We all dream of a world rooted in equality. That’s one of the many reasons we commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD). Since 1911, IWD has been a celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women worldwide. It’s more than just a day. It’s a call to action.
This year’s motif is #BreakTheBias. Black women worked relentlessly to dismantle the biases designed to break us in one way, shape, or form. There are many examples of trailblazing women who have burst through iron walls with nothing but will, drive and determination in mind. Rihanna Fenty is living proof that you can enter one industry, dominate it, and move on once you’ve mastered them all. Going from a record deal to a billion-dollar empire is no easy feat, but she proves that biases are meant to be broken – especially if you’re a woman.
Black women shape culture effortlessly. We also know that Black women set the trends that keep the fashion world yearning for more. When we aren’t showing up as our fashionable selves, we make history by advocating for one another and holding the fashion industry accountable. Many women are worthy of recognition on International Women’s Day, but today we’re highlighting five who paved the way for the dreamers who want to break biases. Ahead, find five stylish Black women leaving their mark on the industry.
This island gyal has been a blessing to us all since 2005. When she started building her Fenty empire, she made it apparent that her reign won’t ever let up. It’s the body inclusivity for us; Savage x Fenty is one of the most intentionally equitable brands in the market. For Rih, she always wanted a line of garments that gave life to all body types. Not to mention, she is a major advocate for empowering women of color. While she sang her way into her hearts, her eclectic and unapologetic style kept her there. Beyond her championing spaces that are for us and by us, Robyn Rihanna Fenty’s personal style is one we all envy simply because she dons pieces that make her feel good. That self-confidence makes her THAT GIRL. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour presented Rihanna with the CFDA Fashion Icon Award in 2014, and that’s just a small affirmation of Rihanna’s impact. She then became the first black woman at the helm of a major luxury fashion house in Paris. In an interview with New York Times Magazine, she shared, “I’ve been slowly evolving throughout the fashion world. First wearing it, buying it, being recognized for my style, and then collaborating with brands. I never just wanted to put my name on something and sell my license. I’m very hands-on, so I wanted to take it slowly and gain respect as a designer.”
2. Anifa MvuembaSource:Getty
Anifa Mvuemba created cult-favorite, Hanifa, when she was inspired by a woman’s journey to a life without limits. That’s exactly what she created; a brand that continues to present boundless opportunities for all women in the fashion space. In May of 2020, the fashion designer pulled a Beyonce and broke the internet with her first runway show, and it was hauntingly beautiful. The three-dimensional runway show comprising her groundbreaking pieces was perfectly augmented on the bodies of real women. Wildly enough, she had the premonition of a virtual show five years before but didn’t feel ready to bring it to life at that moment. So, she did more research and did the work. Mvuemba told Teen Vogue, “There’s so much information out there. I Google everything. I learned how to sew from Google. I’m just the type of person that when I want to learn how to do something, I’m going to learn it even if that means I have to be up 24 hours for a week straight.” Before she knew it, she had single-handedly redefined the future of runway.
3. Precious LeeSource:Getty
Precious Lee attributes her success to stepping into her identity in its fullness. The ATLien was the first plus-sized model to walk the Versace runway last year, and it was a dream come true. She told Blavity, “I’ve always imagined myself on that runway. I’ve always adored Versace. I grew up in a Versace home. We always loved Versace as a family.” From Lane Bryant to the cover of Vogue, the curvy model is proof that dreams matter no matter how big they are. Her beauty, charisma, and hard work have lit up her resume — Khloe Kardashian’s Good American, Tommy Hilfiger, Etam, Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS, and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show-film hybrid are just some of Lee’s accomplishments. We are so grateful we get to witness her transform fashion and beauty standards one runway and magazine cover at a time.
4. Zerina AkersSource:Getty
Have you seen Beyonce’s Black is King? Or the infamous hat in Formation? Or Chloe x Halle’s tennis court shoot? That’s all Zerina Akers. As a wardrobe stylist and costume designer, she has curated timeless moments that elevate our culture time after time. To know Akers is to know that she does it all the way up for the culture. In 2021, she launched Black-Owned Everything, a special e-commerce hub creating visibility for Black-owned brands. “Black Owned Everything is more than just a platform or marketplace. What started as an Instagram page has become a movement, a medium for creating meaningful and long-lasting participation between Black businesses, community, and excellence. It is not ephemeral, trend-based, or short-lived,” she wrote via the brand’s website.
Of course, we see her living her best life and think it’s always been that way, but Akers started as an intern at W Mag and has been climbing the ranks in the fashion realm for years. Her ancestors are proud of the work she’s done — there’s no mistaking.
5. Aurora JamesSource:Getty
Listed in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021, Aurora James could teach a lesson on how to effectively take up space. She personifies fashion and activism most beautifully. The Brother Vellies founder birthed the sustainable brand chock full of “luxury accessories that celebrate cultural histories.” At James’ core, she is a humanitarian. Because of her work in fashion, art, music, and many other mediums, the Toronto native has found innovative ways to champion change in various ways. The biggest was her launch of The 15 Percent Pledge. The pledge calls for companies to meet the moment and keep the same energy of the 2020 Civil Rights Movement forever. “Black people make up 15% of the US population. So, we asked businesses to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands.” Over the past two years, James has influenced 28 companies to sign the pledge, gaining $10B of revenue for Black-owned businesses.