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These Black Male Designers Are Embracing The Power Of The Pivot
Since its inception in 2007, Harlem’s Fashion Row has unapologetically championed and uplifted creatives of color in the fashion industry. By supporting emerging talent and bridging the gap between underrepresented Black and Latinx designers and established brands, HFR creates meaningful partnerships for those who may not have been afforded the opportunity due to marginalization, blatant colorism, and institutionalized racism. Harlem’s Fashion Row founder Brandice Daniel explained how the pandemic forced designers, stylists, and the fashion industry as a whole to have difficult conversations around not only defining but actually implementing diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts.
“Last year was probably the first time that I had real transparent conversations with brands — ever.” Daniel told ESSENCE proudly. “Last year took all my filters off.” In contrast to previous conversations where she would ask questions about diversity not-so directly, Daniel now positions herself to have uncomfortable, transparent conversations about Black representation in departments, on the runway, and in the boardrooms.
This year, Harlem’s Fashion Row will showcase its first lineup of all Black male designers including Johnathan Hayden, TIER, June 79, and Harbison. “This is our first time actually showing all collections by men, by the way. Even that is so exciting to me. This is so different,” Daniel told ESSENCE. This season’s presentation will premiere live tonight, September 7th 2020 during their 14th Annual Fashion Show & Style Awards on a virtual experience featuring spin sets from DJ Olivia Dope.
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Ahead of their NYFW SS22 presentation this evening, ESSENCE caught up with the designers for a candid discussion about their experience during the pandemic, how they’ve learned to prioritize their mental health and what to expect from Harlem Fashion Row’s upcoming NYFW SS22 show.
A Blessing In Disguise
Oddly enough, for designer Johnathan Hayden, 2020 was “weirdly my best revenue year” despite the worldwide pandemic. “It was really weird to accept happiness or gratitude when you were watching other people suffer,” Hayden admitted. He recalled witnessing his roommates move out of their apartment as he received an influx of orders, which was a surreal experience to say the least. As a self-proclaimed introvert living in New York City, the peace and quiet didn’t bother him too much but he immersed himself in his creativity and turned his home into a live-in self-care regimen. Boiling pots of hot water to pour into his bathtub and listening to soundbaths to pour into himself were his saving grace while Hayden tapped into what he described as his “crazy, beautiful mind.”
“The pandemic really made everyone take a pause,” he continued. “I wasn’t suddenly having to combat a system that is expecting things so fast and immediate.” Through this time of stillness, Hayden was able to dig back into his animation background and use 3D animation to sell his products and create a comic book for his brand — without the stereotypical fashion show experience inspired by his Japanese heritage. “It was just a way to take the adequate time to revisit some of my strengths that I might’ve forgotten about because I was working in a system that was telling me, ‘You’re only your job title, and you’re only the brown face, not the brown voice in the room,’” he says.