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As consumers, the dollars we spend everyday makes a huge impact on the businesses we see tomorrow. Following the increase in protests against systemic racism and police brutality spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement last year across the country, many major brands and companies have committed to investing more money into Black-owned businesses. This led major fashion retailers and brands such as Kith, Moda Operani, Gap, and Matchesfashion to take the 15 Percent Pledge—an initiative which calls on major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf to Black-owned businesses.
While these efforts are well and good, the events of 2020 also shined a light on the countless number of fashion brands that profit off of Black culture, but lack diversity in their offices or have failed to speak out on these issues head on. While the influence the Black community has on streetwear is undeniable, independent Black creators are still often overshadowed by others in the space.
The 2010s have seen notable strides forward. Virgil Abloh was appointed as the first black creative director of Louis Vuitton Men’s in 2018. Brands like Abloh’s Off-White and Heron Preston’s eponymous label receive investment from New Guards Group. Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God has been a face of the streetwear-meets-luxury fashion metamorphosis.
Although these are some of the names at the forefront, there’s a lack of Black ownership in streetwear. So it’s up to us as consumers to celebrate and promote the work of Black designers. And even if the 15 Percent Pledge is targeted towards large corporations, individual consumers also have the purchasing power to dedicate at least 15% of their own monthly budget to supporting black-owned businesses. While the total number is not limited to what is listed here, we have decided to highlight 55 Black-owned fashion brands that should be on your radar the next time you dip into your funds for some new pieces to add to the closet. Consumers could also familiarize themselves with resources such as Black Fashion Fair to find even more Black-owned brands to support. Check out more details on our selects below.
Relaunched in 2017, YG’s clothing label is more than just a line of rapper merch. The assortment offers seasonal collections that showcase everything from cut and sew jackets to graphic T-shirts.
All Caps Studio
All Caps Studio is an emerging streetwear brand founded by Saeed Ferguson, who was formerly the creative director of the Ps and Qs boutique in Philadelphia.
Jasmine Plantin, a Haitian-American designer who currently works for Nike, started hand dying shirts around three years ago. For Plantin, water is what bridges together her upbringing on Long Island and her Haitian roots. From that she developed Wata, which is known for its hand-dyed, long sleeve cotton T-shirts. Last year, Plantin’s brand was highlighted in ComplexLand’s Brands To Watch space.
After being inspired by Dapper Dan’s atelier in Harlem, April Walker went on to open her own custom clothing store, Fashion in Effect, out of her house in Brooklyn in 1987. Following that she opened a clothing store that was also located in Brooklyn, and introduced her line, Walker Wear, in the ‘90s. Walker Wear was one of the first streetwear lines to have mass distribution in major retailers and it was worn by celebrities including Tupac, Biggie, and Aaliyah. The line is still active today.
Kimora Lee Simmons started Baby Phat in 1999. It was the sister line to Phat Farm and one of the first women’s lines in the “urban” streetwear space. It helped open up a new market and made the urban streetwear category more aspirational with its extravagant runway shows and celebrity network. In 2004 Kellwood Company purchased Baby Phat and Phat Farm for $140 million. Simmons stayed on as creative director but in 2010 they pushed her out. In 2019 she reacquired the brand and relaunched it via a collaboration with Forever 21.
Billionaire Boys Club
Originally launched in 2003 alongside close friend and streetwear legend Nigo, Pharrell’s BBC ICECREAM helped define an entire era of streetwear with its bold prints and bright colors in the 2000s. Pharrell reclaimed full control of the brand in 2016 after buying out Iconix Brands Group Inc’s 50 percent stake.
Bephie’s Beauty Supply
Beth Gibbs, a wardrobe stylist, creative director, and Union co-owner, introduced her line Bephie in 2017. Bephie’s Beauty Supply is her latest iteration that is a line—she’s released a couple of T-shirts and a sweatshirt—and a retail platform that’s dedicated to brands by people of color and queer creatives. Last year, Bephie’s Beauty Supply was highlighted in ComplexLand’s Brands to Watch space.
Bianca Saunders eponymous line investigates the nuances of black male masculinity through classic menswear pieces. She received her BA in fashion design from Kingston University and MA from the Royal College of Art. The British Fashion Council selected her line, which is sold on stockists including Matches and SSENSE, as One to Watch.
Bricks and Wood
Based in South Central, Los Angeles, Bricks and Wood was started by Kacey Lynch, whose pieces, specifically his signature beanies, have been worn by Tyler, the Creator and Anderson Paak. The line is informed by his upbringing in LA and Lynch aims to not only produce product, but give a platform to unheard voices.
The brainchild of twin brothers Warner and Waverly Watkins, Brownstone is still a relative newcomer to the space. Since launching in 2016, the brand has continued to expand its line of elevated essentials including pieces like custom-dyed shirt jackets and mohair hoodies.
Queens native Carlton Yaito, who works with his partner Tulie Yaito, started out customizing denim. He customized a pair of jeans for jeweler Mr. Flawless and from there went on to make pieces for Kareem “Biggs” Burke and Aleali May. He’s since expanded to create stand out pieces including cropped jackets pieced together from different fabrics, faux fur coats, home items, and an oversized faux fur bag with Louis Vuitton insignias.
Anwar Carrots launched his first brand, Peas & Carrots, after becoming deeply embedded in Fairfax’s booming streetwear scene during the 2000s. After that, he went on to launch his own brand Carrots in 2014. Within the last seven years, Carrots has established itself as one of the West Coast’s best streetwear brands.
Long before brands were saying Black Lives Matter, Cross Colours produced “clothes without prejudices.” Carl Jones started the line in 1989 just as hip-hop was establishing itself and then Thomas “TJ” Walker joined. Will Smith wearing the pieces on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air helped kick start the brand and it became omnipresent within hip-hop. Jones and Walker decided to shut the brand down, lost its trademark, but eventually got it back in 2014 and relaunched.
Come Back as a Flower
Esper founded Come Back as a Flower in 2018 and received some early co-signs from ASAP Rocky and Big Sean, who have both worn pieces the designer has tie-dyed. Named after the Stevie Wonder song, Come Back as a Flower is about sustainability and black spiritualism. Esper uses T-shirts made from recycled cotton he sources from Every World, a factory in Los Angeles, and hand dyes each one.
Free the Youth
Founded by Jonathan Coffie and Kelly Foli in 2013, Free The Youth is a rising streetwear brand from Ghana. The brand’s T-shirts have highlighted Ghanian musicians, local skate culture, and cities such as Accra and Tema. Free The Youth is also an non-governmental organization that aims to build shared workspaces for young creatives in Ghana.
Tremaine Emory’s Denim Tears label has acted as personal outlet for the creative aside from his No Vacancy Inn venture. Releases like Pan-African flag rings or Black Jesus trucker hats prove that championing Black culture is important to Emory. Some of its most notable work to date has been a Levi’s collaboration covered in cotton wreaths inspired by the legacy of slavery in America that Kanye West frequently wears. This year, Denim Tears inked a two-year partnership deal with Levi’s.
Diet Starts Monday
Co-founded by Davin Gentry in 2017, Diet Starts Monday was originally an experiment for himself and footwear designer John Geiger. It has been able to grow its fanbase with limited capsules through its online store and pop-ups activations around the world, most recently an array of T-shirts speaking out against racial injustice and police brutality. It formerly operated a retail/restaurant concept space in Washington D.C.
Based in Amsterdam, Daily Paper is a brand by Jefferson Osei, Abderrahmane Trabsini, and Hussein Suleiman. The line is heavily influenced by the backgrounds of the founders, who hail from Morocco, Ghana, and Somalia. What originally started as a streetwear blog has turned into a brand with formidable menswear and womenswear collections.
Who Decides War
Everard Best first started designing T-shirts and heavily embroidered jeans in 2016 under the name Ev Bravado. He’s since introduced Who Decides War, a ready-to-wear line that tells a story about the conflicts people face every day, the choices they make in response to that conflict, and faith in God—the logo is an anti-666 graphic that’s meant to celebrate what’s good in the world instead of what’s hyped.
The quartet of Joe Freshgoods, Rello Jones, Vic Lloyd, and Des Owusu have operated this Chicago brand since 2013. A cornerstone of the city’s streetwear community, they run a popular brick-and-mortar location and each creator also works on their own respective releases and activation such as Joe’s Don’t Be Mad or Rello’s Vita Worldwide. The team has seen collaborations with the likes of New Balance, Adidas, and even McDonald’s between them.
Fear of God
Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God has helped push the luxury/streetwear relationship forward since launching in 2013. Defining an era with his baggy silhouettes and remixed vintage T-shirts, Lorenzo has continued to expand his independently-owned brand with an ongoing Nike partnership in 2020, more accessible Essentials diffusion line, and a foray into suiting with Italy’s Ermenegildo Zegna.
Since launching Fuck The Population in 2010, Zac Clark has developed a loyal cult following with gritty streetwear that is controverstial at times, but deeply authentic. In just 10 years, Clark has turned FTP into one of those streetwear brands that can sell out products mere seconds after they drop. As Clark said in his Complex profile: “My brand’s not going to die, FTP's forever.”
Daymond John, a Queens native and regular judge on ABC’s Shark Tank, founded FUBU, which stands for "For Us, By Us," in 1992 with his friends J. Alexander Martin, Keith Perrin, and Carlton Brown. At its peak, the brand was in over 5,000 stores, and in 1998 its yearly sales were more than $350 million. But after co-opting a Gap commercial via LL Cool J in 1999, outfitting pop acts like *NSYNC, and spending $5 million to make The Good Life, a compilation album under Universal—remember "Fatty Girl?"—the team decided to retreat from the U.S. market in 2003. It partnered with Century 21 in 2019 to bring the brand back to the U.S. market and it’s maintained Black ownership since its founding.
Josué Thomas is the Los Angeles-based designer and contemporary artist behind Gallery Dept. The brand’s goal is to create quality products without sacrificing artistic integrity. It has become recognized for its paint-splattered carpenter pants, which were cosigned by Virgil Abloh.
Tyler, the Creator’s clothing brand needs little to no introduction. Tyler has been flexing his skills as a designer since launching his GOLF label in 2011. Following the footsteps of brands started by rappers like Pharrell’s BBC ICECREAM, GOLF has become widely recognized on its own accord.
The Good Company
Founded by Kumasi Sadiki and Quinn Arneson, The Good Company has been one of the leaders of the Lower East Side’s streetwear scene since 2012. The brand has been recognized locally for giving a platform to young New York City creatives. On a larger scale, it has also collaborated with brands like Girls Don’t Cry, Carhartt, Have a Good Time, and Reebok.
Ih Nom Uh Nit
From stars like Young Thug and Offset to the virtual streets of NBA 2K20, Ih Nom Uh Nit has continued to grow since its launch in 2015. Chaz Jordan’s brand mixes more lux items like a painted denim jacket or floral button-up with hoodies and T-shirts referencing pop culture. A hoodie with the face of Stranger Things’ Eleven is perhaps Ih Nom Uh Nit’s most notorious item to date.
Easy Otabor’s way to bring the past to the present has been through his clothing line Infinite Archives. Otabor collaborates with various artists to create special graphics inspired by yesteryear ranging from paintings of Michael Jordan to a sketch of a popular Seinfeld episode.
Perhaps most known for his python-brimmed snapbacks and premium quality takes on mesh basketball shorts, Don C has slowly evolved Just Don into a full-fledged brand in recent years. The basketball inspiration has remained intact with items including satin warmup pants, bomber jackets, and an array of graphic T-shirts all taking cues from the designer’s love for sports.
Carl Williams, better known as Karl Kani, moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1989 and would eventually start his brand, originally named Karl Kani Infinity, in 1994. He connected with celebrities including Sean “Puffy” Combs, who was relatively unknown at the time, and Tupac to appear in his early ads. At its height, Karl Kani was sold in around 400 retailers, ranging from Macy’s to Foot Locker, and Kani still wholesales to a handful of stores including Urban Outfitters and Dr. Jays. A couple of years ago he partnered with Pretty Little Thing on a capsule collection.
Kris Kites, a self-taught designer based in Chicago, is known for his playful collection of jewelry that places superhero figurines and toys in clear cubes attached to plastic Cuban-link chains. He collaborated with J. Balvin on a line of glow-in-the-dark jewelry at ComplexCon Long Beach in 2017.
The Marathon Clothing
The late Nipsey Hussle's clothing, Marathon, has not only been a beacon for his community in Crenshaw, but also a way for the masses to honor Nipsey’s legacy. Collaborators have included Puma and Jerry Lorenzo’s Essentials line.
Martine Rose, a London-based designer, has been producing her eponymous label since 2007. She’s created a cult following with her distinctive sportswear pieces that are just a little off-kilter—a look she helped popularize while also working for Demna Gvasalia when he launched Balenciaga men’s and tapped Rose to help with design. She also designs Napa by Martine Rose, a collection with Italian brand Napapijri.
Amsterdam’s Patta is an icon in the streetwear space. Founded by Edson Sabajo and Guillaume Schmidt in 2004, the Danish brand has built a legacy with its coveted Nike Air Max collabs, apparel with everyone from Stussy to Umbro, and seasonal in-line offerings that span from soccer jerseys to puffer jackets.
Nicholas Daley is a British designer who has explored his Scottish-Jamaican roots with his collections. After graduating from Central Saint Martins, Daley launched his label in 2015 and has won accolades such as the International Woolmark Prize London Semi-Final Award. This year, he was a part of a group of finalists who split the prestigious LVMH Prize.
Charlotte native James Gregory has only been operating NoName for about a year, but has already been able to call names like Lil Yachty and NBA point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander customers. His unique tapestry hoodies and pants boasting graphics like colorful butterflies and angels are all made to order. He plans to continue his brand into a full line of seasonal apparel moving forward.
Since launching Off-White in 2012, Virgil Abloh has built one of the world’s most popular luxury streetwear labels today. From highly-coveted Nike collabs to his signature graphic hoodies, Louis Vuitton’s creative director of menswear has built a brand that will last—even if he thinks streetwear is dead. While The New Guards Group owns, produces, and manufacturers the line, Abloh owns its trademark.
A favorite in NBA tunnels around the league, Olivier Rogers might be most known for his logo hoodies and T-shirts. But the young French designer also dabbles in cut and sew with custom suiting and baggy cargos being a few examples.
Kerby Jean-Raymond is the Haitian-American designer behind the label Pyer Moss. After freelancing for designers like Marc Jacobs, Jean-Raymond launched Pyer Moss in 2013 and has become recognized for collections that are deeply inspired by his New York City upbringing and the Black experience. For example, Moss has collaborated with brands like Cross Colours, held shows in historic Black venues like the Kings Theater in Flatbush, and highlighted the Black Lives Matter movement in one of his earliest runway shows. In 2018, Pyer Moss won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, one of the most prestigious awards in fashion.
Priya Ahluwalia, who is Indian and Nigerian, launched her men’s line in 2018 shortly after graduating from Westminster with an MA in menswear. Her line is built on sustainability and she makes pieces using deadstock and sustainable fabrics.
In 2016 LaStar Jackson II founded Saint Avenue, a streetwear brand based in Indiana that’s meant to inspire others.
This Chicago designer calls Chance the Rapper and Zendaya customers. She is most known for her drop crotch overalls, which she has been designing in small batches since 2011, but also offers graphic T-shirts and bespoke jackets. A crowning achievement for any designer, Rashid released her own Air Jordan collaboration in February 2020 in celebration of Chicago playing host to NBA All-Star Weekend.
Places + Faces
This UK brand began as a Tumblr page in 2013 that acted as a way for Imran Ciesay and Solomon Boyede to display their collection of backstage hip-hop concert photos. An initial line of logo T-shirts and hoodies has grown into a full-fledged brand that's been worn by stars including ASAP Ferg to Playboi Carti. P+F even dropped an official collab with Guess in 2019.
S.P. Badu and Spencer Badu
Spencer Badu is a Toronto-based designer behind the eponymous label and its streetwear offshoot S.P. Badu. His avant-garde garments have been cosigned by celebrities such as ASAP Rocky. Badu is currently one of many designers leading the movement for genderless clothing.
Gavin “Mizzle” Mathieu is a product of South Central Los Angeles. He launched Supervsn in 2019 offering an assortment of essentials with a unique twist ranging from logo hoodies and T-shirts with the brand’s signature grid pattern to tie-dye cargo pants. Mizzle is the former creative director of YG’s 4Hunnid label.
The Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens became a household name last year after his iconic leather tote bag was dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin.” However, the Queens, New York native has been changing the game for nearly 15 years and won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2017. Clemens has built a unisex brand with eyecatching graphics and garments that feel accessible to anyone, which is why we’ll likely be seeing more people wear Telfar for years to come.
Originally founded by Mary Ann-Fusco and James Jebbia in 1989, New York City’s Union is known as one of the first streetwear stores to ever exist. Today, it is based in Los Angeles and led by Chris Gibbs, who has kept the pioneering streetwear store’s legacy alive and has developed its in-house label.
Although Kanye West’s clothing line has been around since 2015, and his sneaker collaborations with Adidas have remained popular, West took a break from designing collections up until 2020 when he dropped Yeezy Season 8 at Paris Fashion Week. As usual, his latest collection consisted of monochromatic, elevated, essentials. Despite Ye’s polarizing political views, his influence and voice certainly urged the fashion industry to pay more attention to black designers. His highly anticipated apparel collection with Gap is set to drop this year.
Steven Barter has been running his streetwear brand Barriers since 2015. Since day one, his brand has been dedicated to highlighting some of history’s most important Black figures on T-shirts and hoodies. The brand’s clothes have featured graphics of political activists such as Marcus Garvey, Bobby Seale, Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, and more. Barriers seeks to teach it’s streetwear enthusiasts about Black history. A pop-up they recently held in New York City was modeled after the St. Luke Penny Savings bank, which was one of the first Black-owned banks in America. Earlier this year, the brand collaborated with graffiti pioneers Edwin “Phade” Sacasa and Blake “KEO” Lethem for a pop-up in Atlanta as well.
Head of State
Founded by Taofeek Abijako at the age of 17 in 2016, Head of State is a Brooklyn-based menswear label that’s heavily inspired by the designer’s Nigerian background. Abijako hails from Lagos and moved to Albany, New York when he was 11-years-old. Growing up watching his father work as a tailor in his homeland, he launched his own label as a teenager with no fashion school background. The brand’s name is derived from a song by Fela Kuti, a Nigerian activist and musician who dedicated his life to fighting social injustices and political corruption in Nigeria. Two years after launching Head of State, Abijako became recognized as one of the youngest designers to show a collection at Men’s New York Fashion Week. Abijako’s brand seeks to represent postcolonial youth culture today by paying homage to diverse and marginalized spaces while also critiquing the effects western imposition has had on it. The brand’s collections have been inspired by youth counterculture in post-civil war Nigeria, the afrofuturism of Sun Ra, and books by the late Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe.
Mowalola Ogunlesi is a British-Nigerian designer who runs her own eponymous label. She was recently appointed to lead the design team for Kanye West’s Gap line. A Central Saint Martins dropout, she spent three years working for Grace Wales Bonner before presenting her first menswear collection in 2017. Ogunlesi told SSENSE she left the revered fashion school because she felt the curriculum was a bit dated and was disappointed that the school’s faculty had barely any people of color teaching. Instead, Ogunlesi joined Fashion East, a nonprofit organization that supports young designers and gives them a platform to show at London Fashion Week, and then went on to make her London Fashion Week debut in 2019. Ogunlesi’s clothes are defined by her love for glossy leather, gender-fluid garments, and her Nigerian background. Ogunlesi has also recently made inroads as an artist and presented her first exhibition Silent Madness at the Now Gallery in London last year.
Founded in 2014, Vale is an Black and Asian-owned streetwear brand that’s been co-signed by a number of stylish celebrities. Owned and operated by Brian Phuong, Jesse Fields, and Devon Byrd, the brand’s recognized for its unique knitwear and denim pieces. Their products have been seen on the likes of Aleali May, Eva Apio, Swae Lee, Coi Leray, Tyga, and more. Last winter, the brand was tapped by Kyrie Irving to design a Nike Kyrie 7 model.
Circulate is a Black-owned, Los Angeles-based streetwear brand by Corey Populus. The Leimert Park native launched his brand in 2018 after working for Diamond Supply Co. for several years. Earlier this year, the brand teamed up with PacSun to create “Circulate Market,” a showcase of Black-owned brands in Pacsun stores that included Carrots, Supervsn Studios, Reserved Essential, Bricks & Wood, and the music collective Blondie Beach Records.