Photo:Tia Adeola; Kendra Duplantier; Andrea Iyamah; K.ngsley; Farai
What makes a brand "emerging"? Is it certain A-list clientele? An industry backing from the likes of the CFDA? Being stocked at key retailers? I've been thinking a lot about these labels and what defines them in my never-ending quest to spotlight fashion's most exciting new talent. While there still isn't one universal set of benchmarks for defining who's "emerging" versus who's fully on the scene, I think I have a pretty good idea of the latter—five names, to be specific.
These labels immediately come to mind for possessing that elusive It factor. They've experienced at least one big breakthrough moment that catapulted them to major popularity and, in my mind, transcended them from their "emerging" status onto a new plane of notoriety. That looked different for each of the below brands. For Farai London, it was a single Instagram post of Kylie Jenner in one of the brand's signature body-hugging cutout dresses a mere month after launch. For NYC-based Tia Adeola (formerly known as Slashed by Tia), it was going viral during the height of the pandemic for her ruffle-trimmed face masks that fused protection with panache. Sure, you can argue that a single viral moment doesn't ensure longtime success, but if there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that the designers behind these five brands have that special sauce.
Whether it be an Instagrammable dress, gender-obliterating basics, an outrageously pretty face mask, or ethereal resortwear, scroll to get to know these five emerging Black-owned fashion brands. They aren't just up next—if you ask me, they've fully arrived.
After having worked in the fashion business for over a decade, Duplantier took the plunge to launch her eponymous label in 2019. The designer wouldn't have known what was to come in the years following—a pandemic and a sweeping social justice movement, for instance. But despite it, or perhaps because of it, Duplantier and her line experienced a series of events that would kick-start her on a roller coaster of success that's still very much going strong. In 2020, she was featured on Black-Owned Everything, celebrity stylist Zerina Akers's curation. This past New York Fashion Week, she was plucked to be part of the Black in Fashion Council Showroom. Her signature drop-shoulder tanks have been worn by the likes of Issa Rae and her Insecure co-star Yvonne Orji, and currently, the brand's on-trend pieces can be shopped at Fwrd.
If you ask me, the designs speak for themselves. The collection is a range of luxury ready-to-wear that focuses on timeless pieces exploring femininity, as the designer notes. Made responsibly with a slow-fashion mindset, the line is always produced in limited quantities, making each piece feel even more special. The latest drop is a drool-worthy range of leather separates, including a cutout skirt and bandana-motif leather top.
Photo:Getty Images; Farai London
Mary-Ann Msengi also decided to launch her line of sultry cutout dresses in the middle of the pandemic, and against all odds, it flourished. Almost immediately after she launched Farai London, the brand showed up on Kylie Jenner's Instagram feed, a feat that brands with far more resources could only dream of. Msengi tells us that she decided early on to establish connections with stylists, and when she presented Jenner's then stylist with the dress, it all spawned from there.
Jenner's outfit was the singular event that catapulted the brand to new heights before it even fully got off the ground. "It was obviously very exciting but also quite tough," Msengi shares. "There was a spike in demand, and we had to make changes almost overnight to be able to cope with the influx of orders. We very quickly adapted and changed the whole model and grew quite rapidly, but since then, it's been building rapidly." Today, the brand boasts more than 70K followers on Instagram, and you can shop a healthy edit of the vacation-friendly dresses at Revolve. Despite all that, "we're still nowhere near where we want to be," admits Msengi.
Photo:@kyliejenner; Farai London
Msengi's personal favorite style is the Delilah, a long-sleeve printed mesh number from the launch collection now dubbed an OG on the brand's site, because of its unmatched versatility. She's personally worn it to dinner, brunch, a wedding, and even to a party, so you know it's definitely a go-to. Summer is naturally when the brand thrives, as warm weather is part of its DNA, and as the promise of warmer weather (and perhaps a vacation or two) comes into view, Msengi says to expect hyper-bright hues to saturate the line. "We are getting bolder and brighter with more classic silhouettes this season."
The path to global success can be a short and steep rise, as we've seen with labels such as Farai London. But it can also look like a slow and steady course. Andrea Iyamah embodies the latter. In 2011, Nigerian designer Andrea Dumebi Iyamah founded her namesake label as a celebration of her African roots and the cultures beyond it. Over the course of the last decade, Iyamah has garnered repeated recognition from the fashion industry for her resort- and swimwear. She's been featured in Vogue, Forbes, InStyle, and many more, and her brand is widely acknowledged as the leading African resort- and swimwear label.
In the present day, Iyamah's ethereal swimwear sets and stunning billowy dresses are being picked up by retailers such as Moda Operandi, Farfetch, Shopbop, and Revolve. While she's certainly well-known at home, Iyamah and her collections are just now starting to make waves globally, especially here in the U.S., and she has our full attention.
When Brooklyn-based designer Kingsley Gbadegesin decided to launch his own clothing line, he took with him the years of experience he racked up working for the likes of Versace, Celine, and Loewe. A first-generation Nigerian American, Gbadegesin has made it his mission to advance liberation for the Black community, the Queer community, and people of color, as he puts it. More than just a label, K.ngsley and the ethos behind it are part of the designer's vision to uplift and amplify the community. Last year, the brand was one of three to win Fred Segal's Season Zero Design Contest alongside Connor McKnight and House of Aama. The contest was designed to fund, support, and ultimately retail up-and-coming Black fashion designers.
As far as the garments themselves are concerned, K.ngsley takes wardrobe-staple classics like the white tank and reinvents them with asymmetric cutouts and liberal hemming. The results are the coolest basics that have landed themselves in the closets of everyone from Lil Nas X to Lily James.
The name Tia Adeola might sound familiar, and if not, it really should. When we profiled the NYC-based designer for our Who What Wear Spotlight series, she was fresh off of her debut collection at NYFW and in the midst of a meteoric rise. Ever since that moment, she's only continued to build her momentum, going from a college student with a sewing machine and a vision to a bona fide name to know in the industry. Just to paint the full picture: Adeola was still in college when her designs were being worn by the likes of Lizzo, Gigi Hadid, and Dua Lipa. Today, her line is published on Vogue Runway, with features in Vogue, The Cut, and Paper magazine. Adeola's brand may still be a relatively small label, but her impact is being felt throughout the industry.