She’s no overnight success!
In the world of fashion, the spotlight on Black designers has been few and far between. While Black style has always heavily influenced mainstream culture, we have often been overlooked and not received equal notoriety as our white counterparts. For sure, there are fashion icons like André Leon Talley, a shooting star who comes once in a lifetime, blazing a trail and knocking down doors for those to come running in after. Then you have undeniable talents like costume designer Ruth E. Carter who pioneered new avenues of fashion, Carter making history in 2019 as the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for her designs.
Still, many of Black fashion’s most notable faces exist more in the creative and styling space of the industry as opposed to designing. Truth is, there just aren’t enough Black-owned ready to wear lines out there, and gone are the heyday of PhatFarm and FUBU. Over the last decade, a new crop of Black designers have started to bloom and it looks like things are finally changing. More and more, young Black designers are stepping up and out to make sure we don’t get left out of the conversation this go round. One such designer is Bronx native Samantha Black, owner of the uber popular women’s ready-to-wear clothing line, SammyB.
Black found her passion for arts at an early age, getting into fashion design at the suggestion of an art teacher when she was a teen. At first, she didn’t look at it as a viable career option, fashion being something that came natural to her and her family. But the more she learned about it, the more intrigued she became.
“I didn’t know anything about fashion design…I’ve always done art, my mom had me in art lessons since I was 3. I did painting, sculpture, more like fine arts. When I got to high school, the guy who was giving me art lessons was like, ‘you should look into fashion design.’ I always separated me doing art and photography from my love for clothes and dressing,” Black told Because Of Them We Can.
It was her mom who took the teacher up on his advice, enrolling Black in a pre-college summer program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. There, she fell in love with fashion design, applying for early admission and getting accepted when she was just 16. After graduation, she worked with corporate fashion brands for about two years before launching out on her own.
For Black, she felt there was no plethora of Black designers to look up to, so she did it blindly, focusing more on creating an aesthetic that felt good to her and reminded her of home. While she credits early NYC designers like Dapper Dan, and another unnamed custom clothes making duo that rented an apartment in her family’s home, their work was mostly tailoring and not exactly the blueprint Black was looking to follow.
“My family used to be parked outside at like midnight while my parents were picking up their custom outfits so I’ve always known about [Dapper Dan] and had him as someone I thought was cool. I have a monogram print that I use in my brand. I love that era…But I have a constant inspiration, that’s my Jamaican culture, that’s New York City, and that’s the ‘90s. If anything, once I learned more about the fashion world and how it works, I [wasn’t inspired by a designer, but by] stylists,” Black shared.
Those stylists include Bad Boy’s Misa Hylton, often referred to as the architect of hip hop fashion. Black said it was people like Hylton who left her “mesmerized.”
“It’s the architect herself, Misa Hylton. [Her work] were the looks that mesmerized me and to this day is still being used as inspiration throughout collections Black and white, both in the states and [abroad]. These are the things that used to inspire me, more so than an actual designer, it was the flavor and how it was put together,” explained Black.
As she began to build her SammyB brand, that feeling was what she attempted to recreate for a new generation, a feeling that resonated with her and girls like her. That design aesthetic is what ultimately landed her on Bravo’s competitive reality TV show Project Runway. Black put on in a major way for Black women fashion designers and after competing on Project Runway’s Season 11, she returned for Project Runway All Stars. When filming wrapped, it seemed like Black had now and next, her clothes being worn by an array of celebrities from Beyonce to Halle Berry.
In the years since, Brown has doubled down on her commitment to self, expanding her brand and imprint, her clothes now available at Nordstrom department stores. Recently, she put on a show at New York Fashion Week, her first official one on the NYFW calendar. There Black had the opportunity for a full circle moment, reaching back while she climbed. Not only was she able to work with other rising Black woman creatives like DJ Domo, who handled music supervision for the entire show, she also collaborated with legends like Hylton, who lended her fashion academy students to serve as show dressers for Black. The recent collection, aptly named “12-45,” was a homage to her family’s home address where she first fell in love with fashion.
As Black reflected on her accomplishments thus far, the design maven said she’s grateful that she never wavered on her vision for herself, choosing instead to fight against the suggestions to conform her fashion shows to fit what has historically been a predominantly white space.
“When I first started, [our fashion shows were] a very Black experience. Everyone used to tell us we need to reel it in. We used to have a lot of Black models, very Black experiences…really merged music and fashion and at that time, it wasn’t popular. People were like streamline it and there was a lot of heat. But we loved it and now that’s what everyone does,” she said.
Black admits that for a moment, she second guessed herself, crediting people on her team like show producer Mecca Moore-Henson for keeping her in alignment and reminding her to look at the bigger picture. After meeting early in her career, Black has kept people like Moore-Henson around to serve as her anchor when the industry gets shaky, something she encourages all creatives to do.
“Mecca has a real deep love for me and my brand. When we first met, I didn’t really listen to her that much, but now I do because she just has an amazing vision for how she would like to see me grow and it’s the most genuine out of anyone that I’ve ever met that’s not related to me,” she explained.
Nowadays, Black is growing into a household name, her edgy and chic, luxe women’s wear showing up on celebrities and influencers alike. As a designer under Harlem’s Fashion Row, Black recently had the opportunity to oversee styling for a new American Girl Doll named Claudie. Drawing inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance, Black’s clear design ethos is present all over the doll’s looks. Her ability to shapeshift in and out of different fashion lanes has a lot to do with that early promise she made to herself, to be as authentic as possible to who she is, a Black woman designer.
“Now with everything that I do, I don’t even care what people say about it and I just stay authentic to myself, I stay authentic to my culture. I know that what I’m putting out is authentic, it’s not because it’s cool right now or later, it’s because it’s always me and it’s always centered and always my aesthetic and my inspiration for how I design. I’m just super confident in what I do and I’m not trying to look for acceptance anymore… So if it’s all Black everything, that’s what it’s going to be until the day I authentically decide to change something,” Black told BOTWC.
Despite all her success, she’s still actively dreaming. Black hopes one day to see her clothes on stars like Zoe Kravitz, Lil Kim, and Rihanna, a fellow Island girl. She also wants to create environments for Black creatives to thrive, employing more young Black designers on her team as she expands and continuing her community work speaking to young people across the country about the arts.
“When I would go to [schools] and speak to students, I would realize how much art is really not seen or pushed as a career. And I knew that from when I was a kid but we’re so far from that and [it is unfortunate] the limited experiences that Black kids have in the inner city. I would like to do more in that space which would hopefully lead to them being adults who are doing something that they love,” said Black.
She plans to continue working to grow her business, with plans to expand to department stores across America and internationally. Black wants to get her brand to as many people as possible and hopes she can be an example for other Black designers looking to follow in her footsteps. Her advice for those up and coming artists, just be yourself and be patient.
“Don’t let anyone interfere with what your vision is, if it’s helpful on how to make your vision come to life or things like that…[sure]. But your actual vision as far as the way you design and what you design and who you design it for, stick to that…Some people they get immediate success. Some people, it’s a slower road but as long as you stay consistent to who and what you are, it will come. Just put real passion behind it. There are people who are bigger than me or have gotten more fame,… and they’re not here today. Maybe they weren’t doing it for the right reasons or whatever it might be, there was just no passion and that’s kind of been a thing. So for the ones who are actually passionate, stick to your passion and your gut and your vision and people will eventually see what that is…and celebrate it.”
Congratulations Samantha! Because of you, we can!
Cover photo: Designer Sammy B. Photo Courtesy of Shamell Mason/SamanthaBlackNYC/Instagram