Fashion

If Rihanna herself can’t hold down a luxury fashion label in 2021, then who can?


When I heard the news that LVMH was dropping Fenty (the clothing brand) from its roster and putting it on sleep mode, (or a momentary coma with indefinite return), I flinched, but nothing automatically triggered me. I love me some Rih Rih, but I wasn’t going to have sleepless nights over the first lady of pop music and beauty becoming a little less rich. However, something didn’t quite sit well with me. For me it was beyond Fenty. There was a message there and it took me a few moments to grasp it.

It’s understandable there are those that perhaps feel like her luxury fashion brand didn’t have legs as she is more of a beauty babe. It’s a fair point. Although her undeniable sex appeal and attention to diversity does sell lingerie (Savage x Fenty *heart eyes*), she isn’t really a lingerie designer either, right? Nor was she a beauty pro before she launched her sell out Fenty Beauty range. So it made me question whether there’s something else going on, and whether we should be questioning the landscape of luxury when it comes to Black ownership and where exactly representation fits into this conversation.


One of the arguments for the closure of Fenty is that her core audience is ultimately not a luxury buyer. “I believe that the clothes haven’t done as much as beauty and lingerie, but that may be because Rihanna’s current demographic/core audience is millennial/gen Z Black, men and women.” says creative consultant Arieta Mujay Bärg, 41, who was a former Head of PR and Marketing for River Island and led Rihanna x River Island 13’ collection. “However Fenty fashion house has only been opened for less than two years and it takes time to develop a following when you are doing something different from the norm.” Bärg adds.

The same may be said for a lot of Black designers like the super trendy Telfar Clemens and the super edgy, cool and monotone Cold Laundry founder Ola Alabi, who often attract a more ‘urban demographic’ for lack of a better word. By no means is that a bad thing, but of course for sustainable success there is a need to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Gaining respect across the board in that space is a hard task, but it’s lazy to assume that consumerism within the Black community, or a specific generation is capped at a price point.

Bärg agrees adding: “On the same note. It would be inaccurate to say that her, having a majority Black following is the reason that the brand has failed. Developing a high quality luxury brand and sticking to it is no easy task.” Barg believes that same level of grace is not allowed fairly, and that may support the case as to why we see so little successful Black owned/Black led luxury businesses. “Case in point: Edun – the brand fronted by Bono and wife Ali Hewson made LVMH a loss of $28million in a space of five years, and every year they were given the benefit of the doubt and they kept feeding in cash until there was no turning back.” says Bärg.

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Although perhaps that could have served a lesson for LVMH, however, that’s not to say that everything that fails once can’t return. Burberry serves as a success story on how a failing business can bounce back if supported. According to Fast Company, Rose Marie Bravo and Angela Ahrendts (who now runs Apple’s retail division) lead a major brand image re-shuffle: “Deftly blending updates of the old (that traditional trench coat, that familiar check) with an embrace of the new (social media, aggressive China strategy).” Which ultimately led the brand into an “unprecedented resurrection, record financial results, and acclaim for a fashion house that is once again a luxury trendsetter.”.

In recent years, luxury is starting to wake up to Black consumers’ spending power. In fact, according to Nielsen, Blacks are 20% more likely than the total population to say they will “pay extra for a product that is consistent with the image I want to convey.” They are also more likely to say they shop at high-end stores. However when will those high end stores be for us, and be created by us? Something we can call our own? Something that can create leverage within the Black community, and serve as inspiration for future generations to come?

To set the scene, the fashion industry has a checkered history when it comes to the inclusion of Black voices, Black faces and recognition for Black trailblazers. Many of the biggest and most successful fashion houses now routinely adopt “the street’s” DNA and aesthetics, albeit using high-end materials, stamped with an even higher price tag. Versace, Balenciaga and Cartier sell glamorous sweatpants, oversized-Ts and heavy jewelry, all styles popularised by black owned brands like Rocawear and FUBU (For Us By Us). So perhaps it’s time we allowed those creatives to hold space in their own right.

This whole thing begs the question that if Rihanna who is Rihanna can’t hold down her own luxury fashion brand under such a powerful umbrella like LVMH (pandemic aside), then who can? What message is that sending to up-and-coming Black fashion designers and entrepreneurs, to Black women specifically? Since we’re asking questions, bar OFF-WHITE fronted by Louis Vuitton’s Artistic Director Virgil Abloh, where are the other Black owned luxury fashion houses at?

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The reasoning as to why Black designers face undeniable roadblocks in comparison to their non-Black counterparts, can trickle down to systemic oppression and discrimination. Stay with me. To create a brand and be able to sustain it you need money! We already know that there is a system that keeps different communities for having access to opportunities that will afford them access to money and exposure.

The Financial Times have reported that in the UK alone there are no comprehensive figures on lending to black-owned businesses in the UK because “banks do not ask for ethnic background on application forms — but bankers acknowledge there is a problem with funding.”. Warwick Business School released a report in 2013 which found that black-owned businesses were more likely to be rejected for an overdraft and charged higher interest rates than their white-owned counterparts.

Focusing on fashion alone getting access to funding, working spaces, developing talent and endorsing exposure and supporting distribution, all dictate how successful a brand will be. The New York Times had reported that the current imbalance is due to a combination of: “socioeconomic realities, educational hurdles, the globalisation of the industry and fashion’s own core sense of itself as an industry made up of outsiders.”

However in recent times, corporations have started to acknowledge that. In fact Gucci have launched the Global Changemaker initiative, creating fashion fellowships at universities in Lagos, Ghana and Cape Town. Post BLM and the social media Blackout Tuesday last summer 2020, other brands have come forth with support too. Fashion tech company Resonance announced that they will be starting a fund for US-based Black designers named “Be Resonant.” $50,000 will be awarded to 10 winning designers who are looking to launch, maintain, or further their business. Rent the Runway are allocating $1,000,000 to support Black designers launching fashion brands who have not had the investment capital to launch on their own.

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Popular figures in the Black community have also stepped in and been advocating for this “for us by us” movement like founder of sustainable accessories brand Brother Vellies, Aurora James with her 15% pledge Campaign to Support Black-Owned Businesses. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross, who was recently crowned Fashion Icon of 2020 Award at the E! People’s Choice Awards, has always been vocal about her support for Black designers, most notably where she hosted the American Music Awards in 2018, wearing an array of looks solely designed by Black designers and brands. Actress and producer Issa Rae and NFL Star Colin Kaepernick and the US’s former/forever First Lady Michelle Obama have been documented sharing the same views.

Jermaine Robinson, a creative consultant and stylist who’s worked with the rap artist and YouTuber KSI and the singer/songwriter Sir, among others, also believes that the conversation is starting to shift within: “Specially after the submergence of the BLM movement back in that turbulent 2020 summer, I’m starting to see a lot of Black people and artists supporting luxury Black-owned brands and there seems to be a real desire and conscious effort to do so long-term.”

Yes there are gatekeepers, but Millennials and Gen Z are the future buyers and we are the ones that will dictate what brands will appreciate in value and which ones will flop. As our generations grow older and richer, we will naturally transition from aspirational consumers to actual customers. We are the ones that have to change the conversation and help our communities create space.

We are the same consumers that associate our favs with luxury, we associate Nicki with Fendi, Cardi with Birkins and rapper Gucci Mane with Gucci, so it’s about time we start associating them with our own. After all, if they work hard for it, Black people too, deserve to create and then enjoy the finer things in life.

When asking my colleagues and friends to name drop some of their favourite Black owned luxury fashion brands, the names started flooding. Unsurprisingly there is a lot of emerging Black talent. And there is most certainly space for those up and coming designers to create their own brands, be the face of it, and/or own it.

Here are 15 Black up-and-coming luxury designer brands to support during not only black square summer but beyond. Take note, because they’re about to become household names… Mark our words!





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