My friend Toyah dropped by the house the other night while I was hiding from my children in my room. We struck up a conversation about life – Black life in particular – in America. This is important to tell you, because the discourse Toyah and I typically engage can be described as anything but “deep”. In fact, it’s usually pretty juvenile, which is just the way I like it. But last Friday was different, and it signaled a turning point in my shopping habits as an adult African/African-American consumer.
“Did you know that the Black dollar only circulates once in the Black community?” she mulled.
“Yeah. I know.”
It was a statistic I had grown up hearing: how the Jewish dollar circulates 83 times within its own community and juxtaposing that with the rate at which the Black dollar flees the community. Here’s another way of looking at it from the NAACP:
“Currently, a dollar circulates in Asian communities for a month, in Jewish communities approximately 20 days and white communities 17 days. How long does a dollar circulate in the black community? 6 hours!!! African American buying power is at 1.1 Trillion; and yet only 2 cents of every dollar an African American spends in this country goes to black owned businesses.”
We talked about how the dollars we earn are immediately spent on enterprises we don’t own in part or en masse: utilities, housing/rent, clothing, food, public transportation. If it weren’t for Black barbers and hairdressers, the African American dollar might spend even less time in the cycle than it does now! I thought about my spending habits when I cast my eyes towards my closet where I house dozens (my husband would say hundreds) of shoes and a brand new Michael Kors purse I had been craving and coveting for nearly a year. When I had saved up $300 in disposable income (something that’s hard to do when you have this many people outgrowing shoes and clothes weekly), I went online and gleefully gave Mr. Kors the expendable fruit of my labor. As Toyah and I talked, the less I began to like my red saffiano tote.
“I’m going to return it,” I declared.
She laughed, but I was dead serious.
“No, really. It’s way too big and at $300, I need to LOVE it…not be looking for ways to make it work.”
I sat on my decision for another 24 hours and early Saturday morning, I returned my MK bag to Macy’s. I was further encouraged to return the item when I stumbled across a rather provocative article that intimated that luxury brands like Michael Kors and Coach were losing their value as price points for particular items fell to where they were accessible to middle income and minority shoppers . If you recall, this is the same phenomenon that struck other “iconic” American designers, and we were the segment of society that was blamed for the demise of labels such as Tommy Hilfiger. Humph!
I didn’t expect to feel as much satisfaction as I did when I returned the bag, but that still left me money to spend and a desire to spend it; so I began an online search for Black owned businesses that carried luxury leather items. I would wear them with as much pride as I would any other mainstream label. Have you heard of any Black owned luxury labels? Neither have I – and I didn’t expect it would be so difficult to find one!
After 3 days of fruitless Google searches and inquiries on Twitter, I finally happened on three websites which I held on to for dear life! I felt like a Backyardigan on an imaginary chase. Did these items actually exist, or were they a figment of my imagination? They are real, guys! And I’m pleased to be able to share them with you:
Deondra Jeree – USA
Born in a small town just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, designer Deondra Jeree Morris fuses her southern roots with her big city savvy to create effortlessly stylish handbags. Already Featured in fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines such as Lucky and Ebony, 22 year old Deondra Morris is the designer and creative director of the Deondra Jeree collection. At age 19, Deondra worked for the Independent Handbag Awards located in New York City, where she was inspired to launch her own handbag collection in late 2013.
I love Deondra’s simplistic approach to design. The frames and shapes she’s chosen are timeless and translate easily from one function to another. I would never use a $700 bag as a sleek “Mommy purse” to carry around juice boxes and graham crackers…but it’s a nice idea to think that I COULD.
Price range: $100 – $700
Minku – Lagos
Minku is a Nigerian maker of quality goods established in 2011 and specializing in leather bags for men and women. The brand defines a fresh sub-Saharan aesthetic through its subtle use of cultural elements and artisan approach to contemporary bag-making.
What I love about this brand is the distressed look of the leather and the details the designer incorporates. Those details include the cross-knot stitch that runs along the seams of several of the duffel bags and hobos.
Price range: $60 – $1,000
Gregory Sylvia – USA
I got a chance to speak with Gregory, the husband half of this duo and explained what brought me to his website. He was surprised it took me three days to find them. I chalked it up poor search terms and asked him about his business.
“We saw the same thing in the marketplace that you described,” he confirmed. “African Americans with disposable income and a desire for quality, luxury brands, but there were no owners of those brands who looked like us.”
Gregory and his wife, Sylvia, sought out to create a brand that African Americans – and anyone eventually else – could wear. The company was started with the Greek Collection, which offers classic crossbodies and totes in the colors of four African American sororities.
This is where it gets sad for me: red is my favorite color, and the only bag that have in red is under the Delta Sigma Theta collection. These bags are only available to members of those particular sororities, not to rabble such as myself. It took everything in me not to weep! Nevertheless, there is a very elegant bag called the “Ellington” that I have my sights on. I think I will be okay without the Crimson Crave…eventually.
Price range: $110 – $370
Are there other Black/minority owned luxury brands that you are aware of? If so, I think you should share in the comments section below! And when you do comment, make sure to leave out the words “Made in China”, “unnecessary obsession” and “first world problems”. We only want positive contributions here. :)