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The Business of Fashion

Modeling industry icons Bethann Hardison, Iman and Naomi Campbell recently made headlines for calling out big-time designers for not using Black models. But the lack of opportunities for people of color doesn’t end on the catwalk. There’s also a major shortage of African-American designers. Luckily, there are some folks who are working on making the change. JET talked to Brandice Henderson, CEO and founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row, about how her budding company is creating avenues for visibility and financial streams for Black designers.

JET: What is Harlem’s Fashion Row?

Brandice Henderson: It’s a platform for designers of color to show their collections through creative ways, such as fashion shows. We’ve been doing New York Fashion Week for the last three to four years. This is when we have all the press here. It’s when it’s fashion time in New York City, so we definitely want to take advantage of the opportunities to promote the brands. We also host networking events

JET: Presenting your line during New York Fashion Week is a huge deal. Tell us about your designer selection process.

BH: We have four designers that we presented. We began the process in February, where we selected seven designers and the top four are presenting during this fashion week. We start in October by interviewing designers and reviewing their collections. I try to find designers that have been in the business at least two to three years, and have at least prod see themselves as a business owner. That’s really important to me. I do the preliminary interviews over the phone and then I meet them in person so I can review their collections. We present the finalists to  a panel of judges in February. Then we pick four for the September show.

JET: Tell us about your designers for this season.

BH: 1. Kimberly Goldson has such a unique point of view. Her whole collection makes that statement that it’s not too early for a girl to sparkle and shine. I think the way she uses prints is very unique, so I am excited for people to see her Spring 2014 collection.

2. Deidre Jeffries’ line, Espion, is all about Bond sexy, and this year she’s doing something really sexy with an Asian influence.

3. Sandro Romans… just forget about everything you know about menswear. His collection is menswear re-imagined.

4. Modahnik is by Kahindo Mateene. She is from the Congo and uses her heritage as inspiration for her line, so you’ll always see really great prints and she develops her prints herself.

JET: What’s your vision for the brand?

BH: I want to start an HFR (Harlem’s Fashion Row) label and collaborate with the designers to create a revenue stream. For example, let’s say Kimberly Goldson and I worked on a label, and it would be Kimberly Goldson for HFR, and we’d sell that collection to department stores. Bringing the lines to the consumer really been a challenge for our designers so we are also developing a technology for 2014 where you can pre-shop from our designers as you see it going down the runway.

JET: One key to your business success has been strategic partnerships with big brands, such as Dark and Lovely, Smart Water and Target. Many small businesses struggle to create such alliances. What’s your secret?

BH: Consistency is probably one of the biggest things. We’ve been doing the same thing every year, so people know whatever we say we’re going to do is what we’re going to deliver. I think that’s been huge. The very first year we were at a small restaurant called the River Room in Riverbank Park. This year, we’re at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

For more about Harlem’s Fashion Row go to harlemsfashionrow.com.