The Black Fashion Fund exists to increase access to the fashion industry for Black creatives. A more beautiful mission in the fashion industry, which has historically been considered exclusive, does not come easily to mind. If you’re an aspiring Black fashionista, you may wonder at times if the field is worth pursuing. In an industry where Black folks are marginalized [Style, beauty and black identity - BBC Culture], and have been discriminated against historically, is it worth it?
This is what the Regina Reports are designed to answer. Regina comes from the Latin word meaning queen, and this will be a regular series on Black icons in the fashion and beauty industries throughout history, especially women. First in this series is the American icon, entrepreneur and race woman Madam C.J. Walker.
I. The Biography
Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove to Owen and Minerva Breedlove on December 23, 1867. She was the youngest of five to the couple, yet was the first born free as the Civil War had ended on April 26, 1865, just over two years prior. A Louisiana resident, she was born in a town called Delta.
Walker's parents died when she was seven, and her older sister, Louvenia, took care of her; they moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi in search of freedom. Louvenia had married a man named Jesse Powell, and so Walker lived with her sister and her brother in law, and she began working as a washer woman. She gave birth to her daughter, A’Lelia, in 1885.
In the book Madam C.J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon, historian Erica L. Bell explains that African American enslaved women would have worn their hair in braids covered by artistic patterned cloths, to work effectively in the fields. It is likely that Sarah's mother, Minerva, braided and covered her hair in this way, leading to a possible influence of the business that would carry Madam Walker into fortune and fame. Furthermore, as a washer woman, Sarah may very well have learned how to use er body (specifically, dresses) to sell her hair services in the future. In the late days of Reconstruction, white women would often randomly approach Black women wearing beautiful dresses to ask them about their services. How did C.J. Walker found her business?
II. The Beauty Maven
In 1889, at around 22 years old, Sarah moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she continued working as a washerwoman and a cook. Her own significant hair loss may have very well inspired her to start her business - Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower - in 1905, after she began using Annie Turbo Malone’s “The Great Wonderful Hairgrower.” According to the National Women’s History Museum, Malone was an
African American businesswoman [Madam C.J. Walker | National Women's History Museum (womenshistory.org)] By this time, Sarah had moved to Denver where she married adman Charles Joseph Walker, for whom her business was named [Madam C.J. Walker | National Women's History Museum (womenshistory.org)]. Just prior to starting her business, she worked as a cook for a pharmacist and would learn the chemical formulas required to make the hair repair formula that propelled her to fame [Madam C.J. Walker | Biography, Company, & Facts | Britannica]
According to the HISTORY site, Walker’s method - called “the Walker System... involved scalp preparation, lotions, and iron combs.” She made a custom pomade that was uniquely successful; she emphasized the health of the women who would use it and encouraged African American women to sell her products. These saleswomen were called beauty culturalists [Madam C. J. Walker (history.com)].
In 1908, Walker founded the Lelia College of Beauty Culture in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [Madam C.J. Walker | Biography, Company, & Facts | Britannica], which was named after her daughter. Two years later, after divorcing C.J. Walker, [Madam C.J. Walker | National Women's History Museum (womenshistory.org)] she moved her business headquarters to Indianapolis, which “[had] access to railroads for distribution and a large population of African American customers.” She left the management of the former (Pittsburgh) branch to A’Lelia, and at the time of her death was worth nearly 10 million in 2022 dollars [Who Was Madam C.J. Walker? How Much Was She Worth?
Madam C.J. Walker died at the age of 51 from hypertension. However, she remains a well-known icon at the intersection of Black history and fashion industry. This article does not touch on all the details of her inspiring life, and more resources on her life are linked below.
Madam C.J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon by Erica L. Bell
Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving by Tyrone McKinley Freeman. (This book explores Walker’s philanthropic ventures).
Brands such as Patagonia and American Apparel are well known for their unique approach to fashion design otherwise known as sustainable fashion. But do you even know what sustainable fashion is, and have you heard of any Black sustainable fashion designers? If not, don’t worry. Read on to find out what sustainable fashion is, why it works, how you can practice it, and about new sustainable fashion Black designers.
The Meaning of Sustainable Fashion
Writing for Vogue, reporter Emily Chan defined sustainable fashion as fashion that can be sustained while at the same time protecting the environment and those making clothes. This contrasts with fast fashion, in which the goal is rapid production of high volumes of clothing
Fast fashion requires a lot of water which impacts the environment. According to Pavritha Rao, writing for African Renewal, it takes 8,000 liters of water to make a pair of jeans; this is the amount of water a person drinks over seven years. However, after 10 uses, a pair of jeans will be thrown away for a new pair, “contributing to the 21 billion tons of textiles sent to landfills each year.” Hence, this contributes to environmental harm.
How Sustainable Fashion Helps the Environment
Sustainable fashion is different. According to Renee Cho for the Columbia Climate School, less waste has been and can be used in sustainable fashion garments than compared to fast fashion clothes. This occurs because nearly all the sustainability of a clothing item is determined by decisions made during the design stage; this is in turn results in a pattern called zero-waste cutting .
In addition, sustainable fashion uses natural materials instead of synthetic cotton, including hemp, ramie (a vegetable fiber) bamboo, and even agricultural waste that do not contain environmentally harmful chemicals, meaning the environment and human health are kept safe. This in turn contributes to another way sustainable fashion helps the human environment. Sustainable fashion design companies are actively working to provide better conditions for textile workers. Instead of making clothes in harmful factory conditions, including low wages, lack of resources, physical abuse, and health problems,  sustainable fashion companies all over the world are paying their employees fair wages, have contracts, and are provided benefits including paid sick leave, overtime pay, and breaks. Some companies include Mayamiko which advocates for labor rights and Dorsu which creates creates clothing from fabric discarded by garment factories.
New Black Sustainable Fashion Designers
Nandi Howard, writing for Essence magazine, reported on ten Black sustainable fashion designers. For example, Cee Cee’s Closet NYC, an African brand headquartered in New York City, designs accessories that “celebrate the beauty of West African prints.”  Founded by Nigerian-American sisters Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo in 2015, the company makes headwraps, African exfoliating nets, waistbands, earrings, and stylish clothing for the African diaspora, including African-Americans .
According to Essence, the accessories are produced handmade by tailors in Nigeria, thus fitting in neatly with the sustainable fashion approach . In addition, the company is able to improve the artisan-tailors’ quality of life as they are able to send their children to school, get proper healthcare, and “dream of a future.” 
How to Practice Sustainable Fashion
Practicing sustainable fashion is simple. For example, one can “buy less and buy better,” according to Emily Chan for Vogue. Instead of buying fast fashion clothes that will only be thrown away after a few uses, one can consider how many times they’ll use the particular piece of clothing before buying it - which will lead to less accumulation and disposal of clothes overall. Practically, one can shop at thrift stores which, due to their design, will have a longer environmental impact than new clothes at fast fashion brands. In addition, it’s also possible to rent clothes. This is advisable for such garments that are used only a few times, such as wedding (or prom) dresses. Businesses such as Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway permit consumers to rent clothes according to size, meaning that more people will get to use them and thus have less of an impact on the environment overall. Finally, one can support sustainable fashion companies. While these companies tend to be more expensive than fast fashion companies, the impacts on the environment and fashion designers make the cost worth it  Sustainable fashion may appear to some to be merely a trendy movement. However, with its focus on helping the environment, consumers, and minor makers of fashion, it’s clear that it’s here to stay
The Collaboration of Ralph Lauren and HBCUs: How We Can Identify the Difference Between Monetization & Capitalization
Tuesday, March 15, Polo Ralph Lauren previewed their homage to the impact of Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs). Their
Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collections aimed to shed light on the pursuit of the American Dream. On March 29, Polo released their line with an in-depth film project describing the collegiate style. They featured graduates of the universities to model in their collection as well. Experience the project here
It’s All in The Execution
From the “Five Wells” ( 5 values to building a Morehouse Man) to the White Dress Ceremony (An homage to the Spelman College traditions), Ralph Lauren referred to the campus cultures from the two colleges’ photo albums to retain the raw essence that birthed them. An overarching theme Polo delivered was the exuding excellence and distinct pride students carried to build a platform for future generations to thrive on.
The project is done and out there, but there’s still plenty of work for us to do. With the rising support of the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s easy for companies to capitalize on the publicity of black-centered projects. It’s up to us to hold companies responsible for being legitimate contributors to change.
Does the External Reflect the Internal?
When checking the staff, there's a need to have just as many black faces in the boardroom discussions of these intensive projects as there are on the finished pieces. James Jeter, Director of Concept Design & Special Projects for Ralph Lauren, and Dara Douglas, Director of Inspirational Content for Ralph Lauren, led the project and are both graduates from Morehouse and Spelman!
It’s important to be proactive in keeping companies accountable who want to deliver works involving black stories. Specifically, with the case of Ralph Lauren, let’s start by asking...
-Are they providing fashion pipelines for students?
-Are they continuing to be involved with the leaders on campus?
(Regular meetings, appearances, etc.)
-Have they addressed the problem of systematic oppression?
The Black Fashion Fund ventures out to find and relish in displays of Black Beauty the world has to offer and bring them to you. While delivering that content, we aim to provide solutions that can further contribute to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
By Fahiym Webber