The list of brands featured in Vogue’s Fall 2023 Ready-to-Wear show included some familiar names. But there, alongside Versace and Vivienne Westwood, is a hugely successful Detroit fashion house some people might not know about — yet.
Hope for Flowers is the brainchild of Tracy Reese, a Detroit native whose clothing has been worn by Michelle Obama and appears on the shelves of Saks Fifth Avenue. Despite the lure of New York City, this influential and inspirational designer built a studio overlooking the Detroit River, creating economic opportunities for Detroiters.
She’s kept things Detroit.
Reese, who was first featured in BLAC in 2019, is one of the most successful Black designers to come out of Michigan’s largest city in recent years, but she won’t be the last. This metropolis, once the epicenter of the world’s automobile industry, has become a hub for Black fashion, thanks to innovative local designers like Reese who redefine the boundaries of style.
Churning Out Fashion Talent
Detroit has been in fashion for a while now, thanks to multiple attempts to cultivate a local design community.
Detroit Garment Group, which provided education and opportunities for local designers, opened a fashion “incubator” in 2015, offering access to textiles equipment, industrial machinery, design software, and business education for those serious about pursuing a career in fashion.
Then there’s Eastern Michigan University and the College for Creative Studies, which both churn out fashion talent.
However, it’s local Black designers who are making some of the biggest waves. Take Kenneth Walker, who opened his flagship apparel store, K. Walker Collective, close to the Detroit School of the Arts. (He can see his old school from the store’s window.) Walker creates high-street style for the young professional, and his company’s slogan clarifies his fashion philosophy:
“Demand confidence, live boldly, and dress in comfort.”Kenneth Walker
The future looks bright for Walker, who, in June, will take his collection to Pitti Immagine Uomu in Florence, Italy, one of the most-visited men’s trade shows in the world.
A City of Hustlers
Another one of the many African-American fashion designers making noise in Detroit is Lindsay Jenkins, whose namesake label aims to empower women and celebrate the female form — in whatever form that might be.
Jenkins, born and bred in Detroit, launched LYNZI in 2014 and continues to build her brand by appearing in pop-up shows in different cities. She plans to open a flagship store, presumably in the place that motivated her.
“Detroit is a city of hustlers; we really have to grind and get it out of the mud — literally,” Jenkins told Raydar Magazine. “I developed grit, determination, and a hustle that’s unique to our city.”
If that’s true, it’s clear why Detroit has such a thriving Black fashion scene.
Despite its population size — around 7% of the fashion capital, New York City — Detroit punches well above its weight with stylists, merchandisers, retail buyers, and, of course, designers, all calling this place home. Habab El Rufaie (Barkal), Diane Berry (Diane Berry Collection), Caviniona Williams (Cavi Keon), Nelson Sanders (Dandy Menswear), and countless other designers all have one thing in common: They are distinctly Detroit.
In a 2020 interview with Fashionista, Tracy Reese said Detroit could replace the magic that disappeared when New York City’s Garment District fell out of fashion.
“I think for people who are sincerely interested in finding ways to produce in the U.S., Detroit could be a truly viable option,” she said. “It’s an hour-and-fifteen-minute flight [from New York] — you can go on a day trip.”Tracy Reese
But there are other reasons Detroit’s Black fashion scene is creating such a buzz. The city creates trends, rather than following them. That’s been the case since the days of Motown when female artists brought bell sleeves, jumpsuits, deep V-necks, and lots of accessories into living rooms around the world.
Today, like in most other cities, climate influences creative expression. Detroit’s cold winters mean puffy jackets and beanies for some downtowners up until around March when peacoats make a resurgence. Ultimately, Detroit Black fashion depends on the neighborhood, and it’s difficult to define. You’ll find a mix of casual and formal, streetwear and suits, African and African American, and vintage and uber-modern.
As Detroit’s fashion scene continues to evolve as a Black fashion hub, fashion designers still face an uphill struggle. The average salary for a designer here is $60,157 — nearly half that of someone doing the same thing in New York City. Making it more difficult for the next generation of Detroit designers to make a mark.
None of that will stop Detroit. Not one bit. Recently, 100 local fashion, beauty, and lifestyle entrepreneurs joined the Detroit Fashion Community to network and share resources. Michigan Fashion Week in June will be the biggest one ever.
Detroit’s still designing, still hustling.