Former Memphian blazed a path for fashion designers of color

Nike’s distribution center on Shelby Drive — at least for the evening of Saturday, Dec. 10 — will include seating for hundreds and a bright spotlight on fashion designers of color.

The event is 15 years in the making for Memphian Brandice Daniel, who followed her heart to create Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2007.

Since then, HFR — the only New York agency that represents exclusively designers of color — has become a million-dollar business. She works with several dozen designers, including Kimberly Goldson, Nicole Lynel, Prep Curry and Clarence Ruth, whose work will be modeled in Saturday’s fashion show, Brandice Daniel’s tribute to her hometown.

“When I left Memphis and started HFR, I made a commitment that every five years, we would go back,” Daniel said.

In the past, she’s staged HFR anniversary fashion shows on South Main and Clayborn Temple. This year, the event is at Nike, a nod to the collaboration she’s had with the global brand since 2018, when three of her designers, including Goldson, were selected to design the first LeBron James basketball sneaker for women, the HFR x LeBron 16.

It sold out in five minutes.

“That collaboration was so important for Harlem’s Fashion Row because it opened more doors for us as an agency and for designers of color,” Daniel said. “It was great for the designers because the visibility on that collaboration got seven billion press impressions. It was featured on everything from ESPN to Sports Center to Good Morning America.

“It also gave us an opportunity to have global visibility because the shoe launched in China, as well.”

Last September, HFR’s annual show received international attention for honoring guests Janet Jackson, Los Angeles-based designer Sergio Hudson and actress/producer Issa Rae.

When Daniel, who grew up in Whitehaven and graduated from East High School in 1995, started HFR, no one was talking about the need to promote Black fashion designers or the value of their work.

“When I looked at retailers’ websites — and I spent a year going down all the lists — out of hundreds of designers, two would be Black, three would be Black,” she said.

“So, my next thing was well, maybe we’re not spending a lot of money on clothes, maybe that’s why we are not represented as designers. In 2008, when I did research, African-Americans were spending over $22 billion a year on apparel.

“I couldn’t unsee that. Every day, I was thinking, ‘How can I do something to help change that?’”

Because those conversations in fashion — and retail in general — were taboo, she said, “the hardest part was to be committed to what I saw as a real need.”

Her first collaborators weren’t fashion houses, but instead Target, Marriott, Prudential and a handful of others who gave Daniel a platform to show how big she could think.

Marriott, for instance, wanted to promote the appeal of its rooms in conjunction with fashion.

Daniel suggested turning two floors of a Renaissance Hotels property into boutique space during Fashion’s Night Out, the annual kickoff for New York Fashion Week.

“The designers took over those rooms and turned them into mini showrooms of their work. We literally had a line down the block for this event,” Daniel said.

The agency introduces designers to brands where it sees opportunities. If it’s a fit, the designer is paid for the work, and HFR gets an agency fee.

In November, HFR launched a collaboration with high-end shoe designer Jimmy Choo and Timberland.

“We understood what they were looking for and then identified a designer in our network who we thought would be a really great fit for the project,” Daniel said. “We manage the entire process of collaboration and also support the press for the collaboration.”

Ten years after her high school graduation, Daniel moved to Manhattan to work for International Intimates, a job she got through connections she made working for retailer Catherine’s in Memphis.

East High classmate Kamilah Turner watched Daniel’s trajectory from her early years in New York, when Daniel knew no one and had no industry connections.

“I knew a makeup artist that I had just met, and I begged her to volunteer for the show, which, at this point in time, I realize how ridiculous that sounded,” Turner said. “She said, ‘Your friend from Memphis has this fashion show and you want me to do makeup? For everybody in the show? For free?’

“All I could say was HFR is going to be so big in the next couple of years. It’s going to be something you are going to wish you had gotten on board with from the beginning.”

The woman agreed and became HFR’s lead makeup artist for the next decade, Turner said.

Growing up here, Daniel said, taught her to persevere.

“I think to live in Memphis, you have to have a lot of tenacity, resilience and a thick skin, as well, because Memphians are incredibly honest, at least in the community I grew up in.”

She saw her father start numerous ventures, including a Hallmark store, insurance sales and ultimately, a ministry.

“So, to me, seeing people start something was very normal. But, trust me, I have moments when I think, ‘What in the world am I doing? I shouldn’t be doing this. I am not the one,’” Daniel said. “I consider myself an outsider still, in the fashion industry, because fashion is all about who you know, who you are connected to.”

In 2020, Daniel launched ICON 360, the nonprofit side of her business, to help designers struggling in the pandemic.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue gave $1 million, followed months later by a $500,000 gift from GAP Inc.

“Our nonprofit does two things. It offers funding and resources to designers of color and to fashion departments at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities),” she said.

Sergio Hudson, who designed the ensemble Michelle Obama wore to President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021, received $100,000, which he used to revamp his website, Daniel said.

“Without that money, he doesn’t think his website would have been able to handle all that traffic he got from the inaugural. That’s something we’re really proud of,” she said.

Tickets for HFR’s fashion show at Nike were $99. They sold out more than a week ago. Attendees are asked to wear Nikes and clothing by designers of color.

This was originally published on “dailymemphian.com”

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