I’ve Been In This Game For Years….
As my dear friend and fellow Brooklyn kid Biggie once said: “there’s rules to this [explicit], I wrote me a manual.”
Well, today those rules seem a bit off. As a woman streetwear designer, I came of age during a time when “street culture” and the style and fashion industry was…us. We followed rules of respect and honoring originality. Rules that often mirrored street code. We were young entrepreneurs catering to the way we liked to dress, removed from the mainstream and following a code of business ethics that reflected those in my Brooklyn neighborhood: give respect, get respect, stay original, don’t bite ideas, and, this rule shoulda been number one to me…respect women. Respect women who were building brands and contributing to culture. Respect women by honoring their legacy and not appropriating their work. Black culture has always been at risk for mainstream appropriation, so I lead the conversation. Building my business in a predominantly male culture, I was keenly aware of the need for more inclusive and intersectional collaboration as “urban” fashion grew into today’s streetwear industry. As fellow women like Camella Ehlke of Triple 5 Soul, Kiki Kitty, Claw Money and Kimora Simmons just to name a few, navigated the male dominated streetwear world, I watched and wondered if we were all experiencing similar difficulties — dealing with copyright infringement, design appropriation, and, back to that key rule….respect.
This being Women’s History Month, I and my fellow cultural pioneers and iconoclasts, understand this is a new world we are living in. Today, the biggest brand is the “the brand of you” and the rules, well, they seem to be a bit off. And the silence is deafening.
It’s been a week since I wrote my first essay titled “Fashion Creative Looting, Gender Inequality and A Need for Change”. Between the social media energy and the legal conversations, it’s been an interesting week to say the least. For those who may have not read last week’s essay, my name is April Walker, and I’m the founder of Walker Wear. Recently, one of my classic designs was hijacked or seriously inspired with an Off-White “mirror reflection” design, to the point where many of my customers and tribe members hit me up with “congratulations on the collab or being in Saks. They thought I was down with Off-White, so I felt the need to address this offense, bring light to it and take steps in order to protect my brand. I also feel it’s important to take a stand not just for myself, but for all women and creators.
As a trailblazer for streetwear, and as the first woman with a streetwear brand, it’s disheartening to deal with creative theft during Women’s History Month in 2021, and right after 2020’s BLM energy that was trending. Black creatives STILL matter and here’s a newsflash, independent designers are just as valuable as these big fashion house establishments. The “take and make and regurgitate” attitude of this fashion industry stealing from independent designers and selling our magic back to us with a price tag is disgusting. Honestly, this incident resurfaced my PTSD as a black/blexican woman in this fashion industry, and I distinctly remember what I don’t miss about it. Double oppression. Gender and Race. I’m eternally grateful that I’ve discovered the tools for essential self-care and am spiritually equipped to deal with these kinds of bumps in the roads but still, one gets tired of being tired of the exploiters.
For the record, being a woman in a male dominated industry is tough. Bigger than racism in this fashion industry is sexism. The fashion industry utilizes sample makers, fashion studios, production facilities and manual labor, often performed by women and while there is a plethora of black and brown women with fashion dreams, their potential growth is hampered by a hierarchical system that is plagued by racism and sexism. These numbers alone tell a story. There were only 4% of women-owned businesses and 13% of minority-owned businesses that received VC funding in 2017 overall, and that number includes fashion.
I should mention that the first to step up to support my voice on this Walker Wear / Off-White copycat design were women, such as Claire Sulmers, Vikki Tobak, Misa Hylton, Adrienne Jones, Kianga Milele, Shara McHayle, along with my tribe. The hip hop culture has been holding me down too, but there’s a noticeable difference from when this happened to my male counterparts. Remember when Gucci jacked Dapper Dan’s design and when Givenchy stole Tyson Perez’s hat design? There were droves of people speaking on it and blowing up the internet, with press instigating and demanding accountability.
Still, I have to wonder why the energy is different now? I believe the biggest factor is that I’m a woman. As a woman, and as one who paved the way to help create this streetwear lane, we should be keeping that same energy.
My call to action to all…
I need us to protect women at all costs. Protect black women period. Protect independent designers and creators. We are the creators that drive the market for these big fashion houses that many aspire to spend their dollars with and we make the world go around. We need to implement and enforce policies and laws that will take action against creative looters. Boycott culture vultures and thieves. Cancel that.
As Teen Vogue wrote “as long as black ideas are filtered through the point-of-view of white creatives, they will be acceptable.” Gucci, Givenchy, and countless others continue creative theft without legal repercussions. Accepting this kind of behavior will eventually cannibalize this industry. It will cripple small businesses and strengthen these giant corporations that prey on the independent designers. These big brand fashion establishments bank on the fact that small designers will be outgunned in legal proceedings (pun intended).
Let’s stand in our power and understand that we actually are the power. Our spending dollars of over one trillion dollars annually dictate who survives and thrives. Keep intentionality when spending yours. It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I say it’s the best form of mediocrity. When fake news becomes real news, and when fake designs become the real ones, then we have a problem.
We have a problem.
“I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” -Malala Yousafzai