I’ve always had mixed feelings about Black History Month. As a woman of color, I appreciate the idea of a whole month dedicated to learning more about Black history and the truth behind my culture—but on the other hand, I can’t help but feel some type of way about the fact that Black Americans are only given one month of appreciation, and then basically disregarded for the remainder of the year.
This shift feels extremely obvious everywhere I look, especially in the fashion industry. You can’t tell me that brands don’t go the extra mile to celebrate Blackness and put out statements about how “diverse and inclusive” their companies are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting to see collections based around Martin Luther King Jr. sold in your neighborhood department store! Seeing brands and retailers fully appreciate Black culture is something that will never get old. But you can imagine my frustration when March rolls around and all the collabs with Black artists and statements of inclusivity suddenly fade away.
Why is the celebration of Black culture only worthwhile in February? Shouldn’t Black-owned brands be hyped up for more than a mere 28 days? I love to see the appreciation while it’s happening, but it’s all so temporary.
Why is the celebration of Black culture only worthwhile in February?
Personally, I do what I can to celebrate Black culture and Black people as often as I am able. And yes, there are certainly Black influencers and content creators out there repping Black-owned brands like nobody’s business, a couple of my personal favorites including @pierrah and @jacobhn1.
But it’s when I look around the department store and see hardly any Black representation that I realize how much more work needs to be done. It’s when I scroll through my daily dose of TikTok and watch top fashion influencers put together outfits, and can’t help but wonder if anything in their massive closets is from a Black-owned brand. It’s when my favorite magazines put together shopping roundups and fail to include a diverse range of brands.
It’s these experiences that leave me asking myself why encouraging POC-owned brands is, for many, a February-only occurrence.
“Supporting Black-owned businesses is a major component in closing the U.S. wealth gap,” says Tyshaia Earnest, the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Fifteen Percent Pledge. “It’s more than just ‘#buyblack’ while it’s trendy or supporting Black businesses during Black History Month. Supporting Black businesses is a holistic approach to supporting our economy and Black institutions. It’s important for everyone to buy Black as part of our daily/weekly consumption because it uplifts us all.”
Supporting Black businesses is a holistic approach to supporting our economy and Black institutions.
All this isn’t to say we haven’t made some progress in the past couple of years. In 2020, the United States saw a huge surge in support for Black-owned businesses after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following the tragic death of George Floyd. For a while, I was pretty worried that this support would be a temporary thing—another fleeting example of performative activism. Can you blame me?
Black Lives Matter was trending, and as a result, Black-owned businesses received tons of support. So when BLM stopped trending, it was reasonable for me to question whether unwavering support of these brands would continue. That said, I’m satisfied that my worries have so far been put to rest, and the industry has somewhat come through with normalizing supporting Black-owned businesses on a more regular basis.
Kayla Bell, designer and owner of Arrow and Phoenix Swimwear, has seen this improvement firsthand.
“We’d get most of our orders in February due to being featured on a “Black Owned” list and again in May when Sports Illustrated’s Swimwear issue would release,” says Bell. “But ever since the pivot in 2020, we’ve been so thankful to have busy months consecutively outside of the month of February, as that now tends to be the month bigger brands want to partner with us as a way to share their platform with us being a Black-owned brand.”
“I love where things are and where they seem to be headed,” says Bell. “As a Black business owner, I hope every ounce of this is here to stay.”
Me too, Kayla. I hope that the push continues for the inclusion of Black-owned brands in any and all fashion-related discussions. One month is simply not enough time to cover all the bases on how to implement true equity regarding Black-owned businesses.
Black-owned brands are worth paying attention to beyond Black History Month.
“In the future, I hope to see even more authentic inclusion of Black-owned brands across all categories,” says Earnest. “We tend to see a wide breadth of options in categories such as beauty, but I am talking everywhere from athletic wear to pet care.”
“I hope to see Black brands like Anima Iris or Brandon Blackwood become synonymous with heritage brands like Gucci and Ralph Lauren,” says Earnest. “I hope that the support of Black-owned brands is not short-lived. Together, we must make sure that progress continues to be made and it spans generations.”
Black-owned brands are worth paying attention to beyond Black History Month. The sooner we realize that, the quicker we can work to actually make a lasting difference. Changes have already begun within the last two years—so imagine where we can be two years from now if we all play our part and acknowledge that showing support on the daily is a benefit to us all.
The next time you shop from a Black-owned business, don’t limit your purchases to February. Instead, find a few favorite brands and make shopping from Black people part of the norm. By doing so, you can help open doors for the inclusion and equity the Black community has been working toward all this time.