Brandon Blackwood Talks Growing Fashion Empire: 'Why Not Aim For The Moon?'
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Brandon Blackwood made an impressive leap into fashion empire territory after launching his eponymous handbag line in 2015. Since then, the Brooklyn-born designer has expanded to accessories, shoes, custom gowns and, outerwear (with a ready-to-wear line being a future goal). Over the years, Blackwood has also formed a community that embodies inclusivity, experimentation and unapologetic fun.
Below, Blackwood discusses the importance of fashion inclusivity, taking a chance on yourself and also shares his daily routine.
Designer Brandon Blackwood in his Soho office with his signature Kendrick trunk bags. PHOTO BY EVAN BROWNING
Was it always in the back of your mind to expand your empire? Or was it more of a gradual progress?
Honestly, when I first started I didn't want to be a designer. I always wanted to be an editor and appreciate the clothes from afar. But look where I am now. But I would say honestly, going into handbags and just seeing the response and seeing how many people love the items and love the brand, I felt like I was doing a disservice not trying at least to branch out more. Shoes were the next thing for us because when it comes to handbags, you have to match them to the shoe. I think that’s how you slowly built the look. I go through all of our social media and read all the comments. I'm seeing all the tag posts and everything. I love it. Literally, I saw that everyone would be wearing our bag and thought, “I can make a cute shoe”. That lived in my mind for a little bit.
One day I just came to the office and said, “We’re gonna make some shoes.” It took a little bit over a year. We were doing some factory visits in Portugal and really learning. Bags came more naturally to me so it was just quicker. Shoes are a whole ‘nother thing. There's different molds for every size, a heel the size 35 cannot be the same heel on a 41. So, it was a whole learning experience.
I was just absorbing everything while designing and we came up with our first shoe collection. Then after the shoes I was like, “I wanna make coats.” When I go shopping, I don't know why, but I always buy outerwear. I have a whole house room in my house that has racks of just coats. It's really bad. So I needed to make my own something instead of everybody else's. So we did outerwear and now I'm in a position where I think I'm ready for ready-to-wear. We've been doing a lot of great customs. We [dressed] Sheryl [Lee Ralph], Beyoncé and Serena [Williams]. Just seeing that feedback, I was like, “Okay, this is something else we have to do.”
Brandon Blackwood spring/summer 2023 campaign PHOTO BY OJERAS
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“BEING IN THESE FASHION SPACES NOW AND REALIZING THAT THERE IS NO FULLON BLACK OWNERSHIP OF THESE MAJOR BRANDS, WHY NOT AIM FOR THE MOON?” –BRANDON BLACKWOOD
The brand’s shoe campaign PHOTO BY ZHONG LIN
The Beyoncé look was gorgeous. I was like, “I hope that he comes out with ready-to-wear it because I would buy that immediately.”
Thank you. I just wanted the bags to really take off and wanted to just be a brand that has longevity. But when you look around you don't see a lot of self-funded brands by Black people or POC. You have all these conglomerates now, like Kering and LVMH, but you don't really see anyone who's selling a whole package: shoes, handbags, ready-to-wear, all that stuff. None of it's owned by a Black person. I've shifted my way of thinking where I want to attempt to have that for myself and being the first in that way. No one else is doing it. So why not?
Being in these fashion spaces now and realizing that there is no full-on Black ownership of these major brands, why not aim for the moon? So I think the ready-to-wear is obviously a step in that direction. I think we're gonna kick ass when we do it. But we're beginning to play around with some things now. When it does happen, I'm gonna do a show during fashion week. We've been asked a lot to do some presentations. I’ve always want to do things my way. But I think it's time to just really pull up.
PHOTO BY OJERAS
For people wanting to find their footing in this industry, do you have any business advice for for them?
Especially in the beginning, ownership is really key. We don't have any investors or shareholders. It's 100% on by myself. It is the biggest blessing even though it was so hard to raise money to figure out how I'm going to pay for things to really grow the brand. I think a lot of people see that, freak out and automatically run to someone to try and get help. I've learned so much figuring out by myself that it put me a step ahead in that sense. So I would say my biggest advice is: you already believe in what you're doing. Don't let someone else have control over it. If you want to do it, see it through. Everything's gonna be hard, but if it's meant to happen and this is what you're really passionate about, you always find a way to make it work.
When it comes to your Jamaican heritage, how do you find that seeping into the influences of your designs?
Jamaicans are very prideful people. We are very incredibly strong-willed, like, “If I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna be extremely confident while I'm doing it the whole time.” There isn’t an obvious Jamaican aesthetic or symbolism in every collection. But I think the work ethic and you said it best: when we do things, we tend to push the culture and I think that's what we're doing. In spirit, it's a very Jamaican brand. We tend to end up being anomalies. But from Grace Jones to Naomi Campbell, we always end up being a force. I'm really proud of this brand and I think the very essence of it is very Jamaican, very Caribbean. But with the ready-to-wear that we're making, we are gonna do some really fun, very Caribbean moments.
Brandon Blackwood released its debut shoe collection in March PHOTO BY: ZHONG LIN
How would you describe the Brandon Blackwood customer?
Our customer is a very, very wide range, which I'm very thankful for. I mean, we have the 18-year-old buying stuff; we have people that are 65 buying items. When you walk into our showroom, you might not like everything. That’s fine, but there's always gonna be something for you. I try not to say, “This is the Brandon Blackwood person.” I think that just automatically pigeonholes you. When it comes to our customer, it's more of an ethos. We make items for people who are fashion-forward. They like to show out once in a while. They're practical, though. I also think it's a confidence thing. If you go through my tagged posts, my customers are out here living their best life, with their BB on them. And that makes me happy.
It's not a physical look or a physical person, but it's just a confident person. I never planned for that to happen. But we make pieces for a very confident person, someone who really enjoys playing in aesthetics, who enjoys funky, weird things. We sell a red leopard print bag; it's one of our best sellers. We make things for people who just want to be seen a little bit and to really just like to be out there. And that's what makes me happy.
I think you're also creating a community. Anytime I look at the brand's Instagram stories I'm like, “Oh my God I want that bag” or “I liked the way that she put that look together”. It creates a conversation.
People used to give me so much sh-t for reposting customers. As a brand, you want to make the visuals all clean and cohesive. I always thought that was so strange because these are the people actually buying and wearing the product. That is your ad. There's nothing realer than someone wearing it authentically and I think that should always be celebrated. I think it's weird that brands don't do that more. Because it’s your customer, the person who's literally making your brand grow and thrive. The same way they're hype about what you're doing, you need to be just as hype.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BRANDON BLACKWOOD
I normally wake up around this time because I usually stay up until 3 to 4 a.m. talking to our overseas factories, just making sure everything is smooth and that all the shipments are being handled. We work everywhere, from China to Turkey to Portugal. I have three dogs, so it’s a full house. I literally get up, make them all breakfast, then do my whole routine. I use a lot of La Mer products. So, if I have the time, I’ll try to do a little sheet mask to get the skin ready after washing my face, then go into my creams, my serums and all that good stuff.
I never eat breakfast. It’s always a smoothie or green tea. I always Uber to work. On that ride, my phone is always on ‘do not disturb’ because I know the rest of the day is gonna be crazy. So my Uber is always my little calming meditation before I hit the office. Everyone knows don’t call me if I’m on my way to work—I’ll be there soon.
I’m usually in the office by this time. And then we just hit the ground running. PR hits me up first and tells me what’s going on, like any big loan request or any custom [look] that we’re working on. I always check in with Neema, who does our logistics, about order fulfillment and how’s everything going at the warehouses in New Jersey. She handles all of that. Then I normally meet with our VP, Imani; she does brand partnerships and oversees all of our wholesale, so she always has an update for me, usually about any upcoming projects. We have two offices [in Soho]. Our showroom is where logistics, PR and more of the intense jobs are. Then I go to our other office, which is our design room. That is where our samples are birthed and created. That’s where all the magic happens.
If it’s a long day, I’m normally one of the last people to leave. If it’s a short day, I’ll leave around 5 p.m. I never eat lunch here. It’s just go, go, go. If there’s an event [after work], I’ll just run straight home, change and then go. I’ve been going to [NYC Thai restaurant] Wayla a lot after work. I always get the branzino, wings and calamari. I [also] love Mr. Chow’s. It’s so played out but I love it. Around my house in Brooklyn, I love Evelina and Miss Ada. Bombay Grill is a little hole in the wall, but I order their tikka masala a lot. If I’m really feeling super hungry, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que does these grilled wings. The wait time is forever, but I will wait. That makes me very happy. Oh, Bed-Stuy Fish Fry too. Then after that, I’ll have a couple of drinks, go home to feed the pups, hang out with my boyfriend and be normal again.
So very important when I go home, I always give myself an hour of calm. LES is one of my favorite fragrances from Boy Smells. So I’ll burn that candle and either order dinner or make dinner. I catch my boyfriend up on my day. We always try to watch something, but we just end up falling asleep. I’ve been watching Black Mirror but it was too short. I needed more than five episodes. I can’t ever finish a whole series of it but I’ll watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’m, like, the only person still watching it (laughs) I will binge Real Housewives—I need to catch up on everything. Atlanta, Potomac and Beverly Hills are superior. I also watch a lot of home renovations. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ll be watching, like, ‘Oh, my God, look at their light switches!’ or ‘That marble is perfect!’ (laughs)
The factories are hitting me up again and the action starts. It’s like another workday. It can be anywhere from 9 to 5, but now at night. If everything’s pretty straightforward where all my design submissions are done already with them, it can be a three-hour thing. If we’re working on a new collection, that could be all night.