We had not just the pleasure but also the honor of catching up with designer April Walker, who chatted with us in connection with her “Women in Streetwear exhibit, now on display at New York’s Port Authority terminal.
As the Brooklyn-based founder of Walker Wear, a menswear label she founded in the early ’90s, it’s an understatement to say she’s qualified to put together an exhibit that celebrates powerful contributions to the culture of streetwear by women including Misa Hylton, Sharifa Murdock, Shara McHayle, Kianga “Kiki Kitty” Milele, Toni Scott Grant, Sophia Chang, Elena Romero and Samantha Black.
Over her lifetime she’s witnessed so much, but even more so as one of the original architects of street-originated fashion, she’s part of the foundation and fabric of the culture.
In addition to curation of “Women in Streetwear,” Walker was also the subject of a 2019 Photoville exhibit titled “Walk this Way,” as well as a documentary titled “The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion,” celebrating the impact of women in hip hop fashion. She was also included in the 2015 film “Fresh Dressed,” documenting the roots and rise of ’90s-era urban fashion.
Walker shares advice on starting a business in a book titled Walkergems, Get Your A$% Off The Couch and she’s currently part of a Parsons School of Design education team teaching Streetwear Essentials, an online course.
Walker’s “Women in Streetwear” exhibit can be found at the 9th Avenue entrance to the Port Authority between 40th and 41st Street. Take the escalator, walk forward and the exhibit is installed on the right. It will be on display through March 31st.
Check out our exchange with Walker below. Interview by D’Shonda Brown. Image above by Kelvin Bulluck.
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PapaJack ❤️ * * My dad came to support and check out this “Women In Streetwear” Exhibit for Women’s History Month (that I produced and curated), and he said “This is big. This is big for all you women. This is history”. It was told to us that 300,000 people pass through this Port Authority Bus Terminal daily. Imagine that. This exhibit runs through March 31st. Enter at the 9th Avenue Entrance. * * #womeninstreetwear #futurebeenfemale #pabtarts Photo credit @artphotofilms
SNOBETTE: Your “Women in Streetwear” exhibit in the Port Authority is an ode to women such as yourself who are a voice and a force within streetwear during Women’s History Month. What inspired this installment and what do you hope will be a major takeaway for those who visit?
APRIL WALKER: “In honor of Women’s History Month, I wish to share fashion history and shine a light that spotlights some amazing, well deserved creators that many may not know. These are women that move the needle forward on streetwear culture daily.”
SNOBETTE: Taking a step back, what inspired the “Women in Streetwear” installment? What was it like highlighting all of these dope women in the streetwear space, and what was the process for getting this together in Port Authority Bus Terminal, one of the largest travel hubs in New York City?
APRIL WALKER: “I think when we discussed initially celebrating my story with the Bus Terminal I was excited, but then taking it a step further, I thought it would be even a greater opportunity if we could share more stories and extend the conversation and show our expansion as women.
“There are many of us in this fashion industry that turn the wheel, and with almost 300,000 people that navigate through the terminal everyday, I jumped at this opportunity. I started working on this idea as a curator at the beginning of the year in January and produced it in a two-three week turnaround with the assistance of my team. The support of Port Authority Bus Terminal was instrumental in execution. They were phenomenal.”
SNOBETTE: Let’s get to the root of who April Walker is, an Afro-Latina Brooklyn, New York native. Growing up in Brooklyn in the ’70s during the Vietnam War and the Nixon era and the rise of hip hop with Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, you lived through a lot of major moments in the culture. How has your cultural background and upbringing in Brooklyn served as an influence in your fashion career?
APRIL WALKER: “I believe my cultural background has given me my special spices and added my ‘heat.’ It keeps my feet on solid ground to know the fabric that has woven everything together is my background. I’ve drawn from all those experiences and they drive and inspire me today. I encapsulate these ingredients, keeping the essence, lessons, energy, and then apply this energy as I move forward into the future. The ’70s and ’80s were a magical time that gave me the 3 Gs: guts, grit and gumption and executed with radical action.”
SNOBETTE: Moving forward into the ’90s when hip hop and rap began to come alive, the concept of streetwear didn’t quite exist just yet. What do you define as the difference between urban and streetwear?
APRIL WALKER: “I think it just began as a form of self-expression from hip hop and that energy just grew organically, synonymous with hip hop and other genres of music and fashion. When it became a commercially viable business, it was coined as a category called urban. Urban and streetwear are the same to me. It’s just an evolution. It’s just about who is wearing it.
“Back in the early ’90s, it was first called streetwear and then became urban and now it’s back to streetwear. They’re just labels, I don’t let them distract or define me. It’s a lifestyle. I began designing in 1987. I fell in love with hip hop and started creating as a designer without any background in fashion. It was just more about creating from a feeling and energy inside out and trusting that art we were creating and being different.”
SNOBETTE: As young Black women, how do you feel that fashion, specifically streetwear, has uplifted the voices of young women in fashion?
APRIL WALKER: “We define us. Streetwear just is a uniform to enhance our innate swag, from our walk to our aura.”
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Grateful and thankful to this young KWEEN👑 and fearless warrior who is fighting the good fight with @keithwhite for us in fashion spaces & places and platforms to tell our stories and amplify us in the #blackvoguemovement. I encourage you all to follow @avenue_n to find out how you can support, contribute and lift up #thefightforblackvogue. Besides that, the #futurebeenfemale. We have some really dope #blackgirlmagic #blexicanmagic fashion plans for you. Time to voltron y’all. 💧💧 #photoville2019 #setitoff #ownyourmagic #dontbescared #femmefatales #madeinbrooklyn #togetherisbetter Photo @jeanthehueman
SNOBETTE: “There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to women in entertainment and fashion that we’re catty and competitive. In your experience, have you experienced more competitiveness than collaboration?
APRIL WALKER: “This is hard for me to answer because I started in menswear so I didn’t really have that experience with other women. Honestly, because I worked with more men, I didn’t see this aspect, if it existed.
“Also, this hasn’t been the constant narrative for women in my circle. I see more women trying to collaborate versus compete. I think more and more women are owning their power and understand that lateral cooperation creates vertical movement. There will be healthy competition in any business, but I think we’re living during a great time when women are celebrating each other.”
SNOBETTE: Your brand Walker Wear is a hub for streetwear essentials for men and women that pays homage to the evolution of fashion in streetwear. What inspired you to start this brand, and how has Walker Wear evolved from when it first started to now?
APRIL WALKER: “I was inspired to start Walker Wear because hip hop was exploding in the community, but there was no representation for the fashion. There was no one really serving our community as a brand to offer us lifestyle choices. I wanted to create for my tribe.
“It’s evolved because now there is a huge category called streetwear so while we still create for our tribe, we now have more choices with fabric, with technology, and with the mediums we choose to translate our stories through fashion, because when we first started, there was only word-of-mouth.”
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1-1-20. Visualize A New Chapter. Instead of thinking about what if it doesn’t work I close my eyes most mornings and allocate at least seven minutes of time to visualize with some visualization music playing, what I’m manifesting and bringing to life. When you want to manifest and stay positive there’s power in painting the picture with clarity. Bring it to life, envisioning and setting the intention of that day, with your actions and desired results. Some days, I celebrate what the win feels like and how it feels at the debut of my film series, or how I feel when people tell me that I have they have my book and they really enjoyed reading it, or whatever I’m visualizing, I make it crystal clear with specificity. I allow myself a safe, quiet and peaceful space to visualize. When I visualize, I’m present to what it feels like from waking up throughout the actions of that whole day, attaching my feelings of triumph with joy, gratitude and peace. In my mind, I’m constantly reaffirming my actions and letting those thoughts sink into my bones. I’m increasing faith and expectancy while manifesting. Eventually, it becomes easier to believe, accept, and walk the walk. The dream becomes the reality. It’s just a matter of time. I’ve shared the visualization music exercise. It’s the link in my bio but honestly there are so many that exist to choose from. Repetition brings clarity. (Page 31 from “Walkergems Ger Your A$% Off The Couch” Book) P.S. God did not teach you how to swim just to let you drown. -Andy Andrews Photo @photorobnyc #newdecade #walkergemsbook #mindbodysoul #setyourintentions #aimhigh #nourishyourself #healthiswealth
SNOBETTE: Three months into 2020, a lot has already happened, the loss of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Pop Smoke’s death, the upcoming presidential elections and more. How do you manage your brand, your self-care and your mental health in the face of stress and adversity?
APRIL WALKER: “I pray, I take time for myself, and I workout. Also I practice yoga, meditation and visualization.
“I often have to remind myself to get back to self-prove mode, to not stray too far out of whack when I’m super busy or traveling. Knowing how to say no is important also. I’m learning to celebrate the micro-wins and be more present because now, in this moment, is the only thing that is concrete.”
SNOBETTE: When you use the hashtag #FutureBeenFemale, who do you think of and what does it mean to you?
APRIL WALKER: “I mean that women have been game-changers since the beginning of time. From Madame C.J. Walker to Ida B. Wells to Frida Kahlo, to myself, we’ve been makers, creators, and trailblazing.”
SNOBETTE: What advice would you give to young women in fashion who wants to make noise in an industry and is new, fresh and eager? Would you advise kick starting your own brand or learning from other companies first?
APRIL WALKER: “I would say be willing to be your own student, coach and cheerleader. I would say be willing to outwork everyone else, and study the business of whatever industry you’re in. When you have the passion, it’s a great start but you must understand how the business works. Study your money.
“I’d always advise learning through the lens of other companies through working for them or interning or volunteering first if possible. A lot of times, an industry looks sexier from the outside because we often romanticize the concept of it, but when one gets up close and personal, they can see all of the challenges, and then decide if that industry is still as exciting.”
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For it’s Black HistoryMonth 2020, @blacklensmke will present an encore screening of the Remix Hip Hop x Fashion (dirs. Lisa Cortes and Farah X, 2019, 67 min.). Tickets can be purchased for this event on Thursday, Feb 20th in Milwaukee through the link in their bio. Winner of the 2019 Black LensJury Award, The film illustrates how just how it’s easy to forget that hip hop isn’t merely a music style but also a fashion aesthetic. Meet @iamaprilwalker and @misahylton two women who have had an incalculable impact In a male-dominated world of hip-hop style since the 80s. Working with Rap Luminarias like Mary J Blige Missy Elliott and Tupac Shakur, these women have helped chart the course of hip-hop journey, from it’s New York origins to its global impact. #blacklensmke #mkefilm.
SNOBETTE: What advice would you give young April Walker who was fresh in the fashion industry and the pioneer of streetwear and may have experienced thoughts of self-doubt, lack of confidence or just wanted to throw in the towel?
APRIL WALKER: “I would say to her, ‘You have what it takes, swing with aim, hustle with muscle, have faith over fear and don’t wait for the opportunity, create the opportunity. I can, I will, I am. There is no one that can qualify or quantify your miracles, but you and God.'”