In addition to being multi-talented and multi-faceted, black people have been consistent trendsetters and trailblazers in the world of fashion. From sportswear to formal wear to business casual and footwear, black people have continuously set the tone, determining what’s hot and what’s not. It’s no wonder that within the current influx of black-owned businesses, a significant percentage of them have to do with fashion, apparel, and style.
With May being Small Business Month, there is nothing small about the following three black-owned, fashion brands. The first took a lemon of not being able to find women’s streetwear and turned it into to chicest lemonade. The second saw a need for young, black stylists in her city, and wrote her way into the fashion world. And the third took a lesson from his grandmother and turned into a women’s fashion powerhouse.
Kelly Hardy, Chic Shirt Shop
What is Chic Shirt Shop’s story? And how long has it been in existence?
A few years ago, I was looking for fun t-shirts for women. There were a lot of local brands that had great menswear, and when I would step into those studios and showrooms, looking for women’s shirts, there was always a small section of one or two. When I would ask about women’s offerings, I was always told that women don’t wear streetwear or tees. I disagreed. I felt that if I was a woman looking for streetwear, then other women were probably looking for it too. So I decided to start the Chic Shirt Shop. I began with one local Chicago design that said, “Summertime Chi.” After almost four years, we’ve grown to have many offerings of things that are not just regional but have something that women can identify with across the board.
How do you come up with the designs for your shirts?
I look at what is interesting, popular, and trending in the world. Then, I listen to my customers. My “Chic Army” is very vocal, so they always tell me what they want. Finally, I think about things that interest me. So I marry those three and figure out what’s the best thing to offer.
What has been your most significant moment to date?
This time, right now. I am amazed at how many customers are purchasing because they know that I am a small business. There is such a strain on small businesses right now. I’m getting so many notes from people saying that they just want to support my small business.
What is one thing that you want people to know about the work that you do?
Everything I do is with love and excellence. My packaging says, “Made with love,” and it really is. If it’s not done right, then I don’t do it. My customers know that when they get a package from me, they are going to get a little surprise, whether it be something free or a note letting them know that it comes directly from me.
What’s next for Chic Shirt Shop?
We are going to grow. We are going to have even more offerings. At some point, we are going to have a brick and mortar. I want to be a cute little shop, like Francesca’s, or a novelty shop for the culture and our people.
For more information on Chic Shirt Shop, visit them at https://chicshirtshop.com/, and follow them on Instagram @thechicshirtshop.
BeBe Jones, Row A Seat 1
What is Row A, Seat 1’s story? And how long has it been in existence?
Row A Seat 1 started in August of 2013, and this year makes seven years. I came up with the name by volunteering in 2009 for New York Fashion Week. We would always bet on who would sit on the front row at every show, and saw how crazy the front row was. I was on a flight back to Chicago and was thinking about the name of my company if I were to start one. At the time, I was in limbo about whether to start a company or go back to working for a publication. So while on the plane, I started reading one of the magazines that you find in the seat compartment, and I saw something that said, “Front Row.” I wasn’t sure who or what it was affiliated with, I just thought it sounded cool. By the time I landed in Chicago, I had come up with the name “Row A Seat 1”. As far as the business, I knew how egotistical people in fashion were, and decided to use my skills in journalism as a way to ease my way in. So I came up with a blog first to win their trust, and from there, gradually moved into becoming a stylist. I was already known throughout Chicago for writing articles for and about creatives, designers, and nail techs, and had accumulated so much information when it came time to pull clothes and wardrobes from their establishments; it was a no brainer which still stands to this day.
What are all of the services that you provide?
We have a blog, wardrobe, and virtual styling. I do closet audits and also a lot of consulting with small brands. My services have been booked for doing reviews on stores, looking at where and how things should be set up. I’ve also worked with a lot of companies behind the scenes on their social media. I also started a workshop last year that’s geared towards up and coming stylists, teaching them the basic steps of being a stylist on the set of a photoshoot.
What are some of your collaborations and brand partnerships?
For about three and a half years, I was an independent contractor, styling for Nike Chicago as an independent contractor, in addition to doing ten campaigns for them. From Nike, I ended up working with Puma, Alex and Ani, Vince, Samsung, Nikon, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, many major brands. I’ve even worked with Vogue, Poland. My work has been featured in British Vogue, Tatler, and In Style. I started getting international notoriety last year for my styling work.
Of all of your partnerships and collaborations, what are you most proud of?
Honestly, I’m proud of all of it. It’s all cohesive and gels together. So whether it’s a win from my journalistic or stylist side, it’s all a win in life because I have degrees in both journalism and fashion merchandise. It’s just me doing what I love. For instance, when I get asked to come on Windy City Live and do an Oscar’s Red Carpet Review, that’s right up my alley. It’s not only journalism, but it ties into fashion. So I just get excited about it all and don’t take anything for granted.
What’s one thing you want people to know about the work that you do?
The work that I do is dope. I love everything that I do. I want people to know that I am a champion for the worker bee. I’m that person who will let you know how dope Chicago is, how dope creatives are, and black women.
For more information on Row A Seat 1, visit https://www.rowaseat1.com/, follow BeBe on Instagram @bebe_jones.
Sha’Vi Lewis, Sha’Vi Lewis
What is Sha’Vi Lewis’s story? How long have you been designing, and what made you go into it?
My grandmother was a seamstress when I was growing up; she had a business and clients. We lived in a two-family house, and she would work out of the basement. I would see her making clothes while she babysat me, and because I had so much energy, she sat me down and made me assist her. From pinning down patterns, things snowballed into my sewing, then doing things myself. It was just a hobby and never really a career-path until I got to high school. I met an art major named Johnny, who would sketch all the girls’ prom dresses and make so much money. I knew how to sew, he knew how to sketch, and it became a thing where he would teach me how to sketch so that I would see how the fabric falls on a body to make the clothes better. Once he graduated, I then became the new “Johnny” and would sketch the girls’ dresses. Because I knew local designers from being around my grandmother, I would take the girls to get their dresses made. Then, a designer by the name of Marco Hall asked why I never knew how to make gowns since I was always sketching them. That triggered something in me that I wanted to try since I knew the basics. From there, I went to New York one day with my mom and bought a lot of fabric, and that’s how I started my first collection.
Do you do primarily gowns, or are there other offerings that you provide under the Sha’Vi Lewis brand?
Right now, my primary focus is women’s cocktail and evening wear. But, I’ve always seen myself as a lifestyle designer, including fragrance, a full collection of day to night, accessories, homeware, and décor. Now, with everything that happened with Project Runway, we are planning on launching a full collection to include daywear, in addition to gowns and cocktail dresses. For the time being, I’ll stick with dresses because they’re easier to work with and market. But I’m looking at the full collection dropping in the Fall.
How has your brand changed over the years?
My brand has gone through changes as I’ve grown. I started at 16, just being a kid from Newark, NJ, and did what I saw or thought was luxury fashion. But as I got older and did more research, experience, and just learning what I liked and what women liked, it made my attention to detail a lot stronger. My focus, as far as what I want to offer my clients, has become stronger, and my aesthetic has become more refined.
When did you realize you were on to something?
I realized I was on to something when I was walking to the store one day in college, and this lady stopped me in the parking lot, asking if I was a fashion designer. She went on to tell me that she saw me at Clark Atlanta University’s fashion show, wanted to get some things made, and then asked for my contact information. At the time, I was a Freshman and wasn’t supposed to do the Senior fashion show. So just from her seeing that one scene, she wanted to order stuff, which then snowballed into her friend’s placing orders as well. That’s when it popped off for me.
When starting, did you imagine the growth and exposure that you currently have?
I thought that I would be the person that would sit back and put the product out there, let someone see it, and then that’s the star. I don’t consider myself like that, but the attention to the brand from Project Runway has been incredible. I’ve always seen myself as a mainstream designer, a really good designer, a talented designer, I just never thought it would be from a T.V. show, It is, however, helping people see my clothes, which is ultimately what I want to be known for. I don’t want to be known as a reality star; I want to be known as a fashion or creative visionary.
What’s one thing you want people to know about the work that you do?
I want people to know that the work that I do is not anything I’m just putting out there to make money. It’s something that I’m passionate about that I think about over and over again. Every detail is thought out to make women feel sexy, confident, and sophisticated. I want my clothes to convey emotion so that when you put them on, you feel special. Like every woman has that arch in their back when they put that dress on and feel a certain way. That’s how I want every client to feel. I want them to feel the love, emotion, and pride that I have for my craft and what I do.
For more information on Sha’Vi Lewis, visit https://www.shavilewis.com/, and follow him on Instagram @shavilewis.