By NaTyshca Pickett
The 3rd Annual Digital Fashion Summit hosted by Harlem’s Fashion Row took place February 12 – 18. Since 2007, Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR) has been promoting people of color in Fashion. Founded by Brandice Daniel, Harlem’s Fashion Row’s goal is to create a bridge between retailers and designers of color in fashion through brand strategy, collaborations, experiential marketing, recruiting and pipeline programs.
The Digital Fashion Summit celebrates the enduring influence of Black people in fashion. The panelists consisted of Tommy Hilfiger, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s BAZAAR, Samira Nasr, Sergio Hudson, Tom Ford and many more. The theme of the summit was Moving Beyond the Black Box – A New Conversation About Race and Fashion.
This event was created for all to come together in the industry to discuss strategies that will help them move forward with racial equity. According to Daniel, “there is work that needs to be done and I believe that we are up for the challenge.”
Daniel has been discussing race in fashion since she started HFR. “This is a conversation that we need to have, it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it is needed,” Daniel stated.
On the panel with Tommy Hilfiger and Randy Cousin, the Senior Vice President of Product Concept, and The People’s Place Program at Tommy Hilfiger; they discussed how Hilfiger groomed and mentored many Black designers throughout his career. “When I started school in the 70s, I always told myself that when I come across someone I believe in, regardless of their skin color, how much money they had, or social-economic background, I will open the doors for that person to do what I possibly can to help them,” Hilfiger stated.
One well known designer who has been mentored by Hilfiger is Romeo Hunte. Hunte’s clothing has appeared on celebrities such as Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Laverne Cox, as well as athletes such as Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul.
The People’s Place Program, founded by Hilfiger, was born out of the need for social change and inclusion of Black, Indigenous and people of color in fashion. “The People’s Place Program will amplify our mission to dedicate resources to underrepresented people who are so important to the fashion landscape and giving them a true platform for their talent to shine,” said Cousin.
The three pillars of the program consist of Partnership and Representation, Career Access, and Industry Leadership. “When I’m asked about what change looks like in the industry, I reference The People’s Place Program because it has clear goals and dollars that are designated to meet those goals in a way to move forward and develop longevity,” Daniel added. “I think every brand should create a program and follow through with it. I don’t want to be the only one doing it and I hope to inspire them all to do it,” Hilfiger stated.
In the Fireside Chat with Designer Sergio Hudson, he shares his journey in the fashion industry and what life has been like since dressing Mrs. Michelle Obama and Madame Vice President Kamala Harris.
Hudson started his designing journey at an incredibly young age. He stated that he was influenced by his mother, who was a designer, and his sister who was a model. His mother would design clothes for his sister to model for different fashion shows. Much of his influence comes from designers in the late 80s to early 90s. Hudson stated as a child, he would watch Elsa Klensch from CNN’s weekly fashion and design television program, CNN Style, which ran from 1980 to 2001.
Some of the challenges that Hudson faced as a designer was financing. “It’s easy when you come out of college and you want to do any and everything and make clothes for everyone, but when you change your direction and want to become a custom designer and want to put out a collection, money does become an issue” Hudson stated.
Another challenge Hudson faced was the misconception of him wanting to be an American Sportswear Designer and being a person of color. “When I went into meetings with buyers, they didn’t expect me to create dainty dresses or tailored suits. They expected me to make hoodies and sweatshirts and things of that nature,” Hudson said.
Hudson had a realization of the discrimination when he would meet with different buyers and boutiques for his clothing and would often be met with the stereotype that he should design urban clothing instead of the high fashion designs he created and loved. “Growing up and loving fashion and being obsessed with it, you never realize that there are blockades until you enter the industry,” Hudson expressed.
Despite the pushback, Hudson’s love for the industry allowed him to keep his focus on creating and growing his custom brand.
In fall 2016, Hudson moved to LA with his collection where he put out his collection and was ready for production. From there, he received many opportunities that catapulted his career. His first big moment came when he created a jumpsuit for Kendall Jenner’s 20th birthday party and when Jennifer Lopez wore a leopard dress from his brand’s Fall 2018 collection.
Hudson stated that his hope for designers of color is that they be labeled as designers and not Black designers. “I want the end goal for it to be normal that a Black designer is a designer. It needs to be common that a Black person is a designer with a legacy brand,” Hudson said.
This summit was full of insightful conversation, wisdom nuggets and action plans to get the ball rolling for effective change to happen in the fashion industry and designers of color.
“As we move forward, I want for us to consider hiring and retaining people of color. I really believe that in the fashion industry we can inspire so many others by what we do to improve social justice. As we include more Black and Brown people in our leadership, it will be the catalyst in this industry,” Daniel stated.
To learn more and to stay connected with Harlem’s Fashion Row, please be sure to follow on Instagram @harlemfashionrow and check out the website at www.harlemsfashionrow.com.