3 Emerging Black Designers to Know in 2022
A new era of fashion is here.
What makes fashion exciting for many in-the-know shoppers is the discovery of new brands and new designers. Prior to social media, reading up on fashion week, award show red carpets, or the Met Gala were some of the ways the public discovered new brands. However, these occasions often lacked diversity. In the last years, 2020 in particular, the fashion industry has instituted changes committed to supporting emerging Black designers materially and structurally. The Black In Fashion Council’s NYFW showroom is a prime example of a space devoted to uplifting Black talent. What makes these designers worthy of note isn’t their identity, rather it is how their identity offers unique and integral viewpoints within fashion and design. Admittedly, highlighting these fashion brands is only one step in intentionally creating space for Black designers in fashion, but it is a notable start.
From London, to Lagos, to Chicago, three Black designers: Feben Vemmendy of Feben, Patience Torlowei of Torlowei, and Andreain Guillory of AJOVANG are tapping into their community, childhood fantasies, and layered legacies of migration to create pieces that set them apart heading into 2022. In London, Vemmendy recently released her much-anticipated collection and launched a revised version of her graduate collection with Canadian retailer SSENSE — her first retail partnership. Torlowei was featured as a part of legendary costumier Patricia Field’s work in Starz’s Run The World. For Chicago designer Ajovang, being selected as a participant in the Fall 2021 edition of Black in Fashion Council x IMG showroom meant the world as it gave the designer his first NYFW appearance and exposed him to a larger audience.
Below, they tell TZR about their journeys, what’s at the center of their designs, and what’s next heading into the new year.
Feben Vemmendy first caught the public’s eye after her stellar graduate collection at Central Saint Martins in 2020. Post-graduation, she chose to launch her eponymous brand, she explains, “Feben is for anyone who is curious and willing to explore something new.” The designer invokes this curiosity by creating pieces that reengineer traditional fashion pieces in how they reference Black art and existence. For instance, crocheted beaded bags feature a picture of her mother from when she first arrived in Sweden — where Vemmenby spent her childhood before moving to London for university.
These references are an important element of the designer’s work which reflects her experiences as an immigrant and celebrates community. “Growing up as an Ethiopian kid in Sweden, I felt that I didn’t belong, but I’m using that in my work by reclaiming a feeling of displacement, there is a power in that. I think you can see it in my usage of colors and textures and who I choose to work with”, she says.
Since graduating, the designer has worked on design and styling projects with fashion director Ib Kamara on Beyoncé’s Brown Skin Girl, and gone on to launch two more collections with her most recent being Spring/Summer 2022 shown at London Fashion Week.
Speaking to TZR about the influences in her work, Vemmenby says, “It’s a summary of what I've been exposed to — it’s me, my identity. My work is very personal, my identity is built on what I’ve been exposed to and where I've lived. ” Currently, Feben pieces can be shopped on its website and SSense.
For Andreain Guillory, founder of AJOVANG, fashion is simply a wearable 3D form of the 2D art he grew up creating as a drawing-obsessed kid. “Making the sample, building the concept, and getting to share the end product with the world. It is so magical and fun because you're pulling all the pieces together to create something big. Sometimes I surprise myself at the end because the vision or illustration actually came to life.” These final pieces are dresses that bring fairytales to mind with their voluminousness, cuts, and fabrics.
“I draw most of my inspiration from the childhood films that were fantasy and showed us the magic in the world,” Guillory shares. “I used to watch them over and over again until the VHS tape wouldn't play anymore. Growing up, my parents were both blue-collar workers. I often played in their pile of uniforms, with the shirting details creating a visceral hold on me that shows up in many of the AJOVANG pieces.”
Guillory credits instructors Yoshiko Fredisdorf and Katrin Schnabl at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) for pushing him to think outside of the box and offer new ideas on what clothing could be. It was at SAIC that the designer, who started with a background in painting, found fashion design. In 2020, he graduated in the thick of the pandemic. It was at this time that he also realized that while his design side had been nurtured by his alma mater, he still had the hurdle of brand development and running a fashion business.
Guillory spent the last months learning and growing his business by reaching for opportunities such as the Black in Fashion Council x IMG showcase this past fashion week. To stay inspired, he revels in the process, “knowing that someone will remember how great they felt the first time wearing a piece of mine brings me so much joy. It all keeps me so motivated!” The designer is currently raising funds to scale operations. In the meantime, pieces can be shopped directly on his website or at Chicago retailer Bird and Tale.
With over 15 years of fashion experience and a dress housed in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Art, Nigerian designer Patience Torlowei can hardly be called an emerging designer. However, over this time, she’s had many reinventions and is still in the early days of building her latest venture — lingerie.
Her eponymous brand first launched in Belgium where she lived in the early ‘00s and focused entirely on wedding dresses. Within a year of launch, Torlowei’s designs had caught the eyes of enamored retailers across seven countries in Europe and brides who soon started asking the designer for undergarments to match their dresses. That unexpected push into lingerie would lead her label Torlowei to become what it is today, a lingerie brand that highlights local craftsmanship and classic silhouettes with avant-garde materials, prints, and styles inspired by fauvism and cubism.
The designer continued to diligently serve her clientele and in 2008 moved operations to Nigeria after a visit showed her the void in lingerie options for Nigerian and African women. Still, it was in 2017 that the brand honed in on its identity through sustainable operations and a commitment to creating high-quality products while paying workers a living wage.
“We do not follow trends,” she says. “Rather we create pieces that are valid throughout the ages to be passed down from generation to generation. Timeless and long-lasting. Staples for any wardrobe.” After years of fine-tuning, the brand is now focused on expanding Torlowei’s reach in the world through a new collection that’s soon to launch. Torlowei pieces can currently be found via the website.