And though we have heard ad nauseum about how everything that people want to wear now is comfy, slouchy, squishy, our Fashion Funders insist this is not exactly true. It turns out that lots of women have been desperate to gild the lily—to don a sparkly mask, brandish a vaccine card, and step out to greet the night. Latta laughs that her company was selling sequined mini dresses even during lockdown, while Smith insists that in the depth of the pandemic, “catsuits were actually flying out. Where was she going?” he wonders.
But not everyone is finding their salvation in sexy glitters. Abrima Erwiah—the co-founder, with Rosario Dawson, of Studio 189—travels between New York and Ghana for her line. Erwiah states that her client wants something special, and to feel confident in the clothes she purchases. “There’s a demand for transparency now—our first mission is that fashion can be an agent of social change.” Her flowy, colorful dresses might seem intended for a different kind of evening than the one Smith’s woman craves—but maybe not? Maybe she can be the same person—fluttering in a Kente cloth frock one night, prowling in a catsuit the next.
The insistence on a compelling backstory, the conviction that the clothes we choose to wear have profound social implications, is at the heart of so many of the Fashion Funders’ conversations. The House of Aama, which is a mother and daughter team based in Los Angeles (Rebecca Henry works as a lawyer, while Akua Shabaka is an Aston School of Design graduate), explains that the importance of storytelling and pride in the Black experience is central to their vision. They showed their collection in a setting meant to evoke a mid-century African-American summer resort—after the models emerged, they lingered amid picnic baskets and beach balls in a tableaux vivant. “There is an underlying theme of being resilient, unpacking so much history,” Henry explains. Her daughter, meanwhile, declares, “The past is our muse! We are creating a community—continuing and fortifying this tradition.”
If we take anything away from the brutal experience we have just been through—one that continues to reverberate—it is a profound appreciation for newly emergent communities—congregations of people who, like all the Fashion Fund participants, want their love of fashion to reflect their own personal histories, insist on the primacy of sustainability, and vow to serve diverse audiences while making all the right moves for their businesses to survive and thrive.
There is so much to be thankful for. As Studio 189’s Erwiah puts it, “We have to remember the bigger picture: The power of fashion has so much potential—we can make a difference! It’s a celebration of the life we lead, diverse and multicultural. This is what our friends look like—this is what New York looks like.”