Last night marked the first installment of Harlem’s Fashion Row Conversation series and featured iconic designer Stephen Burrows.

The winner of three Coty Awards and the CFDA’s Board of Directors Special Tribute Award, Burrows’ fan list boasts some of Hollywood’s most legendary icons. Cher, Diana Ross, Oprah, Vanessa Williams, Farrah Fawcett, Heidi Klum, Grace Jones and Barbara Streisand have all worn his designs.

He is the first designer of color to receive international acclaim following his exceptional segment in 1973’s Grand Divertissement à Versailles which also featured Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint Laurent.

His rise to global recognition is all the more remarkable considering the racism that plagued the fashion industry in the 1960s when Burrows first emerged on the scene and still exists today.

When asked about the lack of diversity in the industry, Burrows cited funding and press as barriers to success for black fashion designers. “Funding keeps designers of color from advancing. That’s the hurdle to get over and it’s very hard to achieve. It’s easier for white people [to get funding]. That’s why there’s not so much diversity.”

Of the lack of press for designers of color, he said: “It is a problem. I don’t know how to solve, nor fathom how to solve. All advertising goes to white publications and not diverse publications.” He continued: “Everything goes back to funding. If you have money, they can’t ignore you.”

Do you agree with Mr. Burrows’ thoughts on diversity in the fashion industry? How can designers of color overcome these barriers?


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  • Von

    Mr. Burrows is correct to say that funding is the number one obstacle for designers of color to get their foot through the door. Many designers of color don’t have the financial backing like some designers do. They have the talent, but lack the funds and business knowledge is also a must for continued growth.
    Laquan Smith came out with a bang, but I have yet to see any of his clothes in the stores or anywhere else for that matter. I admire Brandice Henderson for all that she does to introduce the world to designers of color, which is greatly needed.
    Most of all the European magazines have contests to find new talent and I have yet to see any of the American magazines do the same things. If they create it people will buy it and if one door is closed, E-commerce is the way to go.
    Here’s an article that I read two years ago that sums it all up:

  • marsha


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  • I’m a media person who frequents events where many African-American Designers present. I did attend the HFR Conversations event and I also prompt the initial question regarding a disconnect between the press and fashion designers from African-American communities. Although Mr. Burrows comments are true, I believe there is another perspective that’s rarely addressed. As a Photographer who’s recently practicing videography, I’ve noticed that many of these black designers fall short on their media relations efforts. Videography requires the subject to be more engaging than traditional still photography. In my opinion, the designers are disengaged with the media on numerous levels. The designers would score far better by improving upon fashion show etiquette!

  • danKini

    All the comments above seem to make sense. You can apply the same theory to other aspects of African Americans entering a certain genre of business. Often times we can hold ourselves back believing we are staying true to our culture. I must admit it, it is a hard line to tote and does not come with a manual. For lack of a better example, the season of top model with Yaya DeCosta- Tyra continually told her how she was pushing her ethnicity onto everyone. She also said no one wants to be reminded of race all the time. It took a while for Yaya to figure out the right kind of balance of being herself, being black, and also being a model that everyone was be comfortable around. I think in the end she did figure it out and although she did not win that season (Eva Marcelle did) she became very successful.