WRITTEN BY SHARRA GREENE
In an interview with Fashion Bomb Daily, luxury streetwear designer Milan of Milano Di Rouge opened up about the criticism she received following the release of her first $500 branded sweatsuit. “Who does she think she is? She’s not Gucci… Why does she have a $500 sweatsuit?” The backlash went viral, eventually creating even more buzz for her brand. But as I watched the interview, it made me start to think about black owned luxury labels as a whole and the attitude that some of our own people carry when it comes to supporting mainstream luxury labels vs. supporting our own. Milano says, “I don’t think that we as black people understand our value.” As a stylist who recommends various brands to clients, I’ve had an up close view at what black consumers see as valuable and I couldn’t agree more with Milano.
There have been countless times I’ve watched black consumers either refuse or hesitate to support black luxury fashion labels, claiming that the merchandise is ridiculously overpriced. However, these are some of the very same consumers that will splurge on a designer belt from a traditional luxury label without a second thought. We see this pattern very often. It always makes me question what makes something “luxurious” and why we are so cautious when it comes to purchasing luxury pieces from black owned brands. There are literally hundreds of ways this question could be answered. But, looking at the history of black people and the consequential need we have to feel validated, one could of course say that our dependence upon certain mainstream design houses stem from a desire to be associated with the majority, or the race who is thought to be “superior” within our society. When a group of people have been enslaved, abused, denied opportunities to better themselves, and essentially set back for generations, there’s no question that all of that breeds generational curses and deep insecurities that can affect countless aspects of our lives, even down to our buying choices. Many of us may look at who we consider to be “well off” and ahead in life and think, whether conciously or subconsciously: “I want to shop where they shop. It will show the world that I am important, just like them.”And if this is the thought process we’re adopting when it comes to our shopping experiences, then personally I feel it’s time that we really think about how we define “luxury” within our lifestyles and possibly begin to redefine it for ourselves.
By definition, the word luxury is defined as “ the state of great comfort and extravagant living.” There have been so many black owned or black affiliated luxury brands that have come and gone. Very few have withstood the test of time while your traditional brands like Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc. have remained in the mix for as long as we can remember. While I’m well aware that there are multiple reasons for this, the one that we as a people can control is our ability to pour our money and support into brands that genuinely celebrate us, whether they be traditional and mainstream, emerging, or start ups.
Often times, I feel that we as black people are too hard on each other in business. We often complain and pick a brand apart when it comes to their price points, but splurge on other well known ones without question. We threaten to ruin new designers’ reputation with bad reviews when an item is slightly delayed, but when dealing with a major company we tend to grin and bear it. Don’t get me wrong, as a chronic perfectionist and a bargain lover, I definitely can relate on some fronts. But looking at the big picture, if we as black people truly want to leave our mark on the fashion industry, we have to be more patient and supportive of each other, especially when it comes to premium goods. This is when redefining luxury should come into play. We shouldn’t be ashamed or hesitant to give a new designer a try, as long as they are providing us with quality merchandise in materials that will sustain us for seasons to come, looks that inspire us and make us proud to wear them, and great customer service. To me, that should be our standard for luxury. Brands like Nichole Lynel, Laquan Smith (my fave ready to wear designer, period), Andrea Iyamah, India Monae, MWR Collection, and Sai Sankoh are just a few of the current black owned luxury labels who work tirelessly to maintain that standard. We should be open to them and brands similar, proud to wear them and proud to plug them.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with shopping a traditional luxury brand. I, myself CANNOT WAIT until I’m in a position to splurge on Fendi as that’s one of the mainstream brands that I covet the most. However, I think that more black consumers taking the time to discover and support emerging luxury labels that are black owned would only push the culture forward and open certain doors that we claim we so desperately want access to. This goes beyond just buying from them. It should also affect the ways we navigate the industry. For example, for all of the fashion hopefuls complaining that they can’t find employment or internship opportunities within the industry due to racism and discrimination, think of how many black owned brands would love to help their own people grow in the field, especially knowing that a majority of their sales has come from their own people. Additionally, supporting black owned luxury labels even as they are emerging would lead to us having more options when it comes to wearing a luxury brand; we wouldn’t necessarily have to opt for a design house that creates and sells racially demeaning merchandise to the very consumers that often support them.
Wearing creations by our own people with pride, providing constructive criticism that will give minority owned labels a chance to grow instead of tearing them down, and choosing to shop with brands that show respect to our people are a few of the ways that I feel we can redefine luxury, ensuring that blacks in fashion can have longevity in the industry and actually profit from it ourselves, heavily influencing the culture for years to come.