Lindsay Hattrick/Elite Daily

For These 3 Black Streetwear Designers, The Hype Is Long Overdue

In 2020, streetwear behemoth Supreme was valued at $1 billion, solidifying its pieces — mostly T-shirts featuring the brand’s iconic red logo or images of celebrity supernovas like Anna Nicole Smith, Madonna, and even Michael Jackson — as some of the most lucrative floating currencies in the apparel industry. Demand for these pieces has skyrocketed over the years, largely thanks to drop culture, which makes this merchandise transient and all the more coveted. But many old heritage streetwear brands share the same origin story: They were all created by rich white men. Consumers tend to get caught up in the frenzy of these drops and limited releases, glossing over the designers who guide the culture behind the scenes — most explicitly, the Black women streetwear designers they should be following. Whitewashing the streetwear space leaves female-founded Black brands with only a fraction of the recognition their white, male counterparts receive, ignoring entirely their heavy influence on streetwear culture and on fashion as a whole.

For example, fans of luxury streetwear brand Telfar were in an uproar over fashion label Guess’ release (and subsequent withdrawal) of a logo bag that closely resembled Telfar’s signature Shopping Bag. Earlier this year, Danielle Bernstein, the notoriously controversial founder of WeWoreWhat, allegedly duped a dress sent to her as a gift by Ngoni Chikwenengere, founder of We Are Kin, and the debacle sent shock waves through fashion circles on social media. (Bernstein denied the allegations in a series of Instagram Stories, calling the accusations “unfounded and unfair.”) Generally speaking, plagiarizing Black designers’ creations without credit is a flagrant trend that remains unchecked. And this consistent affront to Black streetwear designers echoes the patriarchal and misogynistic undertones this industry has yet to abandon.

“When we think of all the brands that are huge, like Supreme or Off-White, almost every one is male-dominated, and that’s so crazy to me,” Sainabou Lowe, founder and creator of SAIbysai, tells Elite Daily. “Next year, I want to see more representation [for Black women] because we’re the ones really driving and setting the pace for it [the industry]. So why not see those faces? I want a little girl to be like, ‘Oh I love that shirt, who made it?,’ and it is someone who looks just like her. Hopefully, [we can see] us occupying more space as we already are, but on a grander scale.”

Black women have created some of the most pivotal pieces of iconography that continue to inspire today’s musicians, influencers, and the overall direction of the fashion market. Even luxury designers have taken cues from streetwear as a whole. Take Rihanna’s Fenty, which has shifted and elevated the streetwear paradigm, thanks to her chic, versatile silhouettes, or the 2019 Baby Phat capsule collection in collaboration with Forever 21. With inventive designs like the deconstructed sneaker corset from Frisk Me Good and the gender-neutral aesthetic of Sheila Rashid, Black women exemplify a firm vision for the future of fashion — one this notoriously exclusive industry would do well to embrace.

Designers like Lowe, Cierra Boyd of Frisk Me Good, and Sheila Rashid of her eponymous label are just a few of the masterminds behind streetwear that’s creative, distinctive, and more than deserving of the same energy people give to a T-shirt with a red box logo. Below, Elite Daily spoke with the three designers about their inspirations and how they see the streetwear industry evolving.

Sheila Rashid, Sheila Rashid

What made you want to create your iconic eponymous label?

It was really my form of expression. So, it started in high school, I was hand-painting my T-shirts and I wanted to do something and be creative. It’s just my nature.

What is your design process like?

Well, I sketch and then I make the pattern. Then, after the pattern, I make a sample. I get inspired by something, sketch it out, and make it come into the 3D.

What has the response from your customers been like?

The response we get is always super positive. People really like my work and I appreciate that. People like that the aesthetic is gender-neutral. It’s a luxury streetwear brand that people can relate to.

What made you want to go in the gender-neutral direction with your brand?

It is pretty much a reflection of myself. I am what I am. I’m a woman, but if I get called a boy one day, I don’t care. It just happens sometimes. It’s just who I am. I’m androgynous, I’m feminine – I’m all of that.

What was the hardest part about getting your brand to where it is today?

Believing in myself.

Cierra Boyd, Frisk Me Good

What inspired you to create your sustainable, high-fashion streetwear brand, Frisk Me Good?

So, basically, in 2017, I graduated from Ohio University, and I was feeling overwhelmed with post-grad depression. I really felt like I lost my creative outlet that I originally had. ... I only had a little design experience, so I’m a self-taught designer. I went to school for retail merchandising and fashion product development, which is not necessarily fashion design, it’s more like behind-the-scenes. I figured out I wanted to be a fashion designer during my junior year. When I started my line, I was being sustainable without even knowing I was being sustainable. I would use stuff in my attic and use stuff around the house. I had family members and neighbors on our street donating fabrics. ... It wasn’t until recently that I decided to no longer buy commercial or brand new fabrics anymore and only use 100% recycled materials. Eventually, I was able to afford those fancy fabrics, but I realized that the response from my audience was different every time I posted something that wasn’t upcycled. When I do post upcycled stuff, people resonate with it more. I think about what got me here and what got me started in my actual roots to my clothing line. And luckily, in 2020, I was able to get back to that.

What is your design process like?

I’m very untraditional compared to your average fashion designer. For me, I like to work more organically. Instead of drawing it up and me telling the story, I let the fabrics and materials tell me the story. So, I’ll go and source my materials, and when I’m out, in my head I’m like, This would be cute as a bra, this would be cute as a bodysuit, this would be cute as a dress, etc. I don’t even make patterns; I just do what feels right. But I really just put the materials on the mannequin form and make sure that it will fit on a human body and make sure that the proportions are correct.

Which item do you consider to be a Frisk Me Good staple?

I would definitely say my bodysuits and silhouettes from that right now. But I also want to say the corset as well. Everything that’s bigger than the corset — the bodysuits, dresses, the two-pieces — they all derive from the blueprint of the corset.

What has the response from your customers been like?

From my actual customers that purchase from me, it’s been nothing but positive feedback. And it’s even better because I get to visually see it through Depop in my reviews. The response is people telling me how much they love it, how special the pieces are, or telling people to buy and support me.

Since you’re keen on innovation, how do you hope to see the streetwear landscape evolve within the next five years?

I really hope that people start to put a more sustainable emphasis on it. When you think about streetwear, you don’t think about sustainability. Even in luxury streetwear, I feel like nobody is focused on sustainability. So, I’m hoping to bring that element to everything when it comes to my clothing line, just so people can start to prioritize that.

Sainabou Lowe, SAIbysai

What inspired you to create SAIbysai, particularly with such unusual and modern silhouettes?

Basically, I love anything art. What was missing for me was the combination of both [fashion and art]. I was so used to seeing art on a canvas. To bring it to clothing was something different to me and something that I really felt like could express myself. I dress to express myself, I draw myself, so why not mix both?

I noticed the eye and face designs on your bags, which I’ve never really seen before. How did you come up with these concepts?

It was odd because I really never grew up thinking of a logo or symbol. Basically, I hate drawing things that have to be exact, and I love facial expressions for some reason. So, when I would go to draw, it would just flow. It wasn’t something that was practical. It didn’t have to be exact every time. I could do different sizes and forms of it. That’s kind of how it came about with the face. I love abstract features. My parents are from Gambia, so I do remember once that I was trying to draw a face, I asked my dad for some help. He drew this face and, being kindergarten, [I thought] it was so funky looking. It wasn’t my face, it wasn’t his face, it was just a face and it stuck with me.

What does your design process look like in practice?

It always starts with a go-with-the-flow mentality. It’s more like when I get inspired, I act on it. So, it all kind of starts with a cool color combination, like anywhere on the street, or maybe I’m in a museum and I see something cool. I’ll remember the colors and maybe how it made me feel. The next step would be sourcing. So whether that’s thrifting or whether I’m online and see a great sale, I think to grab a bunch of these pieces and paint on them. From the sourcing, I treat the pieces like a canvas. There’s no exact method for anything and that’s what keeps it fun for me.

What product of yours do you think represents SAIbysai’s overall image the best?

I would say pants, but these days, I want to say the bags do, because everyone is wearing them. Guys are wearing it, girls are wearing it, and everyone is having fun with the different sizes.

How are you hoping for the streetwear industry to develop within the next few years?

Honestly, [I hope for] more women. I think we need to see more women in the streetwear industry.