Brandon Blackwood is building a handbag empire. After trademarking his name and launching his handbag collection in 2015, Blackwood, who was born and is currently based in Brooklyn, has since received attention and praise from celebrities and major publications alike. Early in his career, Academy Award winner Lupita N’yongo wore one of his bags, but after launching his “End Systemic Racism” tote, which Kim Kardashian wore in October 2020, he gained significant buzz. After initially launching 500 bags and selling out in two hours, he expanded the tote line into 37 other colors and materials, helping the brand gain $3 million in revenue that same year. Blackwood was later tapped by Saweetie for her “Fast (Motion)” music video, which features several products from her favorite Black-owned brands. She circled back around to collaborate with him on a handbag that she held a giveaway for to celebrate the Saweetie McDonald’s meal.

Although he received negative backlash earlier this year for some poorly constructed bags, Blackwood addressed the matter in an Instagram Live, saying that the brand is scaling very fast, which can lead to mishaps. Since then he’s continued to drop products and has gained the trust of celebrities including Normani, Doja Cat, Winnie Harlow, and more, working with them on his social campaigns. 

With a backdrop of colorful bags lined up on a wall, Blackwood greeted me cheerfully, as we sat to talk about the growth of his brand, his newfound publicity (good and bad), store partnerships, and the need for Black designers and artists to take risks and represent us in all spaces.

How did you see being raised in Brooklyn in a Jamaican household fully reflected in the work that you do?
I would say it lends itself into the overall styles, but also like, the colors, things like that. I feel like Jamaican people as a whole are very loud, bright, very expressive people. With my work, I try to do that for myself at least. So I think, yeah, that’s where you definitely see that. And with Brooklyn, and all over New York you’re thrown into seeing so many different people from so many different backgrounds and ways of life. And I feel like it’s almost impossible, especially as a New York designer, to ignore that, you’re pulling from different outfits. You know, when we go outside, when we take the train or whatever, you literally see five different people, five different aesthetics, and they all look good, you know? So it’s like you pull from that constantly. I think New York always constantly feeds.

For sure. With being influenced by all those different aesthetics that we see daily, how were you able to really hone that into developing your aesthetic?
Well, I feel like my aesthetic has always surrounded modernity, but with functionality. I think the bags I make should be functional. I don’t have anything that really doesn’t serve a purpose. But in terms of that aesthetic, when I first started, I just referenced things like my girlfriends, my family, and what they were wearing, you know, what they would wear on the weekends versus what they would wear to work, and I’d try to make something that worked for all those things. And I think as my customer base got larger, you see the tagged photos, you see the IG stories, you see how everyone’s styling them and my customers literally helped mold the brand and mold my ideas. I never would make an orange bag before and now burnt orange is one of my favorite colors. Like aqua blue suede, that rich kind of blue, I never touched it before until everyone was like, “Yo, you need to be making this. I got these blue shoes. I need a blue bag to go with...” And I would start making them. And I fell in love. So, my customers keep like, kind of pushing me out of my comfort zone and I think it’s done nothing but wonders for myself and the brand.

That’s amazing. And with the brand gaining exposure, how did the celebrity campaign that you guys released this past May come about?
Honestly the brand was doing really well and everything was blowing up. And I was like, OK, well, you know, we can just post the collections, we can do a regular presentation, but it’s not as impactful. I wanted to find a way to get everybody whose work or aesthetics or visuals I love in one place and I wanted to get a cast that really represented the Brandon Blackwood world or aesthetic that I was trying to go for. And that’s where it happened. We were like, OK, let’s get a bunch of people on board and whoever says yes says yes. And it’s crazy because everyone we asked said yes, which I didn’t expect. When Halle Berry was like, “Sure, let’s do it,” I’m like, “No way, lil’ ol’ me?” It’s just iconic, you know, having Doja Cat, Normani, Joan Collins, and all these different icons and influencers and just, you know, tastemakers of today being a part of something from my brand that was insane. They all looked great so it all looked amazing.