FKSP A Fashion Testimony

The search continues for black owned brands as I came across the Style Pantry Instagram page by Folake Huntoon. As mentioned in a previous post, my style can be described as a more colorful and form fitting Olivia Pope style with sleek cuts and usually minimalist patterns. This style is exactly what Style Pantry embodies. Folake’s high-waisted shirts and pants can be worn everywhere from business meetings to classroom settings to semi-formal events to date nights. I have been following this Instagram page for about a year, and each post has yet to disappoint with its slayage.

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Many of her styles came from her original line Loft324 founded by herself. Similar to her Style Pantry Instagram page and blog, Loft324 pieces were everything I could ever want in a wardrobe. To my disappointment, my first shopping experience involved the constant message on each piece I liked being out of stock.

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Despite my disappointment, I continued to follow style pantry for style inspiration.

Many moons (in reality about 2 months) later, I found Loft324 has become FKSP. Despite the name change, the Los Angeles based online store is still filled with the sleek, sexy and elegant styles I love. As a post graduate student, finding this site where the prices were majority under $100 for quality pieces was a blessing.

I decided my first step to maturity would be to place my tank tops, crop tops and hoodies in the back of my closet and add more button ups and blouses to my wardrobe. Of course, FKSP had just what I was looking for. one of the models wore a beige pussy bow tie button up blouse matched with a bright orange A line skirt. The shirt was $42 plus $10 shipping, and I received it within a 2 week period of ordering it.

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At first glance holding the blouse, I was nervous about the quality of it after holding it to the light and being able to see through the shirt. However, I wore the shirt for a teaching assignment and went through the ultimate wardrobe test.

What better test of the longevity of any item than seeing its ability to withstand the wrath of a stain.  I would not recommend actually pouring anything on your clothes to see what happens, but if the fashion gods decide to give you a test for a testimony, just go with it. So, here is my fashion testimony. Of course, I eat in my car on the ride to work everyday without dropping so much as a crumb. . . until the morning I decide to wear my newest pieces. You can imagine my horror and despair as a quarter size drop of deep purple jelly from my soy nut and jelly sandwich lands directly on the bottom of the attached scarf. Really the stain looked something like this. . .

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But it felt like this. . .

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By the grace of the fashion gods I happened to have class in the science classroom which included its own set of sinks. I rushed to the sinks like a Grey’s Anatomy scene and drenched the edge of the scarf in cold water 10 minutes before the start of first period. I thought I’d be walking around like a G rated wet t shirt contest for the majority of the day, but to my joy, by the beginning of second period  the shirt was completely dried and the stain was gone.

 

Just like any relationship, there will be hard times to test the fate of the relationship, and this jelly test showed the start of some awesome outfits with this shirt (once I watch enough YouTube videos to figure out how to properly tie this bow).

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Return of the Legends Fashion Show

My mission in finding black-owned clothing brands for the working millennial continued at the Return of the Legends Fashion Show by Set It Off Productions on November 5, 2017. As soon as I stepped into The Rosen Plaza Hotel, I felt as if I had become a part of the end scene in the 2017 movie Girls Trip where Regina Hall’s character is surrounded by proud and encouraged black women of all background as she gives her speech about self love and relationships. The hall was filled the people of color of all ages and shades wearing everything from stylish jeans to three piece suits and dresses of all lengths and styles. The show itself matched the #blackexcellence that shined in the room.

The first designers set the tone in the show’s opening “Queens of Gold”. The Egyptian themed fashion brought out the models’ melanin glow in regal prints with gold accent jewelry. Between the Egyptian-inspired pieces, the actual Egyptian costumes and Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time video playing in the background, it was impossible not to feel this sense of timeless black pride. The opening showcased black royalty. To end the scene, designers Diane Simon of Kiana Kouture and Lance Stephens of The Pharaoh of Fashions (HakatRe) captured the audience with their regal aura. Simon walked out like a golden Egyptian goddess in one of her pieces as Stephens escorted her down the runway with such grace and elegance in all black.

While the first set of designers highlighted the essence of the black queen, the second scene, “Kings of Gold”, showed the essence of black kings. Male models of various physiques and shades captured the predominantly black female crowd’s hearts a they strutted, swag-walked, danced and glided down the runway. However, the true stopper was the silver fox who proved age was just a number. The minute that man hit the runway, the audience erupted with applause. His silver beard shined along with his white suit against his dark skin. he walked with confidence occasionally showing off his dance moves watching this handsome, seasoned black king having fun was what everyone in the crowd needed and what set the tone for the younger models who followed.

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While scenes 3 and 4 were filled with interesting pieces that complimented each model well, one of the most memorable scenes was Scene 5. While the opening male and female scenes reminded us of our African royal bloodline, scene 5 “Black Power” reminded us of where we are now and our ongoing fights against institutional oppression that tried to force us to forget our royal bloodline. As images of African American activists past and present mixed with heart wrenching images of slavery, famous riots and victims of racism including Trayvon Martin flashed across the two screens on ether side of the runway, we are reminded of why events like this fashion show are needed. Events held by black people for black people matter. The models also reminded us of the importance of legacy and black pride. The Haya Boutique modest dresses by designer Rasheedah K. Muhammad reminded black women that our power was in our voice and presence in politics, economics, education and in the community and not in our bodies. The scene featured two beautiful young models that looked about 9 or 10 years old. The two young girls, wearing the modest pieces with pride and confidence, reminded us of the struggles that we unfortunately will pass on to the next generation. However, the girls were also a reminder of how far we as a nation have come. As images of our past and present fight for equality flashed across the screens, the amazing remix of Michael Jackson’s They Don’t Really care About Us, Beyonce’s Freedom, and K Pop or J Pop played as the models walked. This remix spoke so much about black history in America including our anger towards the injustices of our people, our fight against inequality and inequity and our universal influence on music and culture despite those same injustices. The dresses emphasized modesty and modernity in a way that was flattering for various body types, sizes and ages. The music and video playing in the background were beautiful, nostalgic and inspiring. However, the most powerful moment in the scene was the end where designer Muhammad steps onto the runway as all of the models stood on either side of the runway with one fist in the air as Beyonce’s Freedom played in the background.

The following scenes showcased a performance by Central Florida artist Eric Green singing his song “I Belong”. The final three scenes showcased designs by designer Dianne Simon’s Kiana Kouture, Suit City, and Lace-Style Agency and Resale Emporium and designer Chanel Diana.

In totality, the fashion show was entertaining and the clothes were unique and fitting for all style preferences. Set It Off Productions did an excellent job in bringing the black community together to showcase the beauty of the black community through fashion and design. It was a window shopper’s dream. Unfortunately, outside of the stands in the front of the hall and the little information about each designer provided by the brochure, I have searched for these same brands online with little to no luck. Although experience is important, this fashion show was also a networking and advertising opportunity that leaves me unimpressed. The beautiful images of the show have disappeared into obscurity as I am unavailable to find any runway photos of the event. The names of these designers are difficult to find online. I have little reference of such an encouraging event outside of my memory, word of mouth and faded or dark photos taken from my phone, which is disappointing with the plethora of platforms on the internet. Similar to what I mentioned previously, this show reminded me of how far we as a black community have come in accepting, appreciating and showcasing our beautiful melanin and talents, however in execution and maintaining lasting effects in the community, in many ways, we have a long way to go.

 

Where’s the Black H&M

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    1. BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND® Unisex Short Sleeve Hockey Hoodie  (HGC APPAREL BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND® UNISEX SHORT SLEEVE HOCKEY HOODIE, $64.99)
    2.  (AZEDE JEAN-PIERRE SILK COTTON BLAZER, Midnight Black, $995)
  3. 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.

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(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.

No Stop Signal DressThe Oz Skirt

(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.

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black cowl neck 1.jpg (Taylor Jay Collection, Black Cowl Neck, 78.00)

 (FKSP, “Philo” Bell Sleeve Wide Leg Jumpsuit, $85.00)