Celebrating Black History through Fashion

Happy Black History Month! *Note from Morgan – Alex is a friend of DCFunemployment who is going to take on us a journey this black history month through fashion!! She will be popping in a few times this month to share with us.  Enjoy!!*

While I am always proud of my heritage, I believe this month is especially important for shining some light on black excellence and achievement that otherwise may not receive the recognition it deserves.

To celebrate, I’ve decided to share some of my knowledge throughout the month on black fashion history and influential black designers! If you saw my last post then you know this is something I am extremely passionate about, and I hope to provide some inspiration for other young designers of color so that they know that they do, in fact, have a place in this industry. Let’s get to learnin’!

First, let’s talk about some history. Have you ever heard of the term “Sunday Best”?

While the history of African Americans in this country began through slavery (starting in 1619 when the first African slaves were forcefully brought to the Virginia colony), fashion was still very important.

During the week, slaves wore old simple “work clothes,” often hand-me-downs or clothing that they made from the fabric scraps of slave owners. But on Sundays, they were generally permitted to attend church with other slaves. The role of religion and church and their influence on black fashion began during slavery, but this tradition has continued even into today!

The term “Sunday Best” came from these times. With protestantism spreading in the new colonies, the concept of “saving negroes from their heathen religions” became popular. This was also incredibly controversial at the time, as some believed that once slaves converted to Christianity, they had to be given their freedom. Eventually, slave owners found a way to have legislation passed that negated that idea, allowing them to keep their slaves even after they converted.

In order for slave owners to be considered “good Christians,” their slaves had to have at least one good outfit for church on Sundays. Slave women who were able to sew would often use scrap materials to fashion their own pieces for themselves and their families for church. This became an opportunity for black women to differentiate themselves using clothing during church, which was the only time they were permitted to be social. This tradition of “Sunday Best” can still be seen today through beautifully-made formal outfits for women, often accompanied by ornate hats in church.

While this is most common in black Baptist churches in the south, black women from all over the country put on their “Sunday Best” every week, showcasing their gorgeous styles with the pew aisles as runways. Some of my fondest memories growing up are of my late grandmother bringing my sister and I to church with her, and pretending to pay attention when I was really just mesmerized by the beauty around me. How could you not be?!

*Note from Morgan, I grew up with this fabulous hat lady!!

Thanks for reading along and learning with me! I can’t wait to share my next article for Black History Month where I’ll be writing about Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (1818-1907), a slave-turned-designer who bought her own freedom and became the personal dressmaker and stylist for Mary Todd Lincoln. Stay tuned, and stay woke!

-Alexandra

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The Funemployed: Jihan Thompson of Swivel Beauty

DCFunemployment: So… Who Are You?

Jihan Thompson, co-founder and CEO of Swivel Beauty, a new app that makes it easy for black women to find the right hairstylists for their hair type (natural, relaxed, braids, locs, etc). Prior to starting the company (with my best friend Jenny Lambert), I was a magazine editor for nearly 10 years, working at publications including Glamour, Marie Claire, and O, The Oprah Magazine.

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DCF: Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
JT: Swivel has always been a passion project of mine. I’ve always wondered why it was such a struggle to find the right stylist, whether I was new to a city, traveling, or just wanted to switch up my look. (DCF: Seriously, it’s like trying to find the holy grail).  So, finally, after getting fed up, I decided to create the solution I wish existed. This is my dream business, which means every day feels like funemployment. (DCF: Thank you! Cause we were all struggling/suffering with this one!) 

DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
JT: I’ve had so many great mentors. But the first was probably one of my first bosses early in my magazine career. She was a dynamic, natural leader and she saw my potential early on and encouraged me to me to take on assignments that might have appeared above my title or position. As a result, I learned to take risks really early in my career and they always paid off. (DCF: Taking risks is so important otherwise it’s very easy to get stuck and never try anything new.)

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DCF: What’s your happy place?
JT: My happy place: Working on Swivel. Seriously. Sitting on my couch, brainstorming ways to grow and build this business makes me incredibly happy(DCF: I love that you are doing what you love and also helping out black women). Starting a business is tough, but I love what I’m creating.

DCF: Where do you get your energy?
JT: Talking to our customers! Every time someone tells us about a really great hair day they had because of a stylist they found on Swivel, I’m instantly recharged. We’re doing this to fill a need we know black women have — so when we get feedback, it pushes up to keep going and growing. Also, sleep. 🙂 I try to prioritize sleep (not always successfully-see below), because I’m not the type of person who can do well on just a few hours. When I sleep well, I’m fired up the next day. (DCF: Sleep is so important, we all definitely could use more of it!)

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DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
JT: Let me get back to you on that. 🙂 (DCF: Hahaha touche!) As a first-time founder, I’m honestly still learning how to find balance. There’s always more to do, even if the deadlines are self-imposed. We have big dreams for Swivel, so it means long hours are required right now. But I will say, it’s great to have a cofounder. We check in with each other and make sure we can cover when one of us needs time off to recharge. It’s important to take time for friends, family, and self-care, so I feel my best when I can work a full, productive day, but still call it quits and do something unrelated for a few hours.

DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
JT: I read somewhere, that when you’re launching a company, you can only pick three from this list: work, sleep, family, friends, and fitness. I think that’s so true, it’s impossible to give your all to every category because launching a company consumes so much of your time. Time is so precious so I really try to prioritize my family and friends, but that often means sleep and fitness take a hit. (DCF: You’ve got the right idea, balance where you can!)

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DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
JT: I don’t have to tell you that women, and particularly women of color, are less likely than men to get funding for their tech startups. We’re now beginning to raise money for our company, so we have to be aware of the obstacles we might face.

DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
JT: I wish I had started my company sooner. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I can’t leave my job..I can’t do x, y, or z.” But now that I’m on the other side, I so wish I had taken the leap earlier. (DCF: We often get in our own heads with these things but I’m so proud of you for making the leap!)

DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
JT: This is a tough one! I’ll get back to you on it.

New York Times Screenshot

DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
JT: Swivel was profiled in The New York Times last December (DCF: see above). A total pinch-me moment. So many people have ideas, but to see it come to life and to get that level of validation is still one of my proudest moments.

DCF: What are you Currently Conquering?
JT: SWIVEL is growing in DC soon! We’re actively signing on stylists and salons. So, if you know anyone good, have them fill out this survey! Thank you!

DCF: Let’s Get Social (Media)!!
Website: http://www.swivelbeauty.com/
Instagram: @swivelbeauty
Twitter: @swivelbeauty
Facebook: SwivelBeauty

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The Funemployed: Leslie Wong and Alexis Jenkins of Burgundy Fox

DCF: So… Who Are You?

Leslie Wong and Alexis Jenkins are the co-founders of Burgundy Fox, an e-commerce brand on a mission to empower and celebrate all women. (DCF: Yasss to more of this in 2018!). After experiencing how uncomfortable and antiquated it was to shop for intimate apparel, they started Burgundy Fox to create an inclusive approach to beauty and a seamless shopping experience. They have a collective 15 years of background in marketing and customer experience for consumer facing brands and creative facing businesses including Rising Tide | HoneyBook. They are the hosts of a weekly iTunes podcast, Seamless, that shares the stories of women who inspire mind and body confidence in us all. Leslie lives in Chicago, loves listening to business podcasts and can finally handstand (on a good day). Alexis lives in NYC, is an avid follower of fashion and was a competitive tap dancer (as a child). Connect with them through @burgundyfoxco, @lesliewong15 or @officially_alexisjenkins.

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The Funemployed: Cara Peterson

DCF: Who Are You?
Cara Peterson, Badass Creative/The Effortless Perfection Myth, I am an artist and aspiring author. My art is mainly linoleum printmaking and collage, and my book is about the gender issues millennial women face while in college.

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The Funemployed: Riley Sheehey

DCF: Who Are You?
Riley Sheehey, Make Things Co. (more than likely soon to be Riley Sheehey Illustration) (DCF: Both are great name!) Freelance watercolor artist/illustrator.

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The Funemployed: Michelle Breyer

DCF: Who Are You?
Michelle Breyer, co-founder of NaturallyCurly.com. Named one of the 50 Most Influential People in the Multicultural Market by Women’s Wear Daily in 2015, Michelle Breyer is a visionary entrepreneur who, in 1998, took a personal frustration over out-of-control curls and built it into the largest social media platform for hair. Today, TextureMedia – the parent company of NaturallyCurly – reaches 16 million people per month and influences more than $1 billion annually in hair product spend. What started as a hobby now includes two consumer digital sites, an ecommerce platform and a consumer Insights division. Michelle has consulted with such iconic brands and companies as Unilever, L’Oreal, and Paul Mitchell to help shape their textured-hair business plans, and also worked with dozens of entrepreneurs to launch their brands for the textured-hair market. She now is executive vice president of strategic partnerships. (DCF: Way to turn a “problem” into a passion!)

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The Funemployed: Rachel Rosenthal

DCF: Who Are You?
Rachel Rosenthal, Founder/Owner of Rachel and Company. I’m a Bethesda-native, wife, and mom to identical twin girls. My business – Rachel and Company – is a professional organizing firm in the DC-metro area specializing in home organization, closet design, and home moves. Since launching Rachel and Company nearly 10 years ago, we’ve helped over 1,700 families get organized! I’m also creator of The Playbook, an organizing how-to guide for every area of your home.

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The Funemployed: Kate Matsudaira

DCF: Who Are You?

Kate Matsudaira, creator at Ink+Volt. Kate Matsudaira (@katemats) has spent her entire career leading brilliant teams, and is currently the founder of the company Ink+Volt. Previously, Kate was the founder and CEO of Popforms (acquired by Safari Books Online in 2015). She has also worked as the VP Engineering/CTO at Decide (acquired by Ebay), Moz, and Delve Networks (acquired by Limelight), and as a software engineer, tech lead, and manager at Amazon and Microsoft. (DCF: Impressive, I like it!!) Kate is a keynote speaker at conferences around the world, and teaches a highly sought after workshop for teams on the elements of successful leadership. She also maintains a popular blog on management, productivity, and creating an amazing career at katemats.com.

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The Funemployed: Alice Bergen Phillips

DCF: Who Are You?
Alice Bergen Phillips, Cheesemonster, Owner/Head Cheesemonger. Originally hailing from Chicago, I grew up in a food-loving home (DCF: Totally know what that’s like!!). After earning a degree in International Politics and graduating Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa (DCF: woot woot!!) from Bates College, I moved to D.C. to pursue a career in international politics. However, I quickly found my side jobs working in the world of specialty foods to be far more compelling. I found real my calling in cheese, and have never looked back.

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The Funemployed: Catherine Cason

DCF: So… Who Are You?
Catherine Cason, Founder/Creator of Gem Hunt and Gem Breakfast. Also a diamond addict!

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