Black Fashion Week MN showcases local POC designers, from the new crop to the seasoned pros

One highlight is TIM+THOM’s Black Hearts Ball, now in its sixth year, which has been added to the BFWMN lineup. The runway event celebrates underrepresented local talent and strives to bring fashion as art to everyone.

Black Hearts Ball capsule designer Sydia Reeves has been sketching and dreaming of fashion since she was nine years old. Her brand, Diays Designs, is an African athleisure line inspired by the gowns she grew up seeing family members wearing.

“My parents are from Liberia,” Reeves notes. “[The gowns] were always made of traditional African printed fabric. I knew that I wanted to bring that fabric out in my own way.”

Her garments this season use bold colors and a focal print centered around “the energy that exudes from black beauty,” she says of the collection. “I want people to truly feel the passion that comes from black strength.”

Hitomi Wong

More than anything, featured designer Hitomi Wong sees her brand, Hitomi K, as a creative expression. While she started a clothing line in 2011, Wong has since taken the last few years off to regroup. “I wanted to be able to create and make things that I want and still have fun with it,” she explains.

Wong makes show-stopping garments not intended for daily wear. “My clothes are works of art and for people to see it and love it is enough for me,” she explains. Showing at Black Hearts Ball is a way to achieve just that. “I think it is a show that is more open to different styles,” Wong says.

Being involved with a BFWMN event is also important to her because of the focus on people of color. Influences from Wong’s Asian heritage can be seen in the structure and styles of some of her garments, and she views fashion as an opportunity to “bring culture to your clothes.”

Returning Black Hearts Ball designer Cobilee West interned with TIM+THOM before being featured on the runway. Her experiences with event producers Thom Navarro and Tim Navarro led to her continued involvement with the event. “[They] put in so much time and effort to support local talent in a state where fashion is not what we are known for,” West says.

This season her line, CJW Designs, will continue to explore elements of androgyny introduced in last year’s collection. “I found that androgynous clothing appeared very masculine to me,” she says. “Which made me question why we classify different clothing styles, silhouettes, fabrics, and colors as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’”

For designer Ashley Jensen, BFWMN is an opportunity to work with and learn from other POC. “It’s important for me to be part of a community of people who can offer new perspectives,” she says. Jensen’s brand, Gilded Roots, will be featured at the returning BFWMN production Black Man Magic at the Elliot Park Hotel on April 27.

Gilded Roots

Gilded Roots

Gilded Roots is “for men who choose not to be boxed into any single stereotype,” Jensen states. On the runway, attendees can look forward to seeing garments with a lot of versatility. She adds, “I love creating clothing that transitions from work to play and season to season.”

The runway show will also feature local designers TIM+THOM, and will conclude with iconic streetwear designer Karl Kani. Kani’s brand launched in 1989, intending to reflect the style of people around him, and the recent revival of ‘90s streetwear has given him a whole new audience.

“Right now our biggest markets are Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan,” he says. “So the concept first of just dressing my friends has taken off worldwide.”

The fashion designer worked with BFWMN founder Natalie Morrow for a fashion show in Minneapolis about 20 years ago. “I know she puts a lot of energy into her events, so we wanted to showcase our collection here,” he says of participating in Black Man Magic.

The line, which include menswear and womenswear, is “definitely an Aaliyah inspired collection,” he says. And that’s only fitting, as Kani actually dressed ‘90s icons like Aaliyah, Biggie Smalls, and Tupac, and he continues to dress superstars like Rihanna and Ariana Grande. The brand’s ‘90s roots and the recent resurgence of those trends offers a unique opportunity to Kani. “I feel like this time around I’ll be so much more appreciative. The first time happened really quickly; I didn’t have time to think.”

So will the Twin Cities ever become a fashion capital? Kani thinks it’s possible. “I don’t see why not,” he says. “It just takes a nice little splash to get things going.”

Find tickets, locations, and more details on Black Fashion Week MN at www.blackfashionweekmn.com.

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