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Play Dirty; Love Fierce: The Rise of the Black Designer

The fashion industry is a $1.5 billion industry and growing. Not many people know firsthand what it takes to start and build their own clothing brand. There are the challenges of severing snaps, die sets, and even the fabric be delivered marred. Fashion designers must acquire the originality that can lead to the success of their brand by creating an enthralling look that identifies with the market they wish to target. There is not only a need to really work hard, but the want to be good at what they do. The entire process is rather daunting in that one is willing give their all so that they can start their own label for there hold many risks.

The main goal of fashion is to provide a unique visual in the form of clothing; however, as an ever-changing business, it still lacks the diversity both on the runaway and behind the scenes. There are not many highly-praised black fashion designers that one can name off the top of their head, but ask someone to name thirty Pokemon and they can do it without fail. In this industry, black fashion designers are a rarity. They are not like unicorns, mythical creatures that one has read stories about, but never seen with one’s own eyes, but they are rare, nonetheless. Sure, you have the rap moguls who create their own designs from P Diddy’s, Sean John to the homeless stylings of Kanye West.  I am talking about the ones who journeyed into the fashion industry not because it was something to simply stick their toes in, but because fashion was their life; fashion was what they live and breathe. Out of the 470 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, only twelve are African-American today. Oddly, there are less black designers now than there were in the 1970’s.  It might not mean something to most, but it is troubling that there is a lack of diversity within an industry that is heavily influenced by the style of African-Americans—Rihanna, for example.

Nevertheless, black fashion designers like Armando Cabral and Carly Cushnie—to name a few—not only took great strides with their designs of underground subculture, they were also able to create opportunities for other designers of color trying to make their mark in the fashion world, like Chyna Nesby.

Chyna is a twenty-eight-year-old self-taught designer from Decatur, Georgia. Having sewn since the age of twelve, fashion has become Chyna’s life. At times, she would alter the clothes of her dolls and make them her own. In a sense, fashion chose her.  In the beginning—like many young people—Chyna thought it would be best to choose a career that would gain her assured stability. Computer Science became her major starting school, the study of the principles and use of computers. You can’t fault her for that. In a day and age where computers are gods and not having one means that you are most likely were living under a rock, why not aim for the “safer” target?

But silly ol’ life had other plans. Chyna found herself placing school on pause, and after losing her job as a baker in 2012 and unable to find a job to save her soul, she used that opportunity to pick up the sewing machine. With the help from her best friend, Susie, both began to embark on starting their own business. It was the desire to create and the constant watching of Project Runway that gave Chyna the inspiration she needed to launch her own line.

“Seeing the finalists present their collections on the season finale would give me so much joy. I would constantly tell myself that will be me one day.”

After talking about life, love, and what they really wanted in life, both Chyna and Susie developed the name, FierceLove for their clothing line. The name stemmed from the fact that if one was going to do anything, be unapologetically fierce about it. Live Fierce. Love Fierce. And with that, boom! Fierce Love offers various collections from dresses to swimwear. Not excluding men, Fierce Love has created a few men’s items like coats, jogging suits, and a couple of custom pieces she designed for a few men in the past.

Who wouldn’t love to work for themselves? Set your own hours and being your own boss can tempt the most diehard 9-to-5-er. However, even when with working for yourself in the career you love, there are still some ups and downs. Chyna sees doing her own thing as an amazing feeling. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and with working for yourself, one hundred percent of that responsibility is your own. On the days when you want to just slack off, there is no one to tell you otherwise. In the fashion industry, slacking off is not an option; therefore, Chyna continues with a morning routine of showering, getting dressed, and placing her phone in the other room to keep the 9-to-5 mindset to stay on track.

Like many fashion designers, many grab inspiration for their designs whether it is from their personal style or styles that they observe. From the street styles of Atlantic Station and Little Five Points to iconic fashion eras of the 50’s, 70’s and 80’s, Chyna gains her creativities. She describes her own personal style as versatile, where she can be a pretty princess on Monday and be a ninja in all black on Friday. To her, fashion is a form of self-expression and individuality. Every chance she gets she is studying fashion; keeping up with all the high-end fashion shows as well as enthralling in its history. For how could we have a stylish future if we don’t know our stylish past?  It is a feeling. When most people assume that having great vogue is following trends, Chyna goes against the masses. Though trends can have influence on what fashion designers create, Chyna stays true to herself by creating what makes her feel good.

“In turn, when people wear it, they feel good, too. That is what fashion is about.”

What feels good on her body is the deciding factor in the fabric and material she uses. The choosing of the right fabric can lead to countless hours spent in a fabric store. Her favorites are the stretchy, form-fitting for what makes her feel sexy and confident she knows will make her customers feel the same.

Though inspiration can be very valuable in the industry of fashion, having the right set of skills is also crucial, as well. A perfectionist when it comes to her garments, Chyna believes that it is necessary for aspiring fashion designers to have great attention to detail. To her, her lines must be perfect. To many, it can seem a tab extra, but Chyna believes that it shows through in her work. Along with technical skills such as pattern making and the obvious sewing. and having dedication, consistency, and integrity as work ethics, Chyna believes that one of the best skills to have is patience. If you do not have the patience that comes along with designing, then you might as well just hang it up.

Chyna wants to hang in there. Her goals for the next ten years are to own several boutiques that include a few high-end designs, several fashion weeks, and having her clothing being strutted on red carpets and the Met Gala for dream clients, Lupita Nyongo and Vana White after mastering gowns once she learns more about tailoring. Not selfish with her talents, she hopes to inspire less fortunate teens and teach them the skills of sewing thus guiding them towards the awesomeness of entrepreneurship. For them, she advises:

Just be patient and keep pushing. It gets rough. There will be stress and there will most certainly be tears. There will also be those beyond amazing moments when you complete something that you never dreamed you could. Seeing a vision that you had come to life is worth fighting for. Also, never stop learning. We will never know it all. The moment we think we do, is the moment we fail. Remain humble, learn whatever there is out there for you to learn, and just grind it out.”

Black aspiring fashion designers like Chyna are paving the way in attempts to become a commonality in the industry that lacks their talent in hopes of influencing others and improving the history of fashion. Hopefully, there will be an increase of gifted originators like her so that the term of “black designer” will no longer be used in referring to an outsider in the same industry that they greatly influence.

Fierce Love


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