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It is no secret that our society is dictated by prejudices and discriminatory behaviours that we may not even be aware we are endorsing. Unfortunately amongst many others, the fashion industry reflects a ‘white privilege’ and it has even been suggested that ‘racism is at the heart of fast fashion’. A single glance up your local Highstreet or quick google search makes it immediately evident that the vast majority of both affordable and high-end designers are white and accommodate primarily white individuals. Little further reflection will also reveal how utterly absurd this underrepresentation is. Since when did, or should, the colour of someone’s skin determine their creativity, talent or potential? 

These attitudes are incredibly damaging to current and aspiring fashion professionals, but by simply becoming more aware of who we choose to buy from, real differences can begin to emerge.

With this in mind, we have created a collection of 22 black-owned brands that we believe deserve a little more love. There should be something to suit all styles and budgets, so consumers at every level can experience the fashion industry’s hidden talents.

Affordable

Offering non-toxic, cruelty-free nail-polishes that are individually made, 516 Polish is an ethical, sustainable brand. They pioneer ‘swatch diversity’ by providing product samples on a variety of skin tones and have specially formulated products that complement customers of all ethnicities. 

Boucléme creates British-based, cruelty-free and plant-based products that enhance natural curls. Their easy-to-follow 3-step regime encourages women to feel empowered rather than embarrassed by their curls. 

Selling sunglasses and jewellery that are inspired by North African heritage, this accessories label aims to create trendy yet timeless pieces.

Founded in a small New York apartment, Fanm Djanm (meaning ‘strong women’) is an accessory-based store best known for its bright and bold headwraps. Each piece is handmade in Brooklyn using sustainably sourced fabrics.

Cruelty-free cosmetics inspired by 80s and 90s music culture are what MDM Flow are best known for. From multi-use ‘glossy pots’, to lip products in a range of natural and experimental shades, this beauty brand has the potential to create fun, fresh and funky looks that take you from day to night. 

Selling beautifully crafted yet affordable 14k gold-plated jewellery, Saint Kojo is a hidden gem. If the elegant aesthetic is enough, they also use a portion of profits to educate and empower disadvantaged women in Africa. 

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✨✨✨ 📸 :@jenloumeredith

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This London-based brand celebrates diversity through it’s simple yet sexy garments that represent individuals of all ethnicities. At its heart, Sincerely Nude hopes to ‘break stereotypes one shade at a type’ by raising the awareness and accessibility of a more inclusive industry.

Vitae London incorporates ‘minimalist watch design with maximal social justice’. Working closely with charities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, each watch purchase provides a child with life-changing educational supplies. Their classic designs come in a range of metal colours and materials to create a bespoke timepiece. 

Premium

Andrea Iyamah is a clothing line ‘inspired by nature, inspired by colour, ethnic cultures, nature and design elements that stay true to creating authentic clothing’. Started by Nigerian designer Dumebi Iyamah at the age of 17, it hopes to modernise and embrace traditional African cuts and colours to create unique garments that make a statement.

Nalé’s designers are inspired by different aspects of travel, culture or the simplistic beauties of everyday living. This luxury womenswear brand is characterised by its appreciation of diversity, allowing consumers to learn about cultures all over the world.

Nubian Skin provides lingerie, hosiery and swimwear that aims to cater for consumers of all skin tones. Their founder Ade Hassan, MBE wanted to redefine the industry’s narrow representation of ‘nude’ undergarments, which seemed to disregard a significant proportion of the market – most notably women of colour.

Edgy streetwear in bold patterns and prints are at the core of Phlemuns. For those who want to elevate their everyday pieces and invest in stand-out sweats, their collections will not fail to make a statement.

Starting in Trinidad and Tobago in 1979, Sacha Cosmetics values the ethnic diversity of their consumers. They aim to formulate high-quality products for all individuals, regardless of race. Something all beauty brands should aim to do too.

Blending contemporary and traditional techniques, Tihara Smith is a recent graduate who creates fun and fresh fashion accessories. Inspired by her Caribbean heritage and London upbringing, Tihara creates unique pieces that allow her customers to carry a piece of the Caribbean with them.

Luxury

Aurora James founded this luxury accessory company in 2013 to help maintain traditional African designs and techniques. Each piece is inspired by an aspect of different cultures worldwide, ensuring a range of heritage styles are kept alive within the fashion industry. Using traditional practices in the production process, Brother Vellies ensures artisanal jobs are sustained and the manual craftsmanship involved is still acknowledged.

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Tyla Sandals • Summertime fine 🤎🦢

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With an array of luxury ready-to-wear and bridal women’s wear, Cushnie has something to offer the modern woman for every occasion. Designer Carly Cushnie creates timeless, minimalistic pieces with a fine attention to detail, all of which encourage women to feel both elegant and powerful.

Described as “a contemporary Ready-to-Wear apparel line for Women Without Limits”, Hanifa designs each of its garments with women of all shapes and sizes in mind. Ruffles, ruching, pleats and puffy sleeves best describe the brand’s aesthetic which collectively form figure-flattering, femeine and elegant pieces that undoubtedly suit every type of body.  

In recognition of the nude-shoe market’s poor diversity, Kahmune was formed. The luxury footwear is constructed from sourced, premium Italian leather, making their shoes a life-long investment. Each piece is available in 10 shades which are inspired by the global ethnic diversity, allowing every customer to find their staple nude shoe.  

Mateo New York is a fine jewellery designer founded by self-taught Matthew Harris who was born and raised in Montenegro Bay, Jamaica. Describing their collections as having an ‘aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism’, their collections are designed with modern women and art in mind. With the delicate use of diamonds, pearls and precious stones each piece conveys a sense of natural elegance.

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🌸 🌸🌸🌸🌸

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Specialising in ready-to-wear and bespoke jumpsuits, Rebecca Tembo ensures each client has a personalised, luxury shopping experience. All pieces are made one at a time using sustainable methods. She also founded The Entry, a course which aims to help aspiring start-up designers to build their brand and develop entrepreneurial skills.

Established in 2005 by Telfar Clemens, an undergraduate student born to Liberian parents in New York, Telfar is a pioneer of unisex fashion. Driven by its core value of inclusivity, the fashion brand is known to promote contemporary garments in ways that stand against the fashion industry’s historical discrimination and misrepresentation of non-white ethnicites.

The Folklore is an online concept store that sells a limited selection of pieces from African designers in order to promote their work and improve their financial success. Their curated collections represent ‘the diversity of Africa’s contemporary urban landscapes and design aesthetic’ and allow people online access to the African fashion industry that previously relied primarily on remote, local selling. If you’re after a one-of-a-kind piece, this is the place to look. 

What are your favourite Black-owned businesses? Comment below or tweet us @fashionispsychology

We often see style as a projection of ourselves; a way to emphasise personal uniqueness or seek group similarity. But whatever the purpose of our fashion ‘identity’, the acute awareness societies have accumulated across places and time could actually be a method of self-affirmation and consequently, protection from potential mental disorders.

Cultural dressing and mental health

What we wear is a reflection of who we are and knowing who we are as individuals can help improve mental wellbeing by giving us a sense of direction, purpose and security. For example, clothing preferences can influence mental wellbeing and reduce the general risk of mental health issues – so long as it is synonymous with an individual’s social groups (Bhui, et al, 2008). For some, making culturally traditional clothing choices can lead to a lower risk of mental health problems, but for others making ‘integrated’ clothing choices (ones which are trend-led) can reduce this risk.

Wearing traditional clothing can feel protective; it reflects a sheltered upbringing and adherence to religion, whilst wearing trend-led pieces can give others a sense of social status and confidence. Therefore, perhaps it’s not literally what one wears that enhances wellbeing, but rather what it stands for in our social circles. Adopting another culture’s traditional clothing style can not only be interpreted as cultural appropriation, it can also create intrafamilial conflict as it differs to the identity of your peers. Therefore, style potentially has the power to mediate relationships with others, affecting our mental health.

Dress yourself happy

Having a sense of personal style may also be influential at a cognitive level. Having positive self-evaluations, and an exaggerated perception of control and optimism can promote a positive mental state (Taylor et al, 1988). This may seem self-explanatory but what you may not know is that fashion can be a mechanism by which we can enhance our self-perceptions. By giving ourselves the power and freedom to dress as we please, we can enhance our preferred features and mask our insecurities, contributing to an increasingly positive, optimistic view of oneself.

Having a positive illusion of our bodies and capabilities has been reported to aid us in dealing with negative feedback more constructively. Therefore, the next time you have an important event, make sure to wear those special heels, your favourite tie or even your lucky underwear – it could be your secret weapon to happiness.

Take Pride in your Appearance 

With all of this in mind, much of our mental well-being arguably pins on our levels of self-esteem. Having high self-esteem can help to reduce the livelihood of suffering a mental disorder to displaying antisocial behaviours (Mann et al, 2004). Therefore, encouraging young children and adolescents to take pride and care in their appearance could stretch further than vanity, rather it could be used as a preventative measure from troubled behaviours and poor health later in life. Focussing on boosting self-esteem via fashion may in fact be beneficial in healthcare and education programmes – it will give individuals more confidence and security in who they are. This can also have the additional benefit of boosting job prospects; by knowing how to dress well improves first impressions and chances of succeeding in an interview. The additional income and ability to maintain busy can also keep people out of trouble – also giving wider societal benefits.

Fashion clearly has a role to play in promoting a positive self-image and reducing mental health issues in individuals. Although it may not be the sole cure to mental disorders, feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin can boost your sense of identity and self-esteem, which consequently improves mental wellbeing. Treating yourself to a new t-shirt or tie may not necessarily be something to feel guilty about – it could be contributing to a positive self-image and protecting you from a predisposed mental health issue.

My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy…you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.” –

Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of Vogue U.K.

It’s one thing to know in your heart that racist comments like this are not true but another type of satisfaction arises when you scientifically prove it to be incorrect. In my new paper published in The International Journal of Market Research, I’ve done just that.

Before I had the language to articulate it, I knew that my relationship with fashion would always be somewhat one-sided. As easy as it is to get lost in the flourish of patterns, shapes and fabrics, as a young Black woman, you can’t help but notice something’s missing and that something is you, or rather, a reflection of you. At the moment, the number of active models of colour are on the rise. It’s true, fashion shows and magazine covers are becoming increasingly diverse. However, many of us still remember the days when if someone asked you to name 5 black fashion models you’d say Naomi, Tyra, Alek, Beverly and then your voice would trail off into a mumble.

I’m happy to say that this list is growing everyday but to say that fashion has fixed its diversity problem would be a step too far. Last year, the Guardian published data after analysing 214 covers from the 19 best selling glossies in the UK with less than positive results. In two months in 2017, the front covers of every publication featured images of white people, exclusively. The covers of four magazines – Marie Claire, HomeStyle, Your Home and Prima – did not feature a single person of colour throughout 2017. When analysing children’s magazines, the data revealed an even more dire lack of diversity where 95% of the cover models were white.

Increased inclusivity in fashion and movements like #unfairandlovely and #blackmodelsmatter will continue to be celebrated but for people of colour, our brains are simply hardwired to be hyper-aware that the industry is still not truly representative. 

‘Distinctiveness Theory’ refers to “the idea that people define themselves on the basis of traits that are numerically rare in their local environments.” Research suggests that race and ethnicity are two of the most meaningful self-defining traits associated with distinctiveness and are often the first things that pop into your head when you’re asked to describe yourself. So in general, minorities are more “saliently aware of their race” “and consider their race a prominent factor in their interpersonal communications”. As our race and ethnicity are prominent self-defining features, we’re more acutely aware when an industry, that has an important by-product in its ability to legitimize and publicize the existence of often-ignored ethnic groups, doesn’t.

The bi-product of underrepresentation is the fostering of the belief; especially among younger people of colour, that they’re undesirable. Hashtags and protests are powerful tools of change but money will always be the most persuasive motivator of change. It was this realisation that made me embark on my latest research paper investigating racial representation in fashion and beauty media. Ethnic minorities have a $3.9 Trillion Buying Power and yet very few brands consider us when creating advertising and marketing campaigns.

Fashion is Psychology
Example of stimuli used in the experiment

In my new paper ‘Testing the effect of consumer-model racial congruency on consumer behavior’ published in The International Journal of Market Research I tested the consumer behaviour of Black and White consumers when presented with adverts featuring Black and White models. The results proved that both black and white consumers will spend significantly more money on product when its advertised by a Black model. Models of colour have tremendous value. 

With this research I hope the industry will fully wake up to the damaging impact of  underrepresentation by understanding that it not only impacts the mental wellbeing of their consumers but it also impacts their bottom line.