Big words like ground-breaking (see headline) are used often in fashion vernacular — sometimes the word warrants praise, other times it’s a writer’s device, a power word to pump up the prose. In the case of these Black designers, ground-breaking is exactly the right word to describe the drive, creativity and resilience that each brand holds — as demonstrated by the unique points of view their styles possess, brought to the table in a society and industry built on systemic-racism.
Last year, the Black Lives Matter movement shed further light on the long-standing racial issues within the fashion world. Initiatives like the Black in Fashion Council and Brother Vellies’ founder Aurora James’ 15% Pledge (a program Rent the Runway is proudly a part of) are working towards achieving equality in the industry, but we are worlds away from where we should be.
It’s been almost a year since many fashion retailers, brands and creatives made statements of solidarity for a more inclusive and diverse industry – ourselves included. At RTR, we’re continuing to support this future of fashion by showcasing (and signing on!) more Black designers and encouraging our community to buy and rent from Black-owned brands.
From Brooklyn and Nigeria to Haiti and the UK, from the emerging talent (shout out to K.NGSLEY who just launched his label in 2020!) to the artists who paved the way, discover, rent, wear and buy these Black-owned designer brands.
Known for: Penned by Vogue as 2021’s “label of the moment,” Aliétte designer Jason Rembert creates looks that are equal parts sexy, feminine and glamorous. As seen on actor Zendaya in Netflix’s drama Malcom & Marie, asymmetric silhouettes in show-stopping fabrics make for attention-grabbing ensembles.
Wear: On a hot date with your partner, your best friend or yourself!
Known for: Bold, vibrant prints and feminine details guaranteed to bring a good time when worn.
Wear: When you aren’t having your best day and need a full-proof pick-me-up.
Advice for Young Black Designers: Focus on what makes you and your brand different from the pack and double down on that. That’s how you find your market and customer, who are honestly your first investors. Find ways to prove yourself in the early days before outside investors take interest. There are more and more opportunities for Black entrepreneurs and access to capital (the Andreessen Horowitz TXO fund for example, spearheaded by Nait Jones and Frank Chen, which I was selected for the first cohort), but it’s competitive. Focus on yourself, your craft and your customer. Run your own race.
Known for: It’s all in the name — color! After designing for brands such as Coach and running her blog Color Me Courtney on the side, Courtney collaborated with RTR for her first exclusive capsule collection full of vibrant, fun and versatile staples. Next is hitting the endless closet in the Spring — stay tuned!
Wear: When you want to manifest the perfect summer day.
Known for: Intricate prints in everyone’s favorite silhouette (yes, we’re talking jumpsuits) inspired by her Pan-African upbringing.
Wear: When you need that one reliable piece you know will make you feel like perfection.
Advice for young Black designers: Be tenacious and believe in yourself — know that you may have to work 10 times as hard as another designer to make it. Never stop learning and perfecting your craft.
Known For: Gender-nonconforming tank tops with chic cut-out detailing are inspired by New York City’s nightlife culture. Kingsley Gbadegesin launched his namesake label over the summer as a vehicle to uplift and give back to the Black, Queer and Trans communities.
Wear: When you’re looking for a hero piece to elevate your next date night outfit.
Known For: Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond reinvents streetwear in the form of sleek cuts brought to life in your favorite athleisure fabrications.
Wear: When you want to feel effortlessly cool and comfortable.
Known For: Reinventing leisurewear with knitted separates, dresses and jumpsuits in bold colorways. The Haitian-American designer marries comfort and style with each of his collections while creating pieces for “all people, genders, races, sizes and personalities.”
Wear: When you want to spice up your WFH attire (while still staying cozy).
Known For: Blending European and Afro-Atlantic inspirations with androgynous silhouettes and sporty details. Designer Grace Wales Bonner creates with the goal of making everyday clothes feel more elegant.
Wear: When you need a versatile look that’s equal parts sophisticated and cool.