While activism is a trend major labels are chasing, for Black Vogue designer Nareasha Willis her love of fashion and belief in activism are inextricably combined and are the engine behind her label’s existence.
Now based in Los Angeles, Black Vogue initially functioned as a merch line for Avenue N, a fashion blog she started in 2015 in part because she simply wasn’t seeing herself represented in the fashion world. “I always felt growing up I was excluded because I couldn’t afford designer,” explains Willis. “[Style blog] Fashion Bomb Daily made me realize you have to create what you want to be a part of.”
Demand for the merch was big enough that Willis officially launched Black Vogue as a label and expanded offerings. Making a statement on the fashion industry’s tendency to exploit black creativity, Willis added a “ghetto until proven fashionable” hoodie to her line in March 2018.
“A lot of times when the black community creates something, like locs, it’s considered ghetto. However, Marc Jacobs did a show with faux locs and suddenly they’re fashionable. It’s ghetto on us, but when a European designer does it, it’s fashionable. I’m not here to bash though, if you’re going to show locs, why not at least use black women rather than European models?”
The label had a major break through moment when, ironically enough, Vogue featured Melody Trend shot by Phil Oh wearing the “ghetto until proven fashionable” hoodie during Paris Fashion Week. Both the t-shirt and hoodie quickly sold out following the placement. (Both items will be restocked on March 16, 2018.)
For Willis, it was an emotional moment. “Because of my label’s name, I thought I would never be featured so to see that, I actually cried,” explains Willis. “To go from thinking it’s not possible and for this to happen, it’s confirmation I’m living in my purpose.”
While now in Los Angeles, Willis has Jersey girl roots. Her interest in fashion began to show itself in a push back on her school’s uniform policy. “Without thinking about it, I would add a jacket, extra accessories and cute sneakers,” she says.
As an honors student, Willis put aside her love of fashion and followed the advice of family members and counselors who encouraged her to pursue a serious career. In her junior year at Seton Hall where she was studying journalism, her mother intervened. “My mom sat me down and asked me, ‘Why are you trying to run away from fashion? This is something I know you you love,'” says Willis.
Willis started Avenue N while still living in New Jersey, and made the decision not long after to make the big move to Los Angeles. While settling into her new home, Willis took a break from the blog. When she returned home for a visit, once again a parent stepped in to encourage her. This time it was her father who pushed her to make a greater commitment to her platform by placing a focus on purpose.
For the coming year. Willis is focused on expanding Black Vogue offerings. “I have a denim line coming in May,” says Willis, adding in the same breath that she plans to be more active in her community. “I used to volunteer at [Fashion Against Bullying] and I want to start mentoring young boys and girls,” she says. “I want a chance to tell them their nose and skin is beautiful and perfect exactly the way they are.”
Visit the Black Vogue shop here.