Issue 4: Black Creators
Arrion Drumgoole is a black Detroit-based artist that designs formal event attire. She primarily designs custom dresses and takes orders through her shop on Etsy. Consultations and fittings are done to ensure the perfect fit as a major focus is making an item the customer will feel special in. Each piece is embroidered and beaded with intricate crystals creating a very glamorous aesthetic. Drumgoole is often incredibly booked due to the popularity of the pieces and the extensive time needed to create them.
What do you design/create?
I create custom ending, birthday, and prom dresses/outfits
When did you start designing, or what got you into it?
I started designing when I was a child. I just started making doll clothing when I was a child in middle school. I used to be really into fashion and clothing when I was a child.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
My favorite projects to work on are during prom season. I create a variety of designs during that time period; that’s when I can be really creative.
What is your favorite part of your business or designs?
My favorite part of my business is creating designs that make my clients happy and feel special.
What does black history month mean to you?
Black history month is a chance for us to highlight and give credit where it is due to all of the black innovators and creators who are changing the world
Has being black affected designing/ running a business in any way?
Being black while running a business has its positives and negatives. People sometimes don’t want to trust black businesses because of the stereotype that they May be unprofessional or they want to support them simply because you are a black business.
Do you feel misrepresented within the fashion/design industry because of your race/identity? I do not feel misrepresented in the fashion industry. I feel like there are so many styles and cultural influences that black designers have contributed to and created.
Sala Damali White (She/Her)
Sala Damali White identifies as a half-blind, queer disabled artist. Sala is a Detroit-based artist and a Central Michigan University alumni. Her work is heavily inspired by AfroFuturism, which is a cultural aesthetic, and philosophy of science and history that explores the intersection of the African diaspora culture with science and technology. After her time at Central Michigan, she moved to the Bay Area which has also influenced her work as well. She utilizes a variety of mediums for her work as well.
What do you design/create?
“I created the ‘America Was Never Great’ dress after 45 was elected. I wore the dress to my last fashion show at CMU in front of Tim Gunn and during graduation.”
When did you start designing or what got you into it?
“I have been designing and making art since I was a child. I was very fashionable in high school and was inspired by a presentation to pursue fashion during college.”
What is your favorite part of your business or designs?
“I consider myself much more of a multidisciplinary artist than a fashion designer. My favorite part of the design is the composition or texture of the piece.”
Has being black affected designing/running a business in any way?
“Yes. I honestly think that in order to be a very commercially successful black person- you have to be a black capitalist- and I’m not really interested in that. I aim to design from an Afro-Futurist perspective that honors my intersectionality and humanity.”
Do you feel misrepresented within the fashion/design industry because of your race/identity?
“I would say I see more of the lack of representation at all or a minimal amount at best. As a queer black disabled femme, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my particular identity be represented on a large scale.”
What does the future of fashion mean to you?
“The future of fashion needs to be inclusive if it truly aims to serve the people.”
Where do you gather inspiration for your designs? Where do you gather inspiration for your designs?
They enter my mind and possess me until I complete them- that is the purest form of inspiration to me. I gather most of my inspiration from contemporary black culture and I’m very impacted by bold shapes and color
Was there anyone/thing specific that inspired you to pursue this career?
I was going to go to school for psychology until I saw a very moving art career presentation. Before that, I had never thought about a creative field, even though all of my parents are in one.
What advice do you have for young designers aspiring to enter the industry?
Document, document, document. I wish I had made a detailed tech pack of everything I designed now that my memory is failing me. Document and photograph everything to the best of your ability.
What is one thing you hope changes for the future of the industry?
The industry needs to be more accessible and inclusive to the disabled and plus-size communities to survive. Exclusion will only take you so far.
Devin Ricks is an incredible senior fashion design student at Central Michigan University. His refreshing designs influenced heavily by street style and Gorp-Core are a refreshing new addition to the program. Devin is finishing his senior year at Central Michigan University and is expected to graduate in December 2023. He plans to obtain an internship in the summer in order to advance his technical skills. After graduation, he hopes to find a job in which he can use his creative skills and expand his knowledge, while learning skills he will one day translate into his own brand.
What does the future of fashion mean to you?
The future of fashion to me is going more into formal wear but wearing it as leisure wear. It is moving into people dressing classy but making it casual, kind of similar to Gorp-core, but mixing the two aesthetics together to create something unique.
How did you start in the fashion design field? Was there any one thing/person that inspired you to pursue this career?
I hated engineering, to be totally honest. I came to Central Michigan University to study mechanical engineering, but it was not for me. I've always been into fashion, I've always loved to dress nicely and understand style trends, and how to form my own unique aesthetic. Fashion design was my minor from the start, but I wasn’t taking any courses for it at the time. Beginning of 2021, I made the switch to the fashion program, and I have now gotten to the point that I see the correlation between fashion design and mechanical engineering. Now that I have studied fashion design for this long, I have brought in aspects and skills that I used in engineering into what I do within fashion, even the research that I do. I use electrical engineering to fabricate a sensor which is engineering, but within fashion. It is so interesting to see how the two intertwine.
I always liked at a younger age to try and distress my jeans or put holes in the knees, Ive always been chopping up my clothes to try to understand how they were constructed. I never really thought about it as a career, it was just something cool to do.
How does being a black creative in a primarily white institution affect you and your work? Are there any specific challenges that you face?
Honestly, growing up I have always been in primarily white areas, whether it was Georgia where I was born or Illinois where I lived for a few years, and even in middle school in Michigan, as a multicultural or mixed person, I have always kind of been the only Black person around. I was never surrounded by many other races. It really comes with the struggle of self-identity, and not really knowing who I am as a person. It really took me a long time to try to figure that out. When I was in engineering, it was a reality that there was a chance I would be the only Black man that I worked with, because within class I was the only Black person. It was always me thinking, what can I do different from my white peers that I am surrounded by to prove myself? That was, and still is one of my biggest challenges, because I struggle with a lot of self-confidence, but I am getting better at this, knowing I am in an area pursuing my passion, and I have my heart as a driving force. I become self-conscious in my skill set, and I don’t look at my work as the best, and I am still trying to figure out how to be the best and have that self-confidence, and knowing what I should be making or doing.
If you could design for one brand/fashion house, which would it be and why?
The first one would be Golf Le Fleur, Tyler The Creator’s brand. His brand is very LA-esque, very preppy casual-wear, but it is clothing that you wouldn’t necessarily see Black men wear. A lot of the models and the people that he works with are Black or people of color, and it consists of puffers, loafers, really tying in the UK-prep type of vibe but with a twist with the floral and pastels he brings into his brand, the vibrance. I think its so cool to see what he has been doing with that for the last few years.
The other one is called Post Archive Faction. They are a very utilitarian, functional brand, all of their pieces you could see on the runway, on the street or even hiking, its very focused on activewear. It is all functional where you can utilize the garments for a variety of purposes. It also has a unique form to the garments and good craftsmanship to all of the pieces. These two brands are very opposite in their aesthetics, but would be so interesting to work for.
You’re very involved on campus with Threads Fashion Show and VERGE Magazine, how does your involvement affect your work and your life at CMU?
Especially since we have started VERGE, I have had a lot on my plate. I was a person that struggles with time management and with keeping everything in order, it has definitely pushed me and taught me how to be organized within a workplace. I treat it as a job, you have to stay on time, you have to have everything in order and have your priorities straight. I would say it has definitely helped me. Before, without as much involvement, I would just do school and homework. Once I finished homework, I would stay in my room, I didn’t do much else. I didn’t have a motivating force that pushed me to do other things on campus other than classes. It has definitely helped open my eyes to how the industry works, its very fast paced and there are so many moving parts all happening at once.
Were there any specific Black designers that you looked up to as inspiration when you entered the industry?
Very much so. The first one was Virgil Abloh, seeing what he did for the industry, further than just making clothes, but how he revolutionized fashion. He created a bridge between low-class streetwear and luxury fashion. He even would teach classes, like the Harvard lecture, I watched the whole thing and was so inspired, I sat there watching the YouTube video and taking notes. He has been a huge inspiration for me as a young designer because of the bridge he built. He has a similar background to me as well, he went to school as an architect and just liked wearing cool clothes, but was more popular and knew upcoming celebrities. Another person was Jerry Lorenzo, the creative director and founder of Fear of God, another big streetwear brand back in 2014 when the name streetwear or ‘hypebeast’ became more prevalent. Seeing what he has done by taking exclusive streetwear pieces that he would create and making them into more comfortable essentials that are sold in specialty stores. Another person is Tyler the Creator is another person that I look up to. A lot of music artists or rappers don’t see fashion other than just putting on clothes or the celebrity style. He has always stayed true to himself and who he is from when he was growing up. One of the things I have taken from him is, in an interview, he talked about how Jasper (comedian) and him have stayed friends from when they were 6 years old, and now they are big names in their industries, both riding their own wave and staying true to who they were growing up in California.
What are your plans after graduation, and long-term goals?
After graduation, I just want to find a career where I feel at home, and not just feel like I am working for a paycheck. I don’t want to feel like I have to wake up and go to work everyday, I want to be creating or be on a team that creates weekly and always has projects to work on, that is what I am being tested for right now. I am being tested to see how much I can handle because that is what I want to do. That was one of the reasons I left mechanical engineering, because there was a large chance of me working at a cubicle doing CAD work all day, or on an assembly line. Long-term goals would be setting a foundation for my own brand. Right now I have Ambient Studio, but this is what I want to use as a way to breakout, to hold all of my designs, I don’t really see that going long-term. I want to transition into something that is more niche, and not just me playing around with different aesthetic. I want to create something that is uniform, having a known aesthetic behind me. As I said before, my struggle with self-identity, it is that struggle of finding myself. I don’t know exactly what I was to be long-term, I just want to see where I go, and knowing there is a divine plan that is set for me.
Where do you gather inspiration for designs?
Instagram, even though that is controversial. I have an entire saved folder named design inspiration, I gather it from what I see online. I can see that this stuff fits my aesthetic and stuff I would wear. I would want a niche group of people supporting my designs, I don’t want to design for the masses. I get inspiration from UK fashion, activewear that has form and function, and also from my peers. I see a lot of clothes that my friends wear and get inspiration.
What advice do you have for young adults wanting to pursue fashion?
Just do it. Honestly, if you feel you want to do something in fashion, just try it out. You also have to realize there is a lot that goes into making garments that are quality. If you feel the push to go to the industry, try it out, even if you hate it you learn skills and can utilize them somewhere else, you can utilize fashion in so many ways because it is a part of everything.
What do you hope changes for the future of the industry for the next generation?
Find your own stuff. Even though I am a part of the fashion cycle, there needs to be something that breaks that cycle. Not in terms of sustainability, but everyone is wearing the same things, its losing individuality. There is more individuality coming into play, but even just understanding fashion, there’s too many trends and fads, especially with fast fashion, which needs to stop. People need to be able to find what they like and find their own style instead of trying to find it from trends.
Gena Kim, the owner of G Culle, is an inspiring woman that started her own sustainable upcycling brand, where she is able to repurpose her client’s old clothing and make something entirely new and unique. She studied fashion in college, focusing on buying and consulting. After her husband passed, she began to repurpose his clothing into garments for their children, as a means to bring her children closer to their father. She started doing this to give her children some closure, but it ended up being her therapy, a way for her to work through her grief, and a way for her to pay tribute to him. She was a welder at the time and repurposing was her side hobby, but she could not hide her love of repurposing clothes. This brand, coupled with the cry for sustainability in the fashion industry, has since become her passion project. She works with her clients to repurpose clothing and create something unique, at an affordable price, with the own personal flair of each client. She enjoys being able to connect with her clients and assist them in coping with their sorrow via clothing and fashion design. Many of her clients bring her apparel to their deceased friends, relatives, or loved ones in hope to honor and incorporate those that have passed into their daily lives.
What does the future of fashion mean to you?
“As a designer and as someone who knows the importance of at least trying to leave the best footprint for Earth, it really means to be grateful. For me, part of gratitude is not necessarily wanting everything as it flows as it comes but mixing a little bit of the old with the new, and cherishing the things you have. If your jeans still fit you and they look good, find a way to spice it up, meet with another artist, just keeping our planet as safe as we can at this point with what we know. The future of fashion means responsibility for designers.”
Was there anyone/thing specific that inspired you to pursue this career?
“When I was in high school, I had this attitude that I knew what I wanted to wear and that I really didn't care what other people thought of what I dressed. This attitude gave me the kind of self-confidence that is so difficult to find in teenagers. Fast forward to now, I pull from that part of myself. Whenever they say if you could reach back to your past self, what would you say? She deserves my sincere gratitude since, if it weren't for that perspective when I was younger, I believe I would be approaching things today quite differently. I really love doing my own thing, going to the beat of my own drum, and it's amazing how other people respond to it. I am a misfit- and I love being a misfit.”
How did being a Black creative in a primarily white institution in college affect you and your work?
“It was hard not having someone to look up to that was a seamstress and I really didn’t have that in my circle. My grandmother did sew but it was more so for necessity, but having someone that designs with style and with invention and creativity, I did not have that. I was kind of the odd man out. I did not learn how to sew in college, I taught myself later in life because I really wanted to pursue that.”
If you could design for one brand, which would it be and why?
“It would be Tracy Reese! She is one of the people I looked up to, I didn’t know her at the time obviously, but definitely her Hope for Flowers brand, I would absolutely sign myself up. Even just being someone there to steam the garments, because of what that brand means to sustainability, what is means to a black woman emerging in the field, what it means to the city of Detroit, it would just be such an honor.”
How does working in an industry with few Black women designers affect you and your work, especially when you entered the industry?
“Because I am kind of a rebel in a sense, I have always pushed the envelope and asked why? When I have been to certain meetings and certain events, versus looking at like I am the odd man out, I try to interact with others, not only to see how I can bring myself or bring others in. It is sometimes intimidating, sometimes when you don’t know certain things and wondering who I could reach to, but I think having an open mind, and being okay with receiving no’s, because some no's are good for your benefit, and some no’s are just for now. You have to learn more, get out there more.”
Where there any specific Black designers you looking up to as inspiration within the industry as you entered the field?
“Other than Tracy Reese, there were just the woman that I would see in the city or growing up at church that dressed to the nines, even still to this day, in their 60’s and 70’s, they took pride in themselves, and those were the women that I looked up to. That’s where I pull my style from and my brand from, that nostalgic meets edgy.”
How did you begin your small business repurposing and upcycling? What are your long-term goals for your business and career?
“I started it after my husband passed and began using his clothing to repurpose for my children, and it became my therapy, but it also became an outlet for others who may have a jacket, but they can’t afford to spend a lot on this jacket, and it something special to them. That’s where I come in, I can connect with them on the grief end, if it was their parents or a loved one, but I also can connect with them on the design end, in an affordable way. My business is a sustainable, inspirational, dope brand is what we call it. We encourage, we inspire. I am also a woman welder, so I want to be able to encourage Black women welders, because I was in those rooms as well, not always necessarily welcome, not always feeling comfortable, so I just want them to know they have a tribe out there. One of our brand tee shirts is pretty while gritty, so even if you are doing the dirty jobs, being pretty means you are still being kind, you are still showing up for yourself, you are still showing other young ladies that you can do the hard jobs and be pretty at the same time. We will definitely be moving into jewelry; I want this to be a complete lifestyle brand. For the women that do the things I do from fashion to costuming to welding, you have a home here.”
Where do you gather inspiration for your designs?
“I get inspo from the stories, from my story, I get it from the times that I could not afford or get the things that I wanted where now, even if I can’t afford it, I can make those things. I get it from the women who tells me at 40 you can’t start over, which I did. I get the inspiration from the pioneers before me, but they are still reaching back like the Tracy Reese’s of the world. Of course, I would be remised if I didn’t mention Dolce & Gabbana, they are one of those classic brands that are still innovative, like Alexander McQueen, those are those brands that when you see it, you will see the stuff from years ago till now, they are timeless, I always want my pieces to be timeless.”
What advice do you have for young designers aspiring to enter the industry?
“Never give up. Be comfortable with thinking outside of the box. If it’s a no, create your own lane.”
What is one thing you hope changes for the future of the industry?
“I pray that all are considered. I really believe to be a creative is a God-given talent. If you are a creative in any way, I hope that people are more open-minded, I hope that people are more curious, I hope that people are respectful and grateful for others sharing and voicing their creativity in the way that they do.”
While there are many fashion designers in our program, one particularly stands out. Kala Marshall is a senior fashion design student who has made her mark in the Fashion Merchandise and Design program. Through her dedication and drive, she is one to beat. Kala plans to obtain an out of state internship this summer in Chicago, Illinois. After graduation, she hopes to continue working with her brand, Lynvonn La Belle, as well as obtaining experience through differing brands.
How do you define fashion and what does it mean to you?
Kala: “I thought you can't really define fashion, in my opinion. I feel like fashion is just something that you do. It should be whatever you interpret it to be. Like me personally, I love like edgy stuff. I love be creative. Like a street edge, but like, cute and girly at the same time. But, that is just my personal style, so that’s fashion for me.”
Why did you decide to pursue fashion as a career and what was your biggest contributing factor?
Kala: “Well, for me at first I did not want to go into fashion. Like, I didn't know until my freshman year. That's when I actually changed my major. I came to school to be a athletic trainer. When I decided to make the switch, I came between interior design and actually designing clothes. What made me go towards designing clothes instead was that like when I was younger, my cousin used to say, ‘You can't dress, you can't dress! I’m going to dress you’, just because I didn't dress the way everybody else dressed. So that's kind of like why I pursued fashion”
Tell me about your greatest achievement as a black fashion designer.
Kala: “I would say my greatest achievement would be, it's not even like technically towards like fashion design itself, but it would be being the head director of the OBU Fashion show. Doing that and being asked to do the FMD program with the Detroit program, I feel like that is my biggest accomplishment. I feel like this year has given me a lot and can only grow from here.”
Do you believe being a person of color has made you a better designer?
Kala: “Personally, no. I feel like my designs, or whatever I thought, it had just only really came from like me, looking at what everybody else was doing. I look at Instagram, I look at the world, what everybody else is wearing, what I see, and I went from my own students. A lot of my designs now had made me like, think ‘okay, maybe I need to think more in depth’, just by looking at other people’s stuff.”
What have been some struggles you faced being a person of color in the industry?
Kala: “I would say that when I go in some rooms, sometimes I feel like I stand out, but not in the good way. People don’t think that I’m going to come with something, just because of how I look or how I say things. Personally, especially like in personal settings, I talk like this. I don't change the way I talk, and I don't change the way I act because you should like me and like my designs for who I am.”
What has been your biggest inspiration as a fashion designer, and how has this made you a better designer?
Kala: “I would say my biggest inspiration would be the world and just how people dress and look like. Lately I've been trying to get into, like, looking at the runway shows and 3D designs and stuff like that, but I feel like that’s not for me. I feel like I resonate more with streetwear. Even looking at y’all magazine, I love the way that you guys’ dress, it fits me, and I just hate the way runway looks at times, so I would change it.”
What is a typical day in the design process look like to you?
Kala: “Like I said, I usually start with looking at Instagram. After that, I’ll create my designs and go on YouTube. People make stuff on YouTube really well and I’m like ‘Okay! That’s how you make that!’. There is a lot of good stuff on there, especially their DIY’s.”
What advice would you give someone thinking about becoming a fashion designer?
Kala: “I would say don't listen to anything else others have to say. Like I said, I came here for athletic training and the only reason why I did that was because I was told it wasn't practical to want to go into fashion. When I came into the program I was like ‘Oh! There’s a lot of jobs out here that has to do with fashion!’. In this industry, you don't have to be just a fashion designer or just a buyer. Most times I say I’m a fashion design major, people assume I want to be a designer. I’m not trying to be a designer. I can be so much.”
Do you have a favorite black designer?
Kala: “I really don't have a favorite back designer. I really love the small brand designers though. A small designer, Jays Crotchet co., is one of my favorites. She makes all her own designs and does it all the seamstress work herself!”
What does the future of fashion mean to you?
Kala: “I just want it to be something that everybody loves. I want people to make fashion whatever they want it to be.”
Describe your role within the fashion industry.
K: My role in the fashion industry is to bring vibrance and to also normalize inclusivity and gender neutrality to an industry where it is supposed to serve all people.
Tell us about the K. Walker Collective. What makes your brand different than other up and coming brands?
K: I created Ken Walker collective out of necessity and for me it was already on my mind before I went to middle school. When I was in college at Michigan State I was really inspired as I got my degree in marketing, and I worked at an agency and as I was developing this brand I saw there was a big sea of “sameness” in this industry. Brands would just be stamping their names on a shirt. I saw there was a missing piece that represented or included the need for all urban professionals. I saw other brands tried to chase a design language, but for me it was having a brand that could have a variety of options, so street, comfort and refine garments. I have an eclectic way of pulling things together. I can take a fabric and an aesthetic from another garment that you’re used to seeing and making this fusion with them as well. I feel like I look at it like you’re engineering these things together. I think it’s something that people chase, but I do see a lot of brands kind of leaning on their names and graphics. For me I'm always so concerned, and I obsess over the details.
When did you feel you wanted to start your own fashion brand? Why did you choose to pursue a career as a fashion designer?
K: The aspiration came very early for me. I was about 14 and in middle school. My grandmother had this book about the standard jobs that Americans have. I got really intrigued about all these definitions and reading “Chief Executive Officer” I remember telling my grandma that I really liked that description of what that was. I went to a charter school as I grew up and my grandmother had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had said that I wanted to become a fashion designer. I’ve always naturally been an entrepreneur and wanted my own record label. I was very immersed in music and loved creativity. I didn’t know exactly what creativity was at that time, but I just felt intrigued by creating something. So I had gone to art school at the Detroit School of Arts. And I remember that I wrote in a notebook when I was learning computer software “K. Walker Apparel” and wanted to develop all these different ideas in 2004 and was really inspired by Polo Ralph Lauren as he had a house of brands. And the younger me was so enamored by the thought of creating something. So when I went to college, I went into marketing and took until 2012 when I went to Italy on a study abroad trip and got so inspired by how important craftsmanship is. We had learned about what the Italian label means like when you see it on Prada to Ferrari or GUCCI bags. And when I came back to America, I had to start K. Walker and said, “I don’t know how I will develop this, but I can do this”. I’m glad I didn’t launch the brand early on as I learned how to position the brand and create my brand identity because I had a career in marketing.
Who are your favorite black designers or other POC’s that you gain/gained inspiration from?
K: I get inspired a lot from early 2000’s and I love what Pharell did with Ice Cream. He really showed that he was very focused on color and normalized that for men and women. He made it cool for men to wear pink. Shon Jon did so much with me as a young designer. It told me when I was younger that I could own a clothing brand, because another black man does. And seeing how he created suits and all these other things. Tommy Hilfiger was very instrumental in launching Shon Jon and giving him advice on being successful. Currently I do love Kirby is dope, Pierre Moss. Obviously, Virgil and the vision that he translated engineering to how to create garments. But it was the wisdom that he gave as a emerging designer. It really showed that he told people that it is hard, but how you can develop a brand. And I think also it was really dope of what Jerry Lorenzo. I embody what he does as simplicity. There is such elegance when you know a simple color palette and an aesthetic and I think, you know, those may look like basic hoodies to people, but when you see any Essentials piece, you can tell that there is craftsmanship there.
Tell us what your values are as a black designer.
K: It is really about how you are interacting in the industry as a brand. Inclusivity is a big value for me, not with just race, but body positivity, I think that is always important. I am challenged with that now because depending on some collections depending on suppliers, I can only do four sizes. So if I want to include someone who is more petite or a man with broader shoulders, I can’t create for that audience. And I am always thinking about that and how I can’t be exclusive to someone who loves the piece but doesn't fit them the right way. And that keeps me up at night, but that is also how the brand evolved. We started as a menswear brand in 2018, and about 80% of my sales were from women. And it’s the women that are trend-setters within fashion. Men are more logical as shoppers, but women are more emotional and will say “I love the vision, I can see what you’re trying to do.” Men, we must be more convinced. The women are the ones that told me that I need to use more colors or more pastels. I’m always looking for way to be more inclusive. Craft is a huge value that is lost within the industry. I never call them pieces, I call them garments because the power in creating something since I want to be able to keep something forever. I never rush the process, and craft is something that is getting lost in the industry. Integrity is good as well, I have always been rooted in the people that I’ve tried to work with more and working with black models and everything else like photoshoots, creative direction, marketing and even legal, you name it. Creativity is so engrained in black culture and once you’re around other creatives that think the way that you’re thinking, it’s a high vibration.
What ethics are important for young fashion designers who are POC? In your opinion, what are important skills that are needed when being a part of the fashion industry?
K: I would say there are a few things. Curiosity, but also ambition is important. If you’re not curious means you’re not open to new things or asking “Why?”. Like “Why is there a string on a hoodie?” and now all my hoodies don’t have strings anymore. But my curiosity pushed me to research. Curiosity is the conduit to innovation; it’s going to be asking more questions. I think when you don’t have curiosity you’re staying in your own focus and not open to what is out there already. Ambition is important because creation by nature because we’re always overthinking what we are creating. And someone told me early on in my career when I released my first collection, he said, “You’re going to get tired before the public does...you’re going to get bored of some designs and want to create something else.” Ambition is just putting something out there. I tell that to young designers and see what the public has to say about it.
Do you have a favorite trend(s) that could be seen going into 2023-2024? Is mainstream media playing a role in how clothing is perceived differently between black influence and non-POC's?
K: I think that people want to dress up now. It’s kind of expected that brands have athleisure where it is where it is often seen. In 2018 when I launched, that was kind of the trend. Comfort is very big in my design language and how can I help people dress. I want to have pieces that help people to “put that sh*t on!” But it is hard, because you’re spending a lot of time on making it comfortable but also having them be able to show it off. Mainstream media is with how they highlight different public figures and athletes and what they wear. And seeing athletes when they just get off the bus, walking to the stadium and wearing the most bold and eye catching and bold and how the sports industry has been becoming more fashion forward. And getting away from this idea that fashion is feminine. Like it’s almost excepted like “What are you going to do?” and they’re waiting to highlight what athletes are wearing. And I remember about five years ago, they would become the laughingstock, especially with Russell Westbrook and what he would wear. I do feel like rap music is influential because of the name dropping of brands, especially as designers of color, we wish that we could get that endorsement. Having more influence there I would hope to happen for more black designers.
How do you handle criticism in the industry as a young designer?
K: I use it to innovate. I don’t even call it criticism, I call it feedback. I don’t think anyone has told me that they didn’t like a piece, but where I could improve on a piece. Sizing has always been the biggest thing, like “What you got for me? What you got for the big dudes?” But I use the criticism to better communicate in what we’re doing. But I do remember I was showing a friend my collection with velour shorts and he said, “Who would wear something that like?” and I responded, “Who wouldn’t wear something like that?” And I took that and told myself that, “I’m going to show him.” So, I don’t take it to heart since I am still learning and a student to art, just by nature. But I’ve never had the harsh feedback since I am already obsessed about the quality and knowing that I have created so many samples that won’t get created because its too synthetic or it’s too thin. So taking the criticism in order to innovate in very important.
What does fashion mean to you as a black designer? Do you feel fashion has gained more influence from black celebrities or artists within the fashion or music industries?
K: Fashion is synonymous with individualism because you are using garments to tell something about yourself and it. And I call any garments from K. Walker is a co-conspirator because it’s something about when you put on a certain garment, it gives you that confidence. Fast fashion has made it very much diluted where you just either just put something on and never wear it again or you’re just going out one time. And I am a victim of that, and I bought things that I would wear again after a trip. But true style is getting away from fashion because style is forever because it is what you do with the clothing. And it is something more emotive for you. I love seeing how other people show their sense of style or what they like or what they’re feeling. And I know for me, fashion has become very emotive because there are days when I am like, “I don’t feel happy today, I need to wear some yellow”. I was stressed out going to the store because I was so busy, but wearing yellow had helped me be like, “Okay, you have opportunities and more stuff to do.” But individualism is the superpower that really translates to style overall.
How would you describe your own style and aesthetic?
K: My personal style is collectique, I guess. My taste is all over the place sometimes because I love vibrants. I used to not like a lot of color growing up. But I look at coordination all the time. That is the Detroiter in me. Coordination helps keep longevity for a lot of things, like shoes. And I looked at it within history and loved seeing how a lot of men would wear suits like gators, furs and really got inspired by that and find subtlety ways to do that. I focus now on the simplicity of that and that translates to me helping customers. But that all goes back to individualism and how I can help express their own individualism. I am always looking at colors and coordination.
Explain your process for choosing fabrics and materials for your brand.
K: That’s the beginning. That’s how I stood out, out of the gate. It was always about the fabrics and the materials that I would use. But that is how you stay up to date with the fashion calendars. But also with suppliers, they have a surplus of a certain fabric or something else. I look at fabrics and materials as a way to be bold. Let me put a little Razzle Dazzle on that because if we look at how detailed a garment is, like how a certain stitching will pop. I had saw a varsity jacket and how to I take that aesthetic and add that to a hoodie. But also don’t anyting to look like it’s from another brand.
What was one or more of your biggest challenges when becoming a designer and making your brand?
K: I can be my best friend or my biggest enemy. I got really self conscious early on. I thought I needed to go to fashion school to validate me as a designer. I didn’t think about using the skill sets that I already had and transferring that into building a business. Which also goes into the second challenge, because when you’re creating a creative, art-driven product, you’re not thinking of the value just yet. And that was a challenge for me. It took me time but with mentors and figuring out price point and value of my products. Other would understand the value of a product that I didn’t see overall. And I think that for us younger designers, we think about what people would actually pay for something. What got me away from that was that I was not in this to just make money. I also got away from looking at my friends as my customers. There needs to be other people from other races for this to achieve being a global brand. I am big on people being selective when it comes to finding groups that would wear your brand.
Tell us about your experience working with models and other professionals within the industry? Do you mainly search for black or POC models who are aligned with your aesthetic?
K: I have had really good experience with working with models and other creatives. They have always been a muse for me. I look for who will help elevate the look. I hand select every model for my campaigns and some are emerging or have never been modeled before. I have helped a lot models get into the work. And by nature, I felt that I had to show mainly black men in a positive light, as that was a big passion point for me. It was something I had a responsibility to do. I am in a weird space now because I need to think of me showing different people in the brand. And I think naturally, I think models who are people of color aren’t being reached out by bigger brands. And I’ve had models tell me that it took them multiple shoots or shows for them to get signed. But I think it’s very interesting to look at brands like Burberry that have gotten very inclusive with their models and traditionally, they’ve never been like that before. But it was because that is who was consuming the product. We need to see more black men and women shown in luxury houses and it shouldn’t just always be a celebrity or an influencer that is being the model. But now I am in the space of having inclusivity with body positivity like when I show models who are more curvy. And Rihanna does that really well with Savage Fenty. It is the most transparent way for people to feel more sexy. But she normalized it.
What does the future of fashion mean to you?
I see fashion going into being more responsible, but in the form of transparency. People are going to demand transparency and that is going to be needed. But what I love is that this is a way for brands to explain in a creative way, what inspired the garment, you know, where they made it and what went into it. But I see that with more emerging brands to use that as a superpower. When brands explain their inspiration that, it gets a lot of engagement. Responsibility isn’t going to be just an option for a brand and explaining ethics that go into the brand and like a hiring process for the brand. In fashion it’s all about the people. We are going to see more creative directors be revitalized because of that leadership. But in fashion, I think it’s going to be all about the people. It’s never been like that before, because you’re used to only seeing the one designer who’s name is on the clothes. But now they’re like, “Who is the team they went to?” But it’s the creative lead, and I love seeing more people of color getting those roles because it shows you that now, they know where the culture is. It shows you how fashion brands are chasing ways to be relevant. But now they’re not just going to do it with campaigns, but with the creative leadership that they put into these positions.
LaDyra Lyte is a Central Michigan University alumni who has excelled in bringing activism to the fashion world. She is currently expanding her brand Lyte Fashion House to become a large fashion house. She wants to excel as a designer with her strengths to be innovative within this industry. She has been featured in numerous articles for her collections which voices her knowledge of how fashion can make a difference in the world.
Where did you find inspiration for your style? What makes you different from other black designers?
L: Inspiration. I have always been creative and sculpting. I love old couture fashion and I’m also very simplistic. My style is mainly a mixture of both elevated athleisure and couture fashion. And really the athleisure part is playing around with different textiles, a lot of different textiles when it comes to developing pieces.
Tell us about how you started Lyte Fashion House. What have you done with your brand within the industry after having graduated?
L: Started out as “Lyte Armr”. I started doing custom pieces for people. And no shade to black designers, but I think that all of us at one point were just doing custom pieces for people. And starting out like that, it wasn’t fulfilling enough for me because of how creative I am. So, I ended up taking a year away from the brand to focus on school and then relaunched into Lyte Fashion House in 2022. I developed new visions, new mission statement, new style, and just really took that year to find myself and really make sure that I knew where I was doing what I wanted to do. And Prof. Ian Mull is definitely one of those people who will literally sit you down in the classroom and tell you to just be creative, and making sure that we aren’t losing ourselves.
What does fashion mean to you as a black designer? What is the message behind Lyte Fashion House?
L: Being rebellious is a lot to what pertains to me with being in the industry. There’s a big stamp of how black people should be successful, and fashion is not on that list. Being rebellious plays a lot in how I design and what I design. So, this is a way for me to be creative.
L: There’s not really a message behind it. There's a lot of activism within my brand because I make a lot of my statement pieces like one of my most known collections, which is “Killing Me Will Make You King” But Lyte Fashion house is really just home to all my creations. No definite message.
Where do you want to take Lyte Fashion House in the Future? Do you feel that your unique style will have an impact on black culture?
L: I want to take it as far it can go. Which is wherever I decide to stop. I definitely want to become a large fashion house, that’s the goal, so just shooting for the stars.
L: When I had dropped “Killing Me Will Make You King”, I did not think that it would go as far as it did, but I was travelling a lot with that collection as it made it Minnesota and getting a lot of opportunities based of that and also a lot of articles are written about it. The collection had an impact on the black community and the white community as well. I faced a lot of racism for it though, especially in Minnesota. It was very uncomfortable presenting the collection, but still it was a good opportunity to just go and display the collection.
What was the inspiration for your final collection at the 2022 Threads Fashion Show?
L: My First collection with Lakyia was an experiment with our brand that we created. There wasn’t much inspiration for that collection as we just wanted to experiment together.
L: J799, which is my birthday, it was a representation of me giving myself my flowers. The collection was a mix of gardening and steelwork with couture fashion.
L: The tree of life collection, which had won “Best Overall Collection” was signifying my growth through my journey and all my opportunities that I’ve gotten thus far. So it was me being very direct saying that I had found myself because that collection took a lot of time and research. And it was a representation of defining my own aesthetic and being sure of how I wanted to design. Everything between those last two collections were very innovative.
Name your greatest strength(s). Do you feel those strengths have an impact on you, being a black designer? What struggles have you faced with being a young designer?
L: My strengths are my voice, my boldness and my need for innovation. I have a lot of bold ideas that don’t make sense, but it’s me trying to figure out ways to make those happen. Culture plays a big part into how I design and then my ability to be peculiar unapologetically since I do not really care to be put into a certain niche group. I feel that I have to design for myself. Trauma is also a big part of what I design because there’s a story behind all of them.
L: Insecurities. That is my worst battle, which is my design insecurities. Those things aren’t obtainable for me for where I came from.
In your opinion, which designers have you gained inspiration from for your own aesthetic? Are there any other black/POC artists, designers or creators that you have gained influence or inspiration from?
L: Major designers would be Norma Kamali, she’s just so weird and I love it. Alexander McQueen. Lois Alexandra Lang, Josephine Baker. All Detroit artists, I know I love all of them. And there’s so many in Detroit alone. I follow so many street artists right now and have started putting their artwork on garments. I’ve attended so many seminars and seminars just full of black designers around and getting to know them and being intimate friends with each other.
L: I gain influence also from my upbringing, as I grew up in Detroit and that inspired my own aesthetic. I know there’s a lot of graffiti and stuff here and there, but most of that is artwork and so that has inspired my aesthetic. I also have a whole book full of black designers, so it’s like all of them really inspire me.
How do you stay up to date with fashion trends? Are there trends you feel that are entering 2023 that should be left behind? Do you feel that trends are influenced heavily by black culture?
L: Social media is so quick to post wild stuff. You get to see the most Avant Garde stuff very quickly. I also look at Vogue and other trend websites or researching forecast websites. Also, by going to seminars. And some of those travel. Also, by networking with other designers in the area. So, I don’t know if I want to leave anything that I want to leave behind in 2023. I like to let people be people, even if I don’t rock with it.
L: PS. Fur boots need to go...
What do you enjoy about being in the fashion industry the most? As a black designer, do you feel that POC’s have influenced this generation’s style trends?
L: I just like that I can be myself. And I know that It’s not the most fulfilling route right now, just yet. I just like that I can create and not have it feel like a job and that I can be myself.
L: Yes, most definitely. Dapper Dan started it. He was straight up takin Gucci prints and putting them onto his own silhouettes. And definitely everyone from Brooklyn. Also, Detroit has a style and culture and I think it has to do with upbringing and resources and that has really contributed to how we dress. And I think black people use garments as a significant way to communicate status.
Tell us how you prioritize your duties as a fashion designer.
L: Bi-weekly. Me and Lakyia have a “sip ‘n sew” but I always try to be creative and balance in between my corporate job with my creative days. I have a schedule that I try and stick to. I am interning with my digital marketing specialist. It has helped me expand and it brings in a lot of clientele. And about every day from 9-5 I work and then from 5-12 I’m working on my brand.
What have/have not you learned or what experience have you gained after graduating CMU? Have you taken this knowledge into what you’re taking Lyte Fashion House towards?
L: What CMU hasn’t taught me was to have a retail start up and running the brand. I had to learn that on my own. But, I am learning and teaching myself by exploring industry resources.
L: Most definitely. I have added and applied them to my business plan. And to learn to research my competition to see what I can do differently or to find what areas they are lacking. I want to compete with people who are creating more high-end products
What does the future of fashion mean to you?
L: Everyone is going Avant Garde. I really love those woodblock shoes that I see on Instagram. I am big on art and makes me feel that I have more of a home and. Place. It’s cool to see people being unique and accepting themselves as individuals. It’s becoming more peculiar and it’s opening the door to artistry instead of just garments and other things. I really want to see 3D printing become more refined. They have it now where they can create really thin layers of 3D printed textiles, but not to the full extent of an entire fabric piece. Also, I want to see how fiberglass is used within fashion. I saw this girl make a garment that was fully made of fiber glass to make the full art piece from it.
Lakiya Ealy has been an art student her entire life. Graduating in 2022 with a degree in fashion design, Lakiya has had many involvements throughout her time at Central Michigan University. Ealy was the Fashion Coordinator for the Fashion and Arts Students association, a Vendor Director for the OBU Fashion Show, as well a Designer and Producer for Threads Fashion Show.
How did you end up in the world of fashion?
“I have been an art student all my life. I was first introduced to the world of fashion during my junior year of high school. My concentration during high school was in art, at my school we had concentrations related to what we would want to pursue in college, and then I was able to take a fashion class. I fell in love with the drawing aspect and I wanted to learn more and how to make my designs a reality through sewing. At first, I didn’t think there would be a career for me in art.”
In your early design work, can you name any major inspirations be it someone in pop culture, another designer, etc.
“My biggest inspiration was definitely Project Runway. I love Project Runway to this day. Seeing designers put themselves out there like that was amazing, it was also amazing to see them produce so quickly. I also really like De’arra Taylor who is a youtuber. She isn't a fashion designer but she is amazing at styling herself. Christian Siriano is another major inspiration to me and in his work with black women and how he dresses them.”
Do you feel as though Black voices, as well as POC voices in general, are highlighted enough within major events here on campus?
“When I went there I really didn’t feel like they were, within my major as well as outside my major. It's a PWI, what do you expect? Even with this event I feel like we aren't getting enough attention. They are definitely working on it though, there is opportunity here but they just need to keep pushing it.”
What are some challenges you have faced being an artist and a creator as a Black woman within a PWI?
“I would say from freshman year up until my third year I was the only black woman in my classes. It didn’t bother me per say, but it was obviously there. I made friends but I didn't make lifetime friends until my third year. My third year I started seeing other black women and I met my fashion sis. The challenge was just finding my voice as a black female designer in my classes, because a lot of the time I didn’t want to show my work. But I had to find my voice and let my work speak for itself.”
Can you speak a bit about the process behind making this dress in particular?
“In class, we had a book full of project topics we could choose from, so I chose this dress style. I didn’t really like the way the book showed it at first so I wanted to make it my own. I added the slit to it because my style is all about sexy. The patterns for the dress were kind of weird, they were really big. The tie straps have kinda become a signature of mine. But I wanted to challenge myself, especially with the sinched part. When I do something I need to be interested or else I'll lose focus. I couldn't just sit and make another plain dress, I had to start making stuff I loved.”
You have been very involved with Threads throughout your time here and you were a producer for last year's Threads Fashion Show: The Elements. Can you speak on some of the challenges you faced as well as your favorite parts about the experience?
“It was very challenging coming back from a pandemic show. It was the first in person show having been back from the pandemic. It felt like threads started all over again. We had to figure out the involvement within committees and whether or not we wanted to lose the virtual aspect of the show, or if we could even have the in-person show. There were a lot of question marks, we just planned the show and hoped we wouldn’t get shut down. We kept the virtual aspect for those that didn’t want to be around others due to the pandemic. There were communication problems, being a producer and learning how to lead while actually leading was hard. But I loved putting on the show and collaborating with everyone else involved. I really loved working with Ian, he taught me so much about putting on a show. It was challenging being both a designer and a producer, it was a lot of late nights.”
Looking at the fashion industry, there are very few prominent Black designers being showcased within major brands, not to mention the complete lack of Black women being featured as designers. Having to grow up with a lack of representation within this field, how does that affect your goals for your future in the fashion world?
“I feel like if I'm gonna come out with a brand I have to work much harder just to make a name for myself. I want to pave the way for future black women within design. As black women, we go get it ourselves, we don’t need representation from major brands, we do it ourselves. I know I have to make sure my brand is what I want it to be and not try to look at what others are doing, I need to focus on what I am doing and make sure I love it. If I love it people will see that and future black designers can look up to me and see themselves.”
As a Black Woman in the industry, what are some changes you hope to make to the industry in terms of highlighting Black experiences and Black artists? What does the future of fashion look like to you?
“I think the future holds a lot more technology. But outside of that, I think it is important when highlighting the voices of Black artists to network, it is so important to network. Black women designers need to network and collaborate more. We are always trying to compete and we need to start uplifting each other. We have to share each other's work. That's where we go wrong, we need to start bringing each other up and come together. It is all about staying humble and helping each other. We can all win, we just need that support system.”
Do you have a favorite designer or a favorite collection? If so, what about it speaks to you so deeply and how has it shaped your experience as a designer?
“My favorite designer right now is Classic Royalty, she is a black female designer from New York. She makes a lot of special occasion dresses which is what I do. Glitter and stones and fringe that's me right there, sexy cutouts and mesh, I love it. I learned a lot from her. She has a lot of tutorials that have helped me throughout my work and she has created a community of sewers that all help each other thrive.”
Lastly, if you were able to go back in time and speak to your younger self about your success at CMU, your start in the fashion world as a whole, and your experiences as a Black woman within the field, what would you say?
“I wish I would have been more involved sooner. But I would also say put yourself out there more. I'm all about promoting myself right now which has been such a struggle for me. You have to start putting your work out there, I doubted myself so much. I am learning how to promote myself further and gain that confidence. Don't look at others and what they have to say, if they like it they like it, if they don’t they don’t. There will always be someone out there that will love it and that's who you work for, that one person.”