If you were to survey editors, you’d find that everyone has their own favorite aspect of their job. Some love scouring Nordstrom for the best new arrivals, and some love spotting a micro-trend before it blows up. For me, there’s nothing I love more than discovering new brands, especially when they’re Black owned. Don’t get me wrong. I’m always down for digging through a sale section or test-driving a new outfit for date night, but there’s something so magical about supporting Black talent in the fashion industry. It can be daunting for anyone to break into the fashion industry, but to launch your label as a person of color is even more challenging. It has been reported that less than 47% of financing applications filed by African American business owners get approved. Additionally, in the last two years, many major retailers only recently signed onto the Fifteen Percent Pledge to ensure they were buying wholesale ready-to-wear and accessories from Black-owned fashion brands.
Basically, it’s rough out here. And while there are some great organizations, retailers, and leaders paving the way for future Black creatives, the easiest way we can continue to advocate for and support rising talent is by buying their work. Buying a pair of shoes may not solve all the world’s systemic problems, but it’s a start. So ahead, I’ve rounded up 19 Black-owned shoe brands to shop year-round because buying from Black designers never goes out of style.
Do you know how we were just talking about the Fifteen Percent Pledge? Aurora James founded her accessory label, Brother Vellies, long before she started the nonprofit organization. The two-time award-winning CDFA designer has become beloved in the industry not only for her continued commitment to championing fellow Black artists but also for her artisanal shoes and handbags. You feel great knowing all the shoes are as ethical as they are stylish.
It’s no secret that building a fashion brand can take years. Some designers will take a hiatus from the hustle and bustle, only to never really return full blast. But that was not the case for the founder of Chelsea Paris, Theresa Ebagua. While she founded her namesake luxury footwear brand in 2012, the designer took a little hiatus until 2020. This served her well because, since then, her minimal yet eye-catching designs have garnered a cult following among the fashion set. If I were to name someone who embodies the phrase “back and better than ever,” it’s for sure Ebagua.
As an editor, I’m lucky enough to have the chance to occasionally meet the designers behind a label. (It’s something I cherish immensely.) So when I met Amina Means, the designer behind the 4-year-old luxury footwear brand Nalebe, I was awestruck. First off, Means herself is a gregarious force of nature, but her shoes? They’re next-level. If you think about the shoes that have attained It status over the past few seasons (think Mach & Mach’s bow heels or Versace’s Medusa platforms), they all have that wow factor—something that Means has gotten down to a science. With fun touches of animal print, crystal embellishments, and sparkles, all handcrafted in Italy, it only makes sense that the brand just got a deal with Saks. Trust me when I say it’s only a matter of time before all the fashion people are flocking to her for their footwear.
Kendall Miles Designs
Some shoe brands have the capacity to make me cough up all my money, and Kendall Miles Designs is one of those brands. The namesake accessory label was founded in 2015 by the Chicago-born, New York City–based designer after she studied formal footwear training at Arsutoria School in Milan, Italy. Miles’s clear fusion of cities and craftsmanship shines through in sandals with wraparound faux-fur straps, mules embellished with feathers, and bright patent pumps. Basically, she’s out here creating for the city girls. If I’m even remotely psychic, every Angeleno, New Yorker, and Parisian will be donning these shoes soon.
Scroll through the Instagram feeds of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, and Saweetie, and there will be one brand they’re all wearing. It just so happens to be Jessica Rich’s namesake shoe label. Founding her brand in 2015, the self-taught designer has become beloved among celebrities for her eye-catching use of PVC and platforms, but what makes her truly unique is her role as a trailblazer in the industry. She was not only one of the first Black shoe designers to be sold in Bloomingdale's, but she recently was also a part of The Black Designers fund, which was created to help fellow creatives receive the financial capital they need for their businesses. Basically, Rich is out here shattering glass ceilings with stilettos.
The first time I spotted a pair of AM: PM shoes, I was scrolling through Instagram, and my heart actually stopped. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but once you see the brand’s impeccable shoes, you get it. You’d think designs like pony-hair thong sandals and satin mules with a sculptural heel would be enough to make a girl fall in love, but for me, it came down to the fact that it’s a Black-owned shoe brand. In 2020, Edna Konadu founded the footwear label out of a desire to create affordable, contemporary, comfortable heels. And while it seems risky to start a business amid a global pandemic, Konadu benefited from the jump, as her shoes went viral practically overnight. This goes to show that leaping (whether it’s starting a brand or buying some shoes) pays off.
Self-taught designers always bring the spice to an otherwise traditional craft, and such is the case with Canadian Jamaican designer Téjahn Burnett. After taking roles in everything from finance to communications, she spent years researching various aspects of producing footwear, financing for businesses, and marketing so that she could found her namesake label in 2018. Burnett’s dedication to learning every aspect of the business is felt through the details applied to her footwear (e.g., sandals embellished with cowrie shells). It’s this attention to detail that makes her brand one watch and shop for.
Long before sneaker culture became a trend, Black people were championing, buying, and donning every sneaker drop. And while sneakers are a universal staple for everyone, there are still some brands that are doing it for the culture—like the Black-owned, London-based brand Løci. Founded by Emmanuel Eribo in 2021, the vegan sneaker label isn’t your typical shoe brand. It centers sustainability in every aspect of the business, from sourcing degradable and pragmatic materials such as cork, bamboo, and recycled plastic for the shoes to donating 10% of all its proceeds to helping keep the ocean clean. Løci is leading the charge in making the sneaker industry more sustainable and accountable.
Every fashion insider knows that no shoe collection is complete without at least one pair of shoes known as the “conversation starter.” This fact compelled Harlem-based designer Jazmin Veney to launch her footwear brand, Arch NYC, in 2018. With a formal background in fashion marketing, it makes sense that Veney’s pieces speak for themselves. The shoes often feature bold design elements like saturated tones, ruching, and pony hair. Arch’s shoes are what you wear when you want to be the belle of the ball.
Anyone who lives to discover either Black-owned or indie brands has likely heard of Hanifa. Founded in 2012 by Anifa Mvuemba, the brand’s ready-to-wear collections have become beloved for the designer’s use of bright hues, animal prints, and luxurious knits. But when the brand announced the launch of shoes last fall, the fashion girlies and guys lost it (for a good reason). The brand’s first drop featured a stunning knee-high boot style and sandals, and it’s safe to say that Hanifa’s entry into footwear is something you’ll want to keep tabs on.
Not all designers have a traditional background in fashion; some of the best talents come from some of the most unlikely places. This fact rings true for footwear designer Rebecca Allen, the former VP of Goldman Sachs. After working in finance for years, the creative found herself frustrated with the lack of polished nude footwear for women of color, so she founded her namesake brand in 2018. The brand’s ethos is about crafting classic footwear for women of all shades.
At first glance, you may think you know everything you need to know about the brand Good American. In fact, you might have spotted Khloé Kardashian in a campaign and called it a day. But what many might not know is that the brand was co-founded by Emma Grede. The Black British designer decided to launch the brand with Kardashian after realizing the lack of flattering and size-inclusive denim offerings in the market back in 2016. The brand’s inclusive ethos is embedded into every aspect of its work, including its ready-to-wear, swimwear, and footwear. With fun, trendy shoes available in sizes 4 to 14, the brand is a reminder that great style has no size limit.
Any woman of color can most likely relate to the struggle of searching for products that match your skin tone—whether it’s a pair of nude pumps or an exact-match foundation. This lack of inclusivity led Ghanaian American designer Jamela Acheampong to found her brand. After literally painting a white shoe her own skin tone back in 2016, she got the idea to launch Kahmune, a collection of true-nude shoes. Since then, the brand has garnered a following of celebrity clients such as Lupita Nyong'o and retail deals with brands such as Shopbop, proving that women just want great shoes.
At times, the footwear industry can be dogmatic. Traditional ways of producing shoes, designing shoes, and even launching your label have left a lot of great talent out of the spotlight. But D.C. designer Taylor Dixon has found his light. The self-taught designer worked as a production coordinator for Ralph Lauren and apprenticed with a shoe cobbler before launching his genderless label, Sunni Sunni, in 2012. Since then, he’s been able to stand on his own two feet on account of the fact that his handcrafted footwear always strikes the perfect balance between trendy and timeless, feminine and masculine. It’s Sunni’s chic shoes that have caught the attention of power couples like Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, but what keeps this designer in the spotlight is his continued dedication to creating outside of the typical shoe box.
Confession: I have found some of my favorite rising Black-owned fashion brands through Beyoncé’s site, and Keeyahri is one of them. Founded by Keya Martin in 2018, the buzzy luxury footwear brand has become known not just because of how many celebrities it’s been spotted on (though, that helps) but also for its one-of-a-kind sculptural heels. Despite her brand only being 2 years old, Martin’s fresh approach to design led her to get financed by and picked up by Nordstrom. So basically, you’re going to want to keep all eyes on Keeyahri’s work because it has all the trappings of making the next It shoes.
I occasionally discover some of the best new brands from our Who What Wear readers, which was very much the case for the Black-owned footwear brand Nn. Founded by Houston-based designer Nicolette Nichelle in 2019, the brand began as a passion project for adding a fun DIY flair to shoes she already owned. Since the brand’s launch, her work has started to catch the attention of micro-influencers for its eclectic designs, like rhinestone-embellished, cloud-shaped knee-high boots and gold strappy sandals with cannabis emblems. It’s safe to say you better keep your sights on this brand because it’s only a matter of time before it goes viral.
They say that some of the best things in life are surprises. This seems to be valid for footwear designer Titi Adesa. Raised in Nigeria, the London-based designer began her career in medicine but decided to pivot into fashion. After studying at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion and traveling to Italy to learn shoemaking, she decided to launch her namesake label in August 2019. Little did she know she’d be starting a family and that a pandemic would begin shortly after. Despite all the surprises, Adesa has garnered a solid fan base that includes celebrities such as Emily Blunt and Jennifer Hudson, and she earned the Emerging Talent Award at the 35th annual FN Achievement Awards. If the designer’s quick rise in the industry wasn’t enough to keep us on our toes, her ability to add elements of surprise and delight into her designs (e.g., pumps with laser-cut topline leather and mules with rainbow mesh) certainly makes her one to watch.
If you’re anything like me, you may have had an obsession with the fictional character Olivia Pope from Scandal at some point. Everything about her polished style—from her Prada tote to her wrap coat to her pointed heels—screamed “power.” And if the show were still on-air today, there’s no doubt she’d be donning a pair of Salone Monet heels. This Black-owned shoe brand was founded in 2018 after Monet worked in political PR and realized the lack of inclusive nude shoes in the fashion industry. Since launching her business, she’s become a force in the industry. She’s a founding member of the CFDA and Bethann Hardison Designers Hub and was awarded the Harlem's Fashion Row Icon 360 award in 2020. While Monet has built a following in and out of the industry, her true power hasn’t come from celebrity placements or accolades. It comes from creating shoes that women of color can put their best foot forward in.
Editors are always searching for the next big brand, and I can, without a doubt, tell you that it’s going to be Voyetté. Voyetté Lee founded the Miami-based luxury shoe brand in 2019. And despite being new to the shoe game, the brand’s sultry styles have been spotted on everyone from Keke Palmer to Tinashe. If that’s not enough to sell you on why this shoe brand will blow up, look to the designer’s use of crystals, feathers, and mesh to create perfect pairs of statement shoes. If you think about the shoes that have dominated the fashion set’s Instagram feeds and compare them to the incredible work of Voyetté, then you can see this brand is poised to take over soon. And if it doesn’t, I’ll personally be revolting.