Fashion for the Earth

7 Must-See Sustainable Black Designers Redefining Fashion

Amid New York Fashion Week, we are excited to see big designer’s new seasonal looks on the runway. In recent years, Black fashion designers represented in New York Fashion Weeks have numbered less than 10% as was the case this year where only 6 out of the over 70 designers at New York Fashion’s Fall/Winter 2024 appeared on a runway show.  

In 2020, following George Floyd’s death, the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), responsible for organizing New York’s Fashion Week, recognized the need for increased diversity and inclusion. Historically lacking Black representation, the invitation-only CFDA initiated efforts to enhance inclusivity under the leadership of their former President, Casandra Diggs, and a Black Advisory Board was established to guide the organization’s diversity initiatives. 

The impact of these efforts became evident in 2022 when 25% of the 110 designers featured at New York Fashion Week were Black — a significant shift from previous years. While strides have been made, ongoing prioritization of Black designer representation remains crucial for sustained progress.

Amidst the celebration of Black History Month, it is essential to recognize the numerous talented black designers who captivate fashion enthusiasts. Beyond creating aesthetically pleasing garments, these designers are notable for considering the true costs associated with their work, including their impact on both the people involved in the production and the environmental implications, whether within the country or abroad.

Here we highlight seven designers who strive for equity within their communities as well as globally by implementing sustainable policies to lower their environmental impact. 

  • Tracy Reese 

Tracy Reese launched Hope for Flowers in 2019, aiming to empower women and make a positive social impact. The brand stands on three pillars: Conscious Design, Community Art in Detroit, and Partnerships. Using digital printing with OEKO-TEX-certified inks, Reese ensures that prints for her clothes are free from harmful chemicals. The brand embraces on-demand and small-batch production with organic and eco-friendly materials. The brand also contributes to community education through The Hope for Flowers Art enrichment program and engages in sustainable partnerships with Naturalizer, NEST, and Pottery Barn.

  • Studio 189

Co-founded by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah, Studio 189 is an artisan-produced fashion lifestyle brand. The brand supports community-led projects in both the USA and Africa. Emphasizing empowerment, job creation, and ethical and sustainable practices, Studio 189’s clothing is hand-made in various West African countries such as Ghana and Mali just to name a few. The brand employs ethical production methods like basket weaving, batiking, recycled glass breeding, and natural plant dye, favoring hand-made items over mass production. They also incorporate recycled fabrics, including pineapple pinatex leather and recycled cotton, using low-impact azo dyes.

  • Brother Vellies

Designer Aurora James’s, Brother Vellies aims to preserve traditional African design practices while promoting sustainability. The brand employs vegetable-tanned leather, recycled tires for soling, hand-carved woods, and floral-dyed feathers. Besides upholding the value of fair materials, labor, and fair practices, Brother Vellies allocates one percent of each purchase to a non-profit. Customers can select from a list of nonprofits on their website.

  • Chelsea Bravo

Inspired by indigenous philosophy, sacred texts, and art and rituals, Chelsea Bravo, a healing arts practitioner, seeks to reclaim her ancestry through her brand. Offering menswear, womenswear, and unisex styles, the brand features custom designs made from repurposed and reclaimed clothes and fabric. Incorporating hand painting and hand embroidery, Chelsea Bravo’s designs prioritize sustainability, using materials like hemp, linen, wool, and organic cotton.

  • Autumn Adeigbo

Autumn Adeigbo focuses on investing in women, evident in her limited quantity purchases and made-to-order production approach. She contributes to a more sustainable fashion industry by minimizing fabric waste and excessive manufacturing. Adeigbo partners with female-owned production facilities throughout the United States, ensuring fair wages and employment. Her commitment extends globally with the launch of four fair-trade fashion production pilots in Africa.

  • Taylor Jay

Designing with an emphasis on clothing durability, Taylor Jay prioritizes effortless fashion for all occasions. The brand embraces size inclusivity, aiming to instill confidence in all women. Ethically sourced from a fair-labor factory in Oakland, California, using eco-friendly textiles, upcycled threads, and non-toxic tints, Taylor Jay actively pursues green certifications to contribute to a cleaner environment.

  • Gracemade

Featured by Jasmine Rennie, Gracemade is a place and means for women to find modest yet expressive clothing. Gracemade produces locally in Los Angeles, and not only does the brand use natural fibers such as linen and cotton.. The brand also incorporates deadstock material, leftover fabric from garment production that often gets wasted. They also resell their unused fabrics—Gracemade partners with Life Impact International and other organizations to give back to their global community. 

While supporting ethical, sustainable brands is an important step to supporting a better fashion industry, there is still more to be done. Our campaign Fashion for the Earth strives to educate and take action to create a more sustainable industry and to stop the mass production and consumption of clothing.