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Black History in Fashion: Fashion Designers

      Hi, I'm Jodi-Gaye, the fashion designer for Pure Gazelle where I like to focus on the intersection of faith and fashion. This is Black History Month in Fashion: Fashion Designers! Check out Pure Gazelle on IG or FB for the corresponding video. I will update this post as the series continues with extra details as well as websites I found helpful. 

   A couple years ago someone told me that a Black fashion designer designed an iconic design and I never knew. I knew a lot about the fashion icon and even was familiar with the look. I just never knew that it was created by a black designer. This concerned me because I took two semesters of fashion history and I don't remember talking about one black fashion designer. So either I completely missed it, which I doubt or it wasn't mentioned. 

    Later, I would learn that frequently due to deep rooted systemic racism black fashion designers were not acknowledged as the creators of their work even if it was popular. Unfortunately, the silence back then has led to a lack of knowledge now. 
     This started me on a journey to research black designers and their contributions to the fashion world. This search led me to some wonderfully talented people. So I will share some of the most interesting and insightful stories that I have found. I plan to share a new story at least once a week in honor of Black History Month.
     Here is a preview of just some of their accomplishments. One, while born in slavery, used profits from seeing to buy freedom, two of them designed for wives of the president, they designed for movies, and a lot of the people who starred in them. The dressed celebrities in every time period. 
Elizabeth Keckley 1818-1907
1. Background
  • Born in slavery in February 1818.
  • The father she knew was sent away out west
  • Later found out she was the daughter of her slave owner   
  • When her enslavers planned to hire out her aging mother she offered to support the family with her sewing instead
  • This started her business and
  • Eventually she would make a deal and use her earnings to free herself and her son.
2. Schooling
  • Her mother was a favored slave and was allowed to learn to read
  • Her mother taught her to sew as she helped as a domestic slave 
3. Design Aesthetics
  • She is known for great craftsmanship and simplifying the shapes and busyness that was trending from Europe. 
  • This style of fashion departed from the traditional Victorian Era and began to establish American fashion.

4. Celebrity Clients

  • Varna Davis, wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis
  • Washington DC elite ladies of the time
  • First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who also became a close friend. 

5. Legacy

  • She is well known for her work for the political elite of Washington D.C.
  • She was one of the first African American women to publish a book.
  • She was a passionate activist who started an organization that provided assistance for newly freed people from slavery.


Where you start is not where you necessarily end up. This is an amazing story of success in spite of insurmountable obstacles. 

Helpful Sources:


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