The night started off with a poem called “Tell Em,” by Alyestal Hamilton Thomas. It was an ode to black culture and a commentary on not only being comfortable in your skin, but also learning to love yourself. Finger snaps followed as the words clearly resonated with the diverse attendees from all over the city, who came to celebrate the 6ix's rich streetwear scene on Queen Street.
On Friday, Canadian sneaker boutique Exclucity teamed up with Montreal collective Four Brown Girls to host “Long Tees & Durags,” a Black History Month panel on the ways black fashion designers and creatives can push the needle forward. The shop’s upper level was adorned with quotes on transparent drapes and photos of famous black icons.
Defiance was the overall theme of the night. The event’s emcee was Exclucity founder Trent Out Loud, who got his start selling T-shirts and durags out of the trunk of his car in Montreal. Now his boutique has several locations across the city, as well as one very popular one in Toronto (where the event was held).
“We’re not timid,” said Trent Out Loud when asked how being a black man informed his approach to entrepreneurship. “If you hesitate in business, you will be eaten alive.”
Trent is part of a group of local creatives trying to forge a path forward for a new Toronto. Sick of the business-as-usual approach, he told me of his plan to partner with up-and-coming designer Ahniel “Ricky” Lee, the driving force behind the Toronto streetwear brand Povrich. The initiative, dubbed “In Our Streets,” will aim to take young entrepreneurs and get them into brick-and-mortar shops.
Trent, like most of those on the panel, has a different way of doing things.
“I want people to know Africans are here. Any African brand that is here, I’ll wear,” said panelist Emcee Ebone, an award-winning international master of ceremonies who recently shared the stage with Barack Obama during a speaking engagement at the Economic Club of Canada.
He talked about the pride he feels both as an African man and someone who reps the city.
Fashion is a way to express yourself. And fashion can make you feel good—like the person you’re meant to be. Naturally, there are questions of authenticity and the need to dress the part for any entrepreneur.
But more than just looking the part, there needs to be solidarity.
“Find someone you trust,” said Shannae Ingleton Smith, better known as Instagram influencer @torontoshay. Boasting over 55,000 followers, the fashion blogger routinely attracts all manner of brand sponsorships, from Coca-Cola to Wonder Bread.
During the panel, she had some candid words of advice. Get a group chat going and find people to “level up” with. People can be tight-lipped about trade secrets, so find someone you can share strategies with. You never know where that someone might end up.
She also shared an anecdote with the audience about how she did a Pampers commercial photo shoot and was defiant in her choice of hair.
“I wore my hair like how a lot of black women wear their hair,” said Smith, rocking braids styled into a bun. “We shouldn’t have to change.”