In 2018 Beth Birkett, a costume designer and creative director who co-owns Union with her husband Chris Gibbs, introduced Bephie, a women’s streetwear brand that sold pieces at ComplexCon, Angelo Baque’s Social Studies, and collaborated with brands like Dickies. The brand aimed to give women of color a platform.
For example, she helped No Sesso’s Pierre Davis venture into streetwear and worked with her on a collaboration that featured illustrations of Black women and traditionally Black names like LaKeisha, Shaniqwa, and LaTonya. Birkett then produced a fashion show for the collection at the Underground Museum in Los Angeles.
But once Covid-19 hit, Birkett had more time to think about what Bephie was, and that led her to introducing Bephies Beauty Supply, a brand and marketplace that expands on Bephie’s original mission — it supports women of color and LGBTQ entrepreneurs and creatives in any way it can.
“People of color are the first ones to be hurt by a recession, a depression, anything,” says Birkett. “So it was like, what we need right now is a place where we can support each other. And so that's how Bephies Beauty Supply was founded. Out of a need for something different.”
Bephies Beauty Supply isn’t a hair salon or a nail shop, but it pulls references from those institutions, which are particularly important to Birkett and Black culture. As a Black woman, going to a beauty shop or nail salon is a monthly or weekly ritual, and sometimes they are safe spaces to decompress, but they typically aren’t Black-owned, which is something Birkett thought of when coming up with the name for her platform.
“The biggest consumers of beauty supply stores, which are usually black women, don't tend to own them,” says Birkett. “So a Black woman owning her own store, her own business, and her own shop is a big deal.”
Birkett says making products that are a reflection of herself was important. As someone who has worked within streetwear and fashion, she’s become accustomed to not seeing herself or having ownership.
“I’m very aware of my power as someone who’s been silently at the forefront of music, fashion and now streetwear,” says Birkett. “I worked in the music industry at its height and there are very few Black people, especially women, who came out with any money and most importantly ownership. All we have are the sad and horrific stories of women like Drew Dixon and Misa Hylton who were abused and taken advantage of. I see so many people following the same pattern. We will always be fly but not know the importance of ownership.”
For ComplexLand, Birkett is releasing three different Bephie Beauty Supply T-shirts, but she also wanted to use the partnership as an opportunity to tell a bigger story about beauty. She brought together Lady Soul Fly to do hair and make up, Lelanie Foster to shoot, Shayla Milan to create the set, Tonoia Wade to model, and the Bephie Beauty Supply team that includes Jane Morledge, Kayla Cornelius and Aries Miranda. Together they produced a shoot to renvision what beauty is. Wade’s cocoa skin pops against the copper colored bodysuit with a head covering that reveals her textured twists. And she wears gold press-on nails, created by Astrid Curet for Curet Nails, that look like sculptures. The shoot is an ode to Black beauty.
“I brought on a bunch of really dope, talented women,” says Birkett. “And we wanted to redefine what the future of beauty is. And obviously that includes our nails. It includes our hair. I really wanted to create images for Bephies Beauty Supply that were futuristic, because I think what we're doing is a very futuristic thing, and people of color are never represented in the future, which couldn't be further from the truth. It's like, ‘What?’”
ComplexLand takes place from Dec. 7 to Dec. 11. Sign up for more info and access at complexland.com.