On the first floor of a cast-iron building in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, a temporary collection of garments and accessories fills the room. About nine entrepreneurs from all over the U.S. are displaying their upcoming summer designs in the culminating fashion show of their accelerator program with AfroPunk x Shopify.
The Black Fashion Accelerator program spanned six months, offering the inaugural class a top-tier curriculum that allowed them the opportunity to bloom as artists and build successful, sustainable and profitable businesses. “It challenged them to think about what they’ll do with their money, and provided a good support system for their internal decisions,” said program mentor and Dyne creative director Christopher Bevans.
Bevans further explained the importance of such programs: “Our gifts and our talents are being recognized on a grander scale now and I want our young entrepreneurs to seize the day, economically, relationship-wise, and own their assets. We are at a fundamental level of helping them with their final transaction that Shopify does so well, the cash-out.”
Teaming up with Shopify, AfroPunk approached the métier with consummate confidence, and the record of their memorable shows grows longer by the season. Last Wednesday, the brand bestowed another jewel to its repertoire, presenting the summer collections of nine creative voices deemed with the potential for a “major impact” on the fashion industry by the AfroPunk team.
The nine entrepreneurs, who were chosen from a pool of 902 applicants, included Par Bronte Laurent founder Bronté Laurent; Wear Brims founders Archie Clay III and Tajh Crutch; Corin DeMarco founder Corin Lindsay; Besida founder Sophia Danner-Okotie; Abeille Creations founder Melissa Mitchell; Mizizi founder Paakow Essandoh; RuvaAfricWear founder Sylvester Ndhlovu; Vavvoune founder Valerie Blaise; and House of Fleek founder Jelisa Smith.
The Green Street store that served as the event location had a central area where models stood in front of tilt windows, teasing each designer’s vibrant collection. Only a few feet away stood a swarm of supporters, shining their phones as they waited for the show to officially start. On the side of the multileveled stage — donning red Telfar Logo boots — stood host Jorge Wright, who goes by the creative name Gitoo. As Gitoo filled the room with conversational banter, the crowd slowly made way for the models wearing the new fashion designs.
Prompted by an enjoyment of streetwear and space-inspired designs, the Mizizi collection combined the trendy elements of athleticism and modern punk fashion to delineate Essandoh’s take on African futurism. In a sort of counterintuitive turn of phrase, Essandoh called the collection “Africans in Space,” a glaring hint at the collection’s inspiration.
“We wanted to present something new. We are imagining that the African union completed the African space agency and imagining what those astronauts would look like if they hired Mizizi,” he said.
Mizizi’s new collection featured a pair of leather and nylon boots in a white and black finish. The boots’ maxi rubber sole came with a unique monolithic aesthetic to enhance the style of the biker boot — a silhouette that has become a leading figure in the streetwear universe.
According to Essandoh, Mizizi’s new collection is completely different from the brand’s core competency. Alongside his line of leather goods came a series of street apparel. (And like Diogenes searching the daylight for an honest man, many have scoured brand websites for the perfect streetwear that complements their summer look.)
Featuring bolded “Afronaut” logos, Mizizi’s jogger sweats came in two white-and-black patched finishes. Donning fierce Afros and illuminating shades, each model matched their joggers with Jersey Baseball Collar Button-Up T-Shirts. His line also featured a full-body jumpsuit that mimicked a classic astronaut suit.
Following this sneak peek of his new collection, Essandoh plans to release the Mizizi summer line at the end of the month.
For Smith, she emphasized the popping colors and anticipated trends of the upcoming season with her House of Fleek collection. She approached the line by exploring 2022’s summer trends and did the impressive work of identifying topics of public interest. For instance, not only is her line size inclusive but it joins the fight for sustainable fashion, only using fabrics from recycled plastics.
“I analyzed trends and put my own twist on them — something that is so important for swimwear. Cutouts, bold colors and mesh were all central to this collection,” Smith said.
Her varicolored collection features a series of Lace-Up heels in a gold, pink, blue and black finish. The heels emulate the classic lace up stiletto, each with a different length of lacing.
Paired with the raving heel designs are two swimwear pieces, fresh additions to the brand’s new designing process.
“I started doing 3-D designs, taking advantage of a 3-D software before bringing them to life,” Smith said. “First, I’ll sketch them out with exquisite details. Then, I’ll ramp up my software and initiate those ponderous steps.”
In pink and blue, both swimwear pieces featured unique cuts and gold accessories decorated with the brand’s logo. One bikini set is matched with a ruffled beach batik that features a string accessory to alternate its length. Other dresses are shown with similar ruffled material in beige.
To showcase participant progress, AfroPunk and Shopify have chronicled the program through social media platforms, with a three-episode video series that captures the behind-the-scenes journey of each entrepreneur.
Shopify is now accepting registrations for their 1 Million Black Businesses program, a joint venture between Shopify and Operation HOPE that provides Black entrepreneurs with strategic educational tools, resources and networking opportunities designed to transform their business visions into vibrant realities.