The A to Z Guide to Black Designers on SSENSE

The A to Z Guide to Black Designers on SSENSE
SSENSE

Black designers are the past, present, and future, often unseen in the credit they rightfully deserve. We’re here to give credit where it’s due, highlighting an array of Black designers deserving recognition for their contributions to the fashion industry. Many of these designers know the difficulty of wearing multiple Hats—carrying a heavy load of responsibilities on their backs. These creative forces, from all over the world, embody the essence of hard work paying off, transitioning from the classrooms to the runways, and rising to the top of the fashion industry. 

From emerging to established brands, these are names you should know. In honor of Black History Month and the spirit of Black innovation, we’re spotlighting every brand that’s Black-owned or helmed by a Black designer available on SSENSE. These designers are the cultural architects of our generation, spanning minimal aesthetics, luxury streetwear, avant-garde designs, and trendsetting creations. Tap into a new era of Black designers, alphabetically from A to Z. 

A-COLD-WALL* The brand is the brainchild of British fashion designer Samuel Ross, who’s previously worked with Virgil Abloh on Off-White and Kanye West on YEEZY. This streetwear sensation isn’t your regular streetwear brand. Launched in 2015, drawing inspiration from the British class system and Ross’s personal experiences growing up, the menswear label gained a loyal following. In 2018, Ross expanded the brand to include a womenswear line (talk about evolving on your terms). Ross crafts his signature style using durable industrial fabrics in a palette that screams sleek and chic. A-COLD-WALL* is the cool kid on the block, turning streetwear into a refined fashion affair.

Bianca Saunders: British fashion designer Bianca Saunders is boldly rewriting the narrative of menswear since her debut in 2017 at London Fashion Week. Her eponymous label is a playground of gender-bending designs, a celebration of identity that is challenging the conventional norms of fashion. In addition to her fashion-forward tailoring, Saunders draws inspiration from her British and Caribbean background.

Bstroy: The New York City–based label was founded by Brick Owens and Dieter Grams in 2013 after they befriended one another on MySpace. Owens and Grams aren’t just designers; they’re cultural architects, pushing the boundaries and igniting dialogues through their thought-provoking and avant-garde creations. Imagine garments that question, defy, and make an unapologetic statement.

ESSENTIALS: True to its name, streetwear brand ESSENTIALS, created by Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo, focuses on minimalist aesthetics and high-quality basics, offering a range of wardrobe staples that seamlessly blend comfort and style. These aren’t just slouchy hoodies, crips T-shirts, and cozy lounge pants; they’re timeless essentials, setting the gold standard for the discerning streetwear connoisseur.

Ferragamo: Led by the visionary Creative Director Maximilian Davis, Ferragamo has undergone a profound transformation since his appointment in September 2022. A British Jamaican designer at the helm, Davis seamlessly blends tradition and contemporary flair. His garments are a celebration of culture, featuring luxurious fabrics adorned with bold prints and vibrant colors that resonate with him.

Fear of God: Los Angeles–based designer Jerry Lorenzo launched Fear of God in 2013. This ain’t your average streetwear; it’s a luxurious rebellion against the mundane. Lorenzo, the maestro of merging high-end with street chic, has created a fashion empire that’s both influential and downright cool. Fear of God isn’t just a brand; it’s a lifestyle. With designs that redefine casual elegance, Lorenzo is the magician turning everyday threads into fashion gold. Who knew streetwear could be this suave?

HEAD OF STATE: Founded in 2017 by Nigerian-born designer and creative director Taofeek Abijako, HEAD OF STATE is a contemporary fashion brand based in New York. Abijako’s garments are like a cultural tapestry, fusing African and Western influences into a sartorial masterpiece. HEAD OF STATE stands out for its commitment to diversity and representation, making a notable impact on the fashion landscape through its innovative and culturally rich designs.

K.NGSLEY: Having cut his teeth working for brands like Versace, Celine, and LOEWE, designer Kinglsey Gbadegesin took a leap off faith and launched K.NGSLEY in 2020. Known for its basics with a twist, the brand is largely associated with the idea of reclaiming Blackness and queerness. Versatile pieces, including tank tops designed by Gbadegesin, effortlessly transition from officewear to beyond.

Lownn: Founded in 2017 by twins Loïc and Swann Joachim, the Paris-based brand is using materials sourced from Italy and Japan to create clothing based on its interpretations of urban cultures. With this goal, the designers have managed to ideate pieces with clean lines, such as minimalistic trousers and shirts that evoke utilitarian menswear origins.

MARTINE ALI: Launched in 2010 by a Chicago native and creative force, Martine Ali has been trusting her instincts for years in shaping her eponymous jewelry line. Inspired by her fascination with the chain-heavy necklaces of the ’00s, Ali specializes in crafting silver jewelry and accessories. Directly influenced by hip-hop culture, the Fordham University graduate has been channeling her creative energy into these pieces since her time in the Visual Arts program at the school.


Martine Rose: At the heart of her ready-to-wear namesake label, Martine Rose draws inspiration from her Jamaican-British heritage. Founded in 2007, the brand has steadily gained a devoted following, owing to the designer’s ability to interpret how streetwear converges with punk culture, specifically in London.

Mowalola: In the realm of womenswear, Central Saint Martins graduate Mowalola Ogunlesi stands in a league of her own. With the debut of her first collection in 2017, she continues to push herself to create exploratory and vibrant collections that speak to her innermost obsessions. Whether that be graphic logo shirts or leather separates that feature an exposed detail, Mowalola’s creations are kaleidoscopic and also subversive.

Nuba: Shortly after Cameron Williams graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2020 he launched his menswear label Nuba. The line uniquely pulls from Williams and his co-creative director Jebi Labembika’s ideals of what elegance means from their vantage point. With that driving notion, the duo constantly is seeking to reveal tailored garments that speak to their Afro-Caribbean and West African roots.

Off-White: Initially founded in 2013 by the late designer Virgil Abloh, Off-White as a label has always been a space where youth culture and high-fashion connect. Streetwear received an injection of energy when the Milan-based brand launched years ago. Since its creation, Off-White has become synonymous with the rise of streetwear. Its logo-heavy staples have normalized the use of logos on countless objects, not just ready-to-wear pieces. Luxury fashion boundaries are always pushed with each collection from Off-White.

Stanley Raffington: The UK-based designer is a product of Central Saint Martins’s lineage of greats. Raffington explores technical design through the lens of color, often pulling inspiration from his Jamaican roots with Rastafarian motifs like black, red, and yellow crochet pieces. Raffington’s use of 3D printing embraces the new wave of tech entering the fashion space. His inaugural collection post-graduation in 2022—a fashion show with appearances from FKA Twigs and Madonna during the Spring/Summer 2023 season—created buzz. With laser-cut techniques on knitwear and leather as well as 3D-printed accessories, his debut collection appealed to the eye with optical illusions.

Seventh: At just 18 years old, designer and founder Bukki Ojo swiftly transitioned from Topshop employee to a Topshop brand right out of high school. Mainly focusing on editing vintage, she pursued a master’s degree in fashion entrepreneurship and innovation to build her business savvy. After five years of owning a vintage shop, she was ready to try something new. In 2019, Seventh was born as an experiment-turned-success, streamlining the silhouettes she had been sourcing five years prior. Clean lines and minimal aesthetics are amplified as the brand’s throughline, garnering a cult following.

Spencer Badu: Canadian-Ghanaian designer Spencer Badu has been rising in the ranks of go-to designers. Launched in 2015, his namesake brand has fans like rapper Kendrick Lamar. Badu’s design codes lie in his heritage and the restructuring of traditional uniforms. With functionality and minimalism as the main focus, the brand offers a new way of thinking about uniformity. With his West African roots, his designs highlight community and its importance through his innovations. These pieces are designed basics with surprise elements, producing a unique perspective.

Theophilio: Jamaican-born and raised, Edvin Thompson is a force to be reckoned with. After founding his brand in 2016, he’s gone on to become a star in the fashion industry. In 2021, his T-shirts, made in collaboration with Black Fashion Fair (BFF), created an opportunity to immortalize loved ones with custom family portraits printed on them. The CFDA American Emerging Designer of the Year’s debut runway show was a nod to his deep-rooted love for his heritage. Jamaica was Thompson’s first introduction to fashion, with neighboring Jamaicans walking by in their best dress looks, and his designs often reflect those memories. With a cult following of his own who sport the “I love Theophilo” tanks and tees, Theophilio’s glamorous approach to fashion design is only going further.

Wales Bonner: The eponymous brand—named after designer Grace Wales Bonner—has grown exponentially in the last few years. Launched in 2014, Wales Bonner has amassed a loyal fan base, especially after the release of the Wales Bonner adidas Originals Sambas. Her collections are birthed out of her love for research and perfect tailoring techniques. She doesn’t create out of excess but rather from a place of intention, which is why her runway collections always have such a cohesive feeling to them. Her latest collection, FW24’s “Dream Study,” was inspired by her time researching for a project at Howard University, and her MoMA show Spirit Movers highlights books that she had researched. Wales Bonner is one of those few brands with true meaning behind the work and the designer is creating something of her own.

Who Decides War: With a cult following that will do just about anything to get into New York Fashion Week, Who Decides War is a streetwear brand like no other. Cofounded by Ev Bravado and Téla D’Amore in 2018, Who Decides War has grown immensely. Recent collections from the two have teetered between the details of craftsmanship and tailoring and head-turning, distressing, and reworking. Raw hems, stacked leathers, patchwork denim, and more have been the throughlines of their design codes. The duo is becoming an “If you know, you know” type of brand with these intricacies that loyal followers appreciate.

YAKU: Coming out of Central Saint Martins, designer Yaku Stapleton’s eponymous brand is connected to his affinity to Afrofuturism. His designs are otherworldly, associated with this fascination with alternate realities. His Central Saint Martins MA fashion show theme was based on his family’s different personalities if they were video game characters. It’s safe to say that Stapleton’s point of view on the world is much more interesting in light of his design codes. The 25-year-old is a rising star as he’s recently won the L’Oréal Pro Prize at his MA runway show, with his fantastical pieces catching the eye of judge Ib Kamara of Dazed and Off-White.

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