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Black History can not be confined to one month. Black Culture is a walking, breathing, living tapestry that expands and evolves with each new generation. At Complex SHOP, we’re using our unique platform to shine a spotlight on Black artists, designers, curators, and business owners. By telling their stories, we want to offer recognition and exposure to their deserving communities—a portion of sales from their products will also be donated to their chosen charities.
Brandon Blackwood is a talented designer quickly making a name for himself in the highly competitive handbag industry. He’s also making a positive social impact by using his designs to make strong statements for equality and justice. For this Complex SHOP spotlight, a portion of all sales from his bags will be donated to Planned Parenthood.
You’ve probably heard the name. You’ve certainly seen the bags. Brandon Blackwood is raising eyebrows and getting into our closets with his timeless handbag silhouettes. The Brooklyn-born designer has been in business for six years, but it wasn’t until summer of 2020 that things turned up a notch. A miniature size tote bag with the words “End Systemic Racism” in silver hardware flooded people’s Instagram feeds and quickly went viral. Even Kim Kardashian bought it. But it was more than just a viral moment for Blackwood. It was a stance against the racism and social injustice that has plagued his community for so long.
“During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and everything surrounding George Floyd and the racial injustice, I had a moment where I stopped designing and stopped selling for a couple of months because I didn't want to sell a bag just to sell a bag,” says Blackwood. “I needed to make a product that actually helps and does something. I couldn't sit there and have like 235,000 people, who are Black and brown, that support me every day and not do something.” Most of Blackwood’s releases have a charitable tie-in. For his ESR tote drop, he donated a portion of the proceeds to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a pro bono legal assistance program. Just last month, he donated a portion of the proceeds to The Door, a full-service agency catering to NYC’s youth and Black Girls CODE, a not-for-profit organization that aims to provide technology education to young African American girls.
Motivated by change, Blackwood designed a small tote with the words “End Systemic Racism” on it. Some doubted him and said the brand would flop if he released it. But he stuck to his word and moved forward with production. “I'm not scared to talk about political things on my social channels,” he says. “I'm not afraid for the brand to have a side and take a side. I feel like not only would that be phony of me, it would be so counterproductive to everything else.” The Bart College graduate ordered 500 units for the initial release, with the assumption that he’d sell through the bags over the course of a couple of months. The ESR tote wound up selling out in one day.
Blackwood’s approach to designing his bags is rooted in his upbringing and support from his inner circle. “Whenever I make a bag, I always ask myself, will my cousins wear this? Will my best friends wear this? Will my grandma possibly wear this? I think that's the foundation for any bag design,” Blackwood says. And he’s right. If you browse through his webshop, you’ll see there’s a bag for everyone: a nylon puffer mini tote, a large premium vegan leather tote, a trunk-style bag with the Brandon Blackwood logo in silver hardware—all of which are available in various colors and standout prints. “It's always the best feeling ever when I see the IG stories and get tagged. It's all different types of people saying, ‘You know, I've never been a handbag person, I’ve never liked handbags, I never wear handbags, but I saw this and it made sense.’ That was always the goal: to make something that was beautiful, but practical at the same time.”
But Blackwood didn’t always see the success he has now. When he started out, stores turned him down left and right. “I was a young brand with promise, but my branding was too ‘Black,’” he recalled in a 2020 Forbes interview. “My imagery was predominantly Black. My aesthetic and content spoke to a Black audience. Buyers couldn’t connect or see the value in that.” But that narrative has changed. The current social and political climate has forced consumers and retailers to re-evaluate where they spend their dollars. Consumers are more eager to support and buy from local, BIPOC brands that have a mission and cultivate culture.
Since the success of the ESR tote, Brandon Blackwood, like many other Black-owned brands, has become a safe space for the community. “We're all stuck in this whirlwind together, so I always try to make sure the brand is here for the culture,” the designer says. “We're here to promote the culture and the culture is the foundation for it.”
Shop the Brandon Blackwood Collection here.