As London Fashion Week glides and swishes itself to a close for the next 6 months my eyes have been feasted and my inspiration chip has been thoroughly stimulated and I am almost satisfied. This is because I feel that this fashion week as all others before it has something missing which is not being effectively met anywhere else in the west. Whilst reading an article I found in The Griot I realised what that something was. There is a distinct lack of diversity amongst the British design talent.
I for one have been passionate about dress and creativity since I was old enough to wrap little pieces of cloth around Sindy and call it a dress! But the saddest thing is that I’d gotten so used to underrepresentation that it hadn’t struck me as odd (before now) that there were no black fashion designers being shown at LFW.
At this point I feel I need to make something clear; when I say there were no black fashion designers showing that is not strictly true because the British Fashion Council had created the International Fashion Showcase were designers from (amongst other countries) Botswana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Caribbean had been chosen to exhibit their designs. Whilst I never got a chance to see the African designers exhibit I did manage to catch the Caribbean exhibition and very nice it was too although it did feel a bit tucked away shoved in a back room of the Charing Cross hotel.
Now international African and Caribbean designers are all very good and well but what about British African and Caribbean designers where are they and why are they not showing their work?
In The Griot article Deena Campbell Associate Editor of Uptown magazine states funding as a cause for their being a lack of African American designers at New York Fashion Week and I know that funding can be a big issue with a lot of British African Caribbean designers with many of them designing and making in their spare time or as a second job.
Designer B Michael from B Michael America sites a lack of actual black designers in the industry as part of the problem. This is an interesting view. I’m a lecturer in fashion and textiles and have been for a number of years. In my latest cohort there are 105 students all eager to break into the fashion industry in one way shape or form. Out of that 105 only 7 of them are black (and only one of the 7 is male). Now it may sound mean but I know how evil and cut throat the fashion industry can be and if I’m being really honest only two out of those 7 students has the creative capacity to make it as a designer, whether they have the stomach for high fashion bitchiness is another matter. Looking at these figures as averages it starts to seem as if B Michael could be right.
Yet I know a great many black fashion designers in the UK so it’s not the fact that they don’t exist. Asking the creative powerhouses behind Giselle Couture I discovered that a nod to Ms Campbell’s reasoning was more accurate for them as they stated that the expense of showing at London Fashion week often didn’t match the amount of return orders recieved and so didn’t immediately seem worthwhile.
Really I don’t believe there’s just one reason as to why there is a lack of black designers showing at the New York and London Fashion Weeks. Without jumping on the bandwagon of the obvious I think the views expressed by both Deena Campbell and B Michael are valid ones that only make up two spokes of the black fashion wheel. Black people (in my experience) have always been incredibly creative and innovative making hot trends out of the most banal and seemingly bizarre of items. However I still think to some degree making a career out of fashion is not seen as an economically viable concept to many people in the African and Caribbean community. I know many parents push their children towards the medical, care or sports professions as that’s most obviously where the money is seen to be and where we have the most representation. However many of those parents clearly don’t know that the fashion industry contributes £21 billion per annum to the UK economy.
Maybe the cut throatiness of the industry repels some young people from wanting to try. I know my careers advisor at school was adamant that I become a nurse as she believed I wasn’t competitive enough for fashion. But what I would say to her and to all young (and older) black designers is the industry can and will never change if we don’t get in there and change it!
10 – 20 years ago it was a novelty to see a black model on the catwalk; Naomi and Tyra were practically the only black faces fiercely flying the flag for the rest of us, and although it still isn’t anywhere near as balanced as it should be I’m happy to see more than the odd token black model tucked away in some obscure fashion show during LFW.
The truth is though the fashion industry really is all about who you know and what you got and the British Fashion Council and their like are never really going to see or value the creative potential in the designers from the black community if we keep looking for them to throw us a bone. Someone’s mom once said “if they don’t invite you to their party, throw your own!” and that’s exactly what we should do.
Black people are trend setters and style mavericks, I strongly believe what we need to do is organise and regulate ourselves so that we achieve a high standard within our work. Then the money will come, the possibilities will materialise and attitudes will change and all aspects of fashion design and creation will appear as viable career paths for young girls and boys.