While building her eponymous label back in 2016, designer Marrisa Wilson had the intention of making it much more than just a clothing brand. “I wanted to create a brand that celebrated our hair, our personalities, our cultures — and I didn’t want it to be something niche or small,” she tells TZR. “I felt that our voices and perspectives as Black women are incredibly important to the culture, but there were so few designers or people behind the scenes that looked like me.” And by mentoring young women and promoting diversity in the industry, that’s exactly what the New York-based brand is doing today.
Taking an active role in the community is crucial for the first-generation Guyanese-American designer, who was born and raised in New Jersey. In fact, she addresses current issues in the Black community through her collections. Her latest collection for Fall/Winter 2021 is titled To Be Black and Female, which is inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, drawing parallels from the social movement of Black America in the 1920s to today. “It takes its mood and direction from the jazz age Cotton Club — a legendary spot in Harlem, where supremely talented black artists performed for the approval of all-white audiences — and W.E.B DuBois’s concept of double consciousness,” the designer explains. As for today, she drew a lot of parallels from everything that happened last summer with the George Floyd killing, the riots, and the protests. In terms of the clothing, she says the details include bold, vibrant colors, printed velvet, pleats, as well as color and fabric blocking, was “created to showcase our voice, our bodies, and our spirit.”
Currently, the Marist College graduate is involved in the community in every way she can. “On a personal level, I am a part of several organizations ... a member of the Black Design Collective, a part of the Black in Fashion Discovery showroom for New York Fashion Week, and part of the Alumni Leadership Committee for the Fashion Scholarship Fund,” she says. “My focus is on creating more opportunities for women, particularly women of color, and giving women the support needed in order to put more women of color in decision-making positions.” The designer was struck by the fact that there are so few Black women in roles of power, yet, they have a spending power of $1.5 trillion. “Just seems like a bad business decision, if you ask me.”
From a brand perspective, Wilson strives to create a company where she’s hiring diverse talent, mentoring women to be a part of the workforce, and bringing them into the process in various stages. “I’m mentoring girls from my college, but I’m also trying to highlight different talents and bring them into the [design] process,” she explains. “From an economic standpoint, hiring and creating opportunities is a really important way that I can create action because we talk a lot about diversity and inclusion being part of the process, and the way I really see that happening is through creating opportunities.”
“I hate how the language and tone that frames that conversation feels similar to the way that you might see that tie-dye is trending this season.”
Within the industry, Wilson hopes to see opportunities for more Black designers in high positions. “It would be a real stretch for me to name 10 Black female designers with their own brands or who work as creative directors of fashion houses,” she explains. “I see black models and celebrities on the runway or on the covers of magazines, but behind the scenes, the representation is severely lacking.” With her own label, the designer is eager to reimagine the perception of the All-American brand, and build a company that has longevity.
And while yes, she loves how there’s currently a growing conversation around diversity and inclusion in the fashion space, the designer wants to see it stick around long-term. “I hate how the language and tone that frames that conversation feels similar to the way that you might see that tie-dye is trending this season,” she adds. “Diversity shouldn’t be looked at as a fad, or a trend, or the hot new thing that companies are jumping on. Having a diverse and inclusive company should be the norm, and it should be looked at for what it is: smart business.” She reiterates how much spending power Black women have — yet, she says Black female designers are a hugely untapped source of talent in the industry. “There’s still an added stress of being a black designer,” she notes. “We’re not yet in a place for me to just say I’m a designer. But I’d love for that to change.”
“Diversity shouldn’t be looked at as a fad, or a trend, or the hot new thing that companies are jumping on. Having a diverse and inclusive company should be the norm, and it should be looked at for what it is: smart business.”
The designer keeps her brand ethos, self-love and women supporting women, in mind when creating the collections. “Aspirational brands are an important part of the conversation in this industry, but I wanted to design an aspirational brand with Black women in mind from the concept stage through to final product so we could have a brand we were able to relate to and feel confident wearing,” she explains. As for her design process, both prints and the color palette (which is oftentimes bold and bright) are essential to each collection. “I love a thoughtful creative process and working through iterations of each design until it’s perfect,” she explains. “I focus on interesting textiles and fabric treatments within timeless silhouettes.”
When it comes to seeking inspiration for her line, the designer also taps into the creative — finding ways to meld her activism with the arts that inspire her. “I start each season with a playlist to set the vibe and then I build off of that,” Wilson explains. “I was a competitive dancer for most of my life, so music helps me create visuals in my head and gives me a foundation to build off of.” Additionally, according to the brand’s website, the designer is heavily influenced by soulful sounds and eclectic interior spaces.
The New Yorker best describes her label as cool styling, blended with funky textiles. “That has been my ethos since day one, and it’s been exciting for me to come back to that each season and evaluate what that means for each collection.” And if there’s one piece Marrisa Wilson is known for, it’s undoubtedly jumpsuits. “For my Fall/Winter 2021 collection, The Josephine Cropped Kick Flare Jumpsuit is made in this yummy plisse knit,” Wilson says. “It’s super easy, yet sexy and comfy. It’s the perfect transition from wearing sweatpants for an entire year to hopefully being able to enjoy a night out without sacrificing comfort.”
Below, pre-order some of the pieces from the label’s To Be Black and Female Fall/Winter 2021 collection. And keep close tabs on the brand as it’s about to make waves in the industry.
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