more dynamic future for all those who consume it.”
Fellow L.A. founder Elann Zelie launched her eponymous brand, Zelie for She, in 2013 after perceiving “a void in fashion for curvy women to express themselves.” The designer characterized her plus-size brand, which deals in romantic velour and lace maxi dresses as well as soft, flowing loungewear, as “an unapologetic expression of one’s authenticity and individuality.”
Meanwhile, The OULA Company, which was founded in 2015 by Erika Dalya Massaquoi, trades in “heirloom-worthy” womenswear inspired by the designer’s mother. An artist and activist during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s who favored tunics, caftans and day dresses in bold prints and vibrant colors, Massaquoi’s muse inspired the motifs that have become “the company’s signature,” Nordstrom said, “and its ethos embraces the testimony of [Black] joy.”
Denim heads will also have a reason to visit the display. Designed by Harlem-based founder Miko Underwood, Oak & Acorn’s genderless luxury denim and streetwear blends an eco-conscious sensibility with bold storytelling and design elements that highlight the African-American experience and the community’s historical social impact.
Outside of showcasing the chosen brands at its flagship, Nordstrom will debut 12 inclusive beauty brands in stores across the country this month, as well as launching lifestyle products—like apparel, skincare and homewares—from Goodee, a socially and environmentally conscious marketplace for artisans, in select locations. The private-label Nordstrom Made brand has also committed to expanding its collection of intimates to include a wider range of skin tones, beginning in March.
While Nordstrom celebrated Black History Month by offering exposure in its stores, heritage American footwear brand Steve Madden is lending its support by educating brand leaders about how to run successful businesses.
The company publicly announced a joint effort with Fearless Fund, a venture capital organization founded by women of color with the aim of supporting Black and brown female founders, last week. The multi-phase effort “quietly kicked off in late 2020,” according to Fearless Fund, which provides resources and education to entrepreneurs. Interested parties completed a questionnaire, and 50 candidates were chosen to enroll in Fearless Fund’s 12-month “Get Venture Ready” program, which helps to equip them with the knowledge and skills to gain access to capital through mentorship and training.
“It’s not just enough to give investment capital—we have to offer mentorship, and this is just one of the ways that we achieve that,” Arian Simone, general partner and co-founder of Fearless Fund, said in a statement. “We were delighted to partner with Steve Madden in the area of education, as their Self Made campaign and initiative is in alignment with many of the entrepreneurs we support.”
Steve Madden’s Self Made campaign, which launched a number of years ago, showcases the backstories of entrepreneurs across industries, giving them a platform to share the highs and lows of building brands. “The Fearless Fund is a perfect partner for us,” Steve Madden, founder and creative design chief, said. “Their work empowering Women of Color entrepreneurs aligns with our thinking, and we’re excited to join forces with them.”
The second phase of the collaborative initiative launched Friday with a the “Self Made X Fearless Fund Series,” a virtualized opportunity for Fearless Fund portfolio company founders, including Roshawnna Novellus of EnrichHER, Alicia Scott of Range Beauty, Angel Lenise, Montre Moore, and Phyllicia Phillips, J.D. of AMP Beauty, Tracey Pickett of HairBrella, Angela Benton of Streamlytics, and Sheena Allen of Capway to have their stories highlighted across Steve Madden’s social channels throughout the month. Simone and Madden, as well as Fearless Fund co-founder Keshia Knight Pulliam, also plan to host each of the eight founders for virtual “lunch and learn” conversations that viewers will be able to tap into on social.
The final stage of the collab will be a “Walk in Her Shoes” campaign, wherein one lucky entrepreneur will be gifted a fully stocked shoe closet packed with Steve Madden’s latest designs. To enter the giveaway, a female founder of color must answer a short questionnaire and write an essay about her experience launching her business, giving judges a chance to figuratively “walk in her shoes.” The winner will be announced on the brand’s social media on March 9, in celebration of Women’s History Month, it said.
Gap Inc. also committed to showcasing diverse talent this month. On Feb. 1, the fashion firm—which owns the Gap, Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic and Intermix brands—took the 15 Percent Pledge. Conceived by fashion designer Aurora James of Brother Vellies, the movement urges brands and retailers to up representation for Black businesses, entrepreneurs and employees by 15 percent, commensurate with the African-American population in the U.S. The San Francisco-based company also donated $200,000 to the cause.
“Driving lasting change takes time and maniacal focus, and we’re invested for the long-term,” Kisha Modica, head of equality and belonging at Gap Inc., said in a statement. “As we strive to enable a culture of inclusion and belonging for all, we are excited to partner with the 15 Percent Pledge to accelerate our commitment to increase access and opportunity for Black and Latinx communities.”
Meanwhile, Banana Republic announced the expansion of its True Hues range of solutionwear on Wednesday to include a more inclusive range of color ways to complement natural skin tones. The line of bodysuits, camis, tanks, T-shirts, slip dresses and other undergarments now features 17 different tones to suit all shoppers. A campaign shot by Black photographer Dana Scruggs features a number activists “who embody true diversity across body type, gender identity, skin tone, ability and background,” it said. Writer and record producer Drew Dixon, artist and designer Karina Sharif, professional dancer and director Stephanie Kim and culture writer and journalist Sydney Sweeney are among the faces pictured in the campaign.
The brand also touted a forthcoming limited-edition 16-piece capsule collection with Los Angeles artist Prep Curry as a part of a mentorship program for the rising streetwear designer. The collection, which will launch this spring, features bold geometric graphics and floral motifs, embodies a “California cool” aesthetic. To lend further support to BIPOC designers, Banana Republic has also deepened its commitment to Harlem’s Fashion Row, which discovers and showcases emerging talent through national events and programs, by donating $25,000 to ICON360, a fund to aid fashion designers through the pandemic.
Bahja Johnson, head of customer belonging at Gap Inc., characterized Banana Republic’s latest efforts as “just a few more ways the brand will continue to break boundaries and create opportunities, allowing humanity to lead the way through our product and our people.”
“Diverse voices are powerful, and as a brand it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of our customers and our communities,” she said.