I am wearing a dress from the e-commerce shop, Swank Blue. Although the dress itself is an apolitical fashion piece, it was bought as a statement against injustices against marginalized groups. After the unjust deaths of black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in 2016, I was tired. I was tired of the same story of police brutality. I was tired of the videos and articles. I was especially tired of the hashtags. I wasn’t just tired of White America’s willful ignorance and neglect of addressing their racist counterparts. I was also tired of Black America’s slacktivism. Slactivism by formal Oxford definition is ” The practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment”. Although these hashtags are followed by helpful information, long angry emotional posts and on occasion a march with more hashtags and photos of cardboard signs and millennials, it feels as if nothing has changed and I am just waiting for the next set of hashtags and cardboard signs. The internet and social media activity, although necessary, means nothing without significant change in the judicial system, economy, educational system or health changes.
However, I myself cling to slactivism because of my perceived limitations. I am a recent graduate primarily concerned with eliminating student debt and finding a job with a high enough salary to live fully independently and not live paycheck to paycheck. I used to convince myself that my role in this #blackgirlmagic #melaninpoppin #blackexcellence #kneelwithKaepernick movement could wait. The reality is it cannot wait. Even if the steps are small, the first steps are the start to change. Charlamagne tha God in his book Black Privilege discusses how we all have a privilege whether it is our race, upbringing, physique etc. At the time of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I had already acquired a B.S. in Marketing and en route to my M.A. in Communications. It was for this reason, out of the judicial system, economy, educational system and healthcare, I decided to do what I can to contribute to black economics because that is where my educational privilege lies.
Contrary tthe frustrating stereotypes: “black people have bad credit” or “black people are bad with money”, there was a time where black businesses and the black economy thrived, specifically in the 1920’s in Tulsa, Oklahoma where the most prosperous African American businesses thrived, achieving the name, Black Wall Street. After the accusation of a black man raping a white woman in a newspaper, Black Wall Street was attacked and destroyed by white, racist terrorists. However, this one instance, although devastating, is not the sole reason for the stagnant movement of the black economy. Other factors include: lack of generational capital needed to start and maintain a business, black people are less likely to be approved for loans by banks, lack of education of the time, money and talent needed to start and maintain a business, and stigmas toward the quality of black owned businesses and services. As someone who studied business, I recognize it’s influence in all of the other institutions. With a healthy economy, we can contribute more to our education programs. We can afford better healthcare and a healthier lifestyle. We can have more political power and influence in the judicial system. Also, many will be lucky enough to not have personal experiences in the judicial system, no longer be connected to the education system after graduation unless the person has children themselves and may never have a hospital visit until possibly old age, but we all contribute to the economy.
However, as mentioned before, I am in a point in my life where money is tight and I rarely buy outside of the necessities. I am at a stage in my life where I am slowly leaving college life behind and stepping into my professional career. That means placing my crop tops and ripped jeans in the back of my closet for weekends with friends and transitioning into professional wear, which I had little of. I thought, because black people are the front runners of trends from street wear to hoop earrings to traditional Ankara print to braids, dedicating my transition to professional wear so that most or all of the apparel in my closet would be black owned would be easy. . . I. was. wrong. Finding clothes for my physique from any brand was difficult due to my small but very athletic frame. In addition my style is a trendy mixed with timeless look. Think of it as a more colorful, form fitting Olivia Pope style. The best example of my style is H&M. Many of the colors are muted and earthy tones, which I like. H&M is also of a higher quality fabric than many of the urban city Main Street stores with their stretchy body con clothing that I grew to know. H&M was also affordable.
I spent hours in one day going through the Huffington Post, Complex magazine and black bloggers’ lists of black owned businesses looking for those similar H&M styles finding the same frustrating issues.
- Lack of apparel- I found a lot of these sites and pages were limited to accessories like Afro-centric jewelry and brightly colored glasses and necklaces.
- The style- I find a dichotomy in pieces. A lot of the black-owned clothing brands were limited to trendy pieces and pro-black shirts and accessories appropriate for your college Black Student Organization and less for a business interview. I don’t mind pro-black clothing but I need diversity in my styles and I do not want my blackness to always be the very first thing someone sees in me, although sometimes inevitable no matter what I wear. On the other end, there are designers with pieces specifically for Parisian runways that cost far beyond the average person’s budget.
- (HGC APPAREL BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND® UNISEX SHORT SLEEVE HOCKEY HOODIE, $64.99)
- (AZEDE JEAN-PIERRE SILK COTTON BLAZER, Midnight Black, $995)
- Availability- For some sites, just when I felt I found what I was looking for in size shape and color, to my dismay, the style was “out of stock” where sometimes I’ll never see the style again.
Even after hours of searching, there were still sites like Swank Blue that fell through the cracks of my search seeing that I only learned about Swank Blue through word of mouth from my roommate. Even then, the majority of Swank Blue pieces in 2016 with their revealing cuts and shimmery and sparkly designs seemed more appropriate for a New Years Eve party than a Tuesday office meeting.
(Swank Blue pieces from left to right: Good Good Dress, $68.00, Champagne Dreams Dress, $98.50)
Since then, Swank Blue has included a few more pieces I find on its site that are business casual, trendy and timeless.
(Swank Blue pieces from left to right: No Stop Signal Dress, $57.00; The Oz skirt, $68.00)
This is not to criticize the artistry and design of these brands mentioned by any means. We need designers across the whole spectrum of shoppers of varying price ranges and style types. We need brands like HGC Apparel that use fashion to openly display social issues related to race. We need the the Cushnie et Ochs-like designers on the NYFW runways to represent the exceedingly low numbers of black designers and models represented in international fashion. This post is to acknowledge that there is a demographic of black shoppers looking for black owned brands that are affordable and can be worn in diverse occasions. As Millennials and African Americans are increasing in spending power, I wish there were more brands catering to this overlapping group of working, e-commerce shopping, black pride showing, trendsetting young black demographic. I also wish these quality, sophisticated and trendy combination brands that do cater to this group, like FKSP (formerly known as Loft324) and Taylor Jay Collection, were easier to find. I will note, the internet is a big platform with many brands that I have yet to find but am excited to search for. The fashion industry is also ever changing and growing with the changes in socio-cultural trends and beauty standards. Black fashion designers like the ones mentioned continue to break barriers and open doors for future black influences in the fashion world.
(Taylor Jay Collection, Black Cowl Neck, 78.00)
(FKSP, “Philo” Bell Sleeve Wide Leg Jumpsuit, $85.00)