Brandice, in New York

Wow! That was my reaction when a friend first told me about BRANDICE HENDERSON and her pioneering efforts to single-handedly create an avenue that allows aspiring African American and Latino fashion designers to show their collections during New York Fashion Week. As the founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row, Brandice not only mentors these young designers, but also manages the production of their fashion presentations. She believes that her dedication to this mission is vital to increasing the fashion industry’s awareness of the expansive talent that exist, but is not represented on the runway each fashion season.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee and the Fashion Institute of Technology, Brandice established Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2007 after she realized that African Americans and Latinos spend over $22 billion dollars a year on fashion and luxury items, but represented less than 1% of designer labels sold in America. Instead of complaining about the disparity, or settling for the status quo, Brandice decided to harness the wealth of existing talent within the industry and she produced and personally financed her first Harlem’s Fashion Row presentation.

Sketch by HFR Designer Imani Whyte

Since its inception, Harlem’s Fashion Row has garnered some media attention in New York City which attracted corporate support from mass retailer, Target who helped offset costs in 2010, but HFR continues to require substantial funding assistance as it expands mentoring programs to include business development, production assistance, and marketing & communications training for the young designers.

Needless to say, I was honored to have the opportunity to get to know Brandice and to discuss her vision for Harlem’s Fashion Row moving forward.

Harlem’s Fashion Row Presentation

So, Brandice, how did a nice Southern girl like you end up in NYC?
I decided I would move to New York when I was 19. I didn’t get here until I was 28, but I never lost sight of my goal. I remember even breaking up with a boyfriend when I was 20 because I thought he would hold me back from New York. That was actually what I told him. It took alot of faith to take the leap, but I’m so happy I jumped.

As CEO of Harlem’s Fashion Row, you mentor young designers and produce fashion shows that showcase their talent, where does your incredible drive to help others succeed come from?
You know, Yolanda, my friends tell me I have a save the world complex. And I believe that comes from my mother. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for anyone. She is incredibly generous and I’m so happy that I picked up a little bit of that.

Why do think the fashion industry is so challenging for young African American and Latino designers?
It’s very expensive to produce a collection and there is a general lack of knowledge and information about production, the market, and the industry.

But isn’t that true for everyone?
Yes, that is true for everyone. But for minority designers the main issue is a lack of resources and a lack of industry connections. Many of the minority designers that are successful now are either affluent or well-connected to a factory.

Brandice (center) with Harlem’s Fashion Row Award recipients Tyson Beckford, June Ambrose and Donna Williams.

What would be a dream collaboration for Harlem’s Fashion Row?
My dream collaboration would be with the founders of Fashion Stake. They started a website based on crowd-funding for emerging designers. The designers would set a financial goal to cover production, people would pre-purchase a designer’s collection at a discount and if the goal was met the designers would go into production. It was genius, but the website has since changed it’s strategy. I would love to collaborate with them to see if it would work for emerging designers of color with celebrity support behind it.

What’s the first thing you tell aspiring designers who dream of New York fashion week who, as you point out, may not have the funding or industry connections to make it happen?
I tell them to focus on their collection by making it the best quality possible, to develop a business plan, and to plan their production. A fashion show is great, but I don’t believe that a designer should be super-focused on a show or showing during fashion week. I run across designers that are more focused on the hype than the actual craft of designing or the business of being a designer. I always want to find designers that are focused on the craft and inevitably they are ready for a show.

How do you define your personal style?
I’m not sure if I have one. It truly depends on my mood. Overall I guess I’m into classic style with a bit of edge, however lately I’m crazy about anything 70s inspired.

Who are your style inspirations?
Hmmm. My inspiration comes from my imagination mostly, but if I had to name a person I would say Tracee Ellis Ross.

What are your must have beauty essentials.
Lipgloss and lotion! I can’t live without those two. It throws me completely off balance if I’ve left my home with no gloss. Yesterday, I was late for a meeting because I had to stop and get lipgloss. My favorite glosses are by Chanel and my favorite lotion is Bliss lemon + sage body butter.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A balanced life.

Name one place you would like to see before you die.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to so many places through my work experience. My favorite was Dubai, but I was only able to stay there for a day and a half. I must get back there. It was amazing.

If you had one wish, it would be…
That’s a tough one. I’ll have to get back to you on that one, Yolanda.

What song takes you someplace special whenever you hear it?
Anything by Robin Thicke. I love, love, love him.

One word…

What advice do you have for younger women?
Because I have so much to say, I’ll give lots of snippets of advice: Life is short, too short to have any “what ifs”. The earth is huge, instead of saving $1500 for a handbag, go to Bali, Indonesia or China. Don’t be afraid to dream big, really big and execute it. Surround yourself with women who love and support you. When I started HFR, my team was my girls. Put God first. In reality, nothing is that serious when you think about death. Consider your obituary and determine that it will say that you lived life to the fullest. Whatever you do give it 100%. Go hard and have no regrets, but when it’s time to rest do that as well. Make it your job to find a career that you love. Do this early, before you make a lot of commitments. Lastly, people will always tell you what you can’t do. Ignore it with no hard feelings, just stay focused.

Asked to write your memoirs, what would the title be?
God Is In The Business of Fashion— I Know.

For more information: Harlem’s Fashion Row.

Interviewed October 2011 by Yolanda, editor of Zavvi Rodaine
© Zavvi Rodaine.com 2011. No part of this interview may be used or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the Editor of Zavvi Rodaine.com.
Photos: Brandice Henderson and Harlem’s Fashion Row

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