Interview with Melody Boykin, the founder of Black Fashion Week USA.
The misrepresentation of African Americans in the fashion industry has been overlooked for decades. Though a number of reasons can be stated for the lack of diversity in the US fashion industry, a number of Black people have been able to overcome these challenges and carve out careers for themselves; one can talk of Edward Wilkerson, who is the creative director of Lafayette 148, a multimillion dollar fashion label, and Jay Z, and Russell Simons who at some point in their careers have ventured successfully into fashion.
Melody Boykin launched Black Fashion Week USA to serve as a platform for African Americans to showcase the rich designs and clothing to Black audiences across the country. Today on your voices, she talks to us about her inspiration in setting up this fashion event and how she’s using Black Fashion Week USA to bring the worldwide exposure that Black fashion designers deserve.
Please introduce yourself briefly to our readers. What work do you do with Black Fashion Week USA?
I am a native of Chicago. I have a background in fashion marketing/ merchandising and Black American studies. I’ve spent a number of years working in corporations, and the last three-four years starting my business and working with designers of color primarily around Chicago, but I have worked with designers in other cities and states as well as internationally. We’re helping them with gaining exposure for their brands, via my company’s marketing services and runway production events. That’s one of my passions and I enjoy helping the designers get as much exposure with Black audiences as possible, as a way of encouraging Black Americans to support the fashion designers and to support their clothing brands. My company can also serve as a resource where consumers can actually go and find information, and connect with designers that are a part of our events.
Photo by: Darel White Photography
Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to start the Black Fashion Week about two years ago?
What inspired me was a lack of representation in the media featuring Black designers, as well as in the mainstream fashion industry. As you know, New York is the fashion capital of the US. There are very few Black designers that are a part of the mainstream fashion shows, that showcase along with the elite European designers, such as the popular French and the Italians, and so I saw a need for more exposure of Black designers on the runway and to really spread the word about these designers and compile them to a network in which they could utilize the platform to advertise to more Black consumers. In essence, where to shop Black and where to support Black. So it was driven mainly on the premises of a lack of representation in the media, in the fashion industry and just the passion to see more articles, more TV interviews, more recognition nationwide about designers of color.
Would you say that the Black Fashion Week is part of the current LetsBuyBlack trend making waves across the country?
Yes, it is. I think it is a great timing, the timing around the Black Lives Matter and the Black Voices movement and the political movement surrounding Blacks. I think it’s definitely in line and in the season with supporting Black and buying from Black designers, especially with the African American market. We want all people to be able to come to our events and to potentially learn about these designers and shop with them. So our focus is on really spreading the word among the Black communities about Black fashion designers and supporting them.
Photo by: Darel White Photography
Can you tell me some of the key points of the last Black Fashion Week? What were the most interesting events that took place?
If I could point to three events out the six we had this year, that would be the business and fashion panel discussion, where we were able to invite successful African American fashion and beauty professionals to speak on the panel, to give us insight and feedback to up-and-coming designers and beauty artists, whether they were make-up artists or hair stylists and more of the sort. So we were able to feature some celebrity make-up artists, fashion attorneys, branding coaches, to name a few, on this panel and they really did give us a lot of feedback to up-and-coming fashion professionals. We wanted to be a gateway where we could not just be about entertainment – sometimes when you think fashion you think that it’s about just entertainment. It was more geared around, “Ok, how do I enter into the fashion industry? What steps do I need to take to brand my business to make it a marketable company? What legal steps do I need to take to trademark my company, IT professionals, things of that sort. I really was thrilled about the outcome of that event. Oh and lets not forget our luxury runway event, where we featured about ten designers. Some came internationally – such as “Yamaia” from Marbella Spain. Our fashion platform grew to about 600 people for our second fashion show this year, we grew from 250 people and now we’re averaging almost 500 people per major fashion show. And so that was a milestone for us, to be able to highlight the positivity of designers of color on the runway, luxury fashion, formal attire, career attire, and also the people who are looking to support these designers who are business influencers, business owners, and fashion lovers, who can afford to really support the designers. I think the overall events was a success. Finally, we have a non-profit organisation that was started which is the Purple Carpet Project. We had a student scholarship competition and the event was dear to my heart because I’m the founder of that organisation as well. And with that organisation, we had two students from local colleges who are studying fashion design. They wrote essays and they competed in front of a live panel of judges about the aesthetics of their fashion design. From there, we were able to award two actual scholarship to go towards their education and provide them with fashion designers that can serve as mentors for them while they’re in design school. So every year now, we’re doing the student scholarship competition as a way to raise money and to give back to these students. We hope to grow The Purple Carpet Project to be a national scholarship competition where we’re able to donate so much money to different students in different cities and to travel with our student scholarship competition. I think those were really some of the highlights which we accomplished in our second year to name a few. We were featured on ABC 7, on Fox 32 in Chicago, there’s a number of different media outlets we were able to really impact this past Black History Month, and we look forward to doing the same in the upcoming Black History Month.
Please tell us about some of the designers and models who took part in the fashion week?
I had a number from Chicago, a number from Houston, we had designers come from St. Louis, Louisiana, and Europe. These designers are well known, one of the designers was a 30-year veteran in couture bridal gowns, Brian K. Osburn, here in Chicago, who also showcased his work in our luxury fashion show. In our urban fashion show an emerging designer showcase, we featured a number of local boutiques and casual wear designers. We had a number of designers that represented the Midwest, as well as southern states that came to Chicago to be a part of the event.
Do you think the interest and the attention or the audience that you expected was what you got? Did you anticipate this kind of attention?
I think I did anticipate the attention that we got, I think it’s something new that was birthed here in Chicago, and it’s well needed. I think a lot of people were actually excited to see a Black Fashion Week, because in Chicago as well as around the states, there are other ethnic fashion shows, there’s an African fashion week, a Latino fashion week that’s very huge and was birthed out of Chicago and it’s now traveling. So we’re really excited about matching the platform to celebrate the African explanatory, African diaspora, as well as the African countries. Our designers are very diverse, they come from all over, some are African Americans, some are Africans, some are Caribbean. We’re just representing the oneness of our ancestral ethnicity and highlighting that on the runway.
Photo by: Darel White Photography
What do you think about the trends that were shown at the event? Are they in line with current trends in the textile and apparel industry?
The trends were definitely on point, a lot of the designers utilized Ankara prints especially some of our African designers who showcased in our events. Each designer is unique in their different styles and on trend with the colors that they chose to use. So each designer was quite different but I do think that they were on trend with their silhouettes, their colors and fabric choices.
Thanks so much for talking to us today. You are doing a great job promoting Black fashion designers, and we need more Black people to patronise these Black designers. What are your parting words for our readers?
We have the power as Black consumers to really choose when, where and how we spend our dollars. There’s no time better than this, for us to really connect with the influencers, those who have been the backbone of the stability of this country, which is the textile and apparel industry. It has always been and will be the backbone. Clothing, the designers, our ancestors came from Africa, they were weaving, they were sewing, they were producing fibers for clothing. Yet this industry is still one of the least recognized industries for African Americans and Africans in America, so I would want to encourage Black consumers to choose when, where and how they spend their dollars and hopefully, our platform will serve as an online resource where they can learn about designers and choose to connect and shop and support those designers.
Photo by: Darel White Photography
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