The fashion outsider

Five-year-old Brandice Daniel and her mom walked hand-in-hand, straight to the sewing and fabric section of the store; “Pick a pattern out of the simplicity book,” her mom said.

My mom sewed our clothes. Not because my mom was a designer, but because we were struggling so much financially.

But young Brandice was uninspired by the simple patterns in the simplicity book. She preferred the designs in the vogue book and brought a few to her mom, asking for the most complicated patterns in the store.

Her mom explained that she couldn’t make something that complex, so they compromised, Brandice choosing from the simplicity book and negotiating with her mom, giving design instructions: “Okay, this has two tiers, mom; I want to make it four tiers.”

Even then, she saw fashion as an expression – not just for the wearer, but also of the maker.

“I took a step back to hopefully move forward.”

People make clothes.

They put love into each tier, and Brandice was hooked: “It spoke to my heart, even as a little girl.”

She went to college and majored in fashion merchandising, with the goal of becoming a fashion buyer.

But when she graduated, she could only find a job selling insurance.

By the time she was 23, Brandice quit her job in Atlanta and moved back in with her parents in Memphis to pursue her dream: “Even if I have to be a janitor at a buying company, that’s what I’m going to go do. I’ll work my way up. I took a step back to hopefully move forward.”

“What are you supposed to be doing with your life?”

Brandice sent her resume to the only fashion-buying shop in Memphis, Catherine’s – over and over again – but never heard back.

So she got a part-time job at Brooks Brothers folding shirts and another filing papers for a phone company.

One day, while sitting on the floor filing papers into the bottom drawer, a coworker walked in and said: “Brandice, what are you supposed to be doing with your life?”

Brandice knew exactly what he meant. She looked up and responded: “I’m supposed to be a buyer.”

She shared her dream, and explained that no one was calling her back. He helped her redo her resume, and she sent the new one out to Catherine’s just one more time.

They called her that same day for an interview and she got her first job at a buying office.

But she quickly realized it wasn’t for her:

Sometimes you can go to school for years with a goal of being something without ever having experience in it. I actually achieved that goal and found out that I didn’t like it at all.

While she was grateful to finally be in the fashion world she kept her eyes open for what to try next.

She kept thinking about New York City, even though she’d never been, nor even knew anyone who’d been. She certainly didn’t know anyone who lived there.

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Photo by Noemie Marguerite

But she knew fashion lived there.

She was going to move to New York.

She had no idea how, but she started telling people her goal, and started visiting, because, as she says, “Faith is an action.”

Then one day, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Brandice,” the caller said, “do you want to move to New York?”

It was a vendor she’d worked with in her buying job. They had an opening and thought Brandice would be perfect for the job.

She moved to New York City.

“I accidentally landed in Harlem.”

Brandice moved to Harlem, a place that would deeply inspire her next chapter – but when I ask her, “What inspired you to want to be in Harlem in the first place?” she answers:

I didn’t want to be in Harlem in the first place.

She’d planned to move to Brooklyn, but couldn’t find anything. The night before she moved to New York she still didn’t have a place to live.

Frantic, she broadened her search area and found an apartment on Craigslist and arranged to view it the day she flew in.

It was in Harlem.

It was tiny.

Tiny, tiny.

But there was something about Harlem that spoke to her: “It was so beautiful, rows of brownstones, and I was like, ‘This is it.’ So yeah, I accidentally landed in Harlem. Thank goodness.”

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Photo by Lelanie Foster.

She started her new job managing apparel production and traveling around the world. It was challenging and she loved that, but there was still a sense of joy missing – that feeling she had in the shop with her mom.

She wanted to get closer to the heart of fashion – the people.

The designers.

Maybe she should own her own shop?

She started volunteering at a designer-owned boutique in Harlem.

She couldn’t wait to talk fashion with all the people who walked into the shop (Brandice loved talking to people).

But she got restless: “When you’re in a boutique, you just have to sit there and wait until people come in.”

Brandice is not a sit-there-and-wait-until kind of person.

But everyone else said no.

Despite her intense love for fashion, Brandice felt like an outsider. Being a Black woman from Memphis, she didn’t see herself represented in the top echelons of the New York fashion world.

So when she attended a small Brooklyn fashion show in a restaurant, she got an idea.

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Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

A spark.

I want to do this in Harlem.

Brandice had no idea how to put on a fashion show in Harlem.

But before fear and doubt could take over, she made space for another voice.

I just knew that this was something I was supposed to do.

Within days, she booked a date for her first show: August 17th, 2007 – just three months away.

Sometimes ignorance is such a gift. Because when you don’t know, sometimes you make very ambitious goals…and then you reach those goals.

Despite having no team, no makeup artists, hair stylists, models, or designers, Brandice found and booked a location.

Then she sent out invites.

Once you create an invite and a date and send it out, then you have to work toward that date, right?

It’s like when you choose a wedding date, you teeter totter on the wedding date for forever, but once you finally pick the date, and put it out there, and people start buying their flights, guess what?

You figure it out.

Next, she started knocking on doors. Boutique doors.

The designer who owned the boutique in Harlem where she volunteered was her first yes: “That helped a lot.”

But everyone else said no.

So she kept asking. Everytime the event progressed, she’d ask them again if they’d like to participate, sharing updates.

“Always ask,” she told NBC news, “The answer could be yes or no. But if you don’t ask, the answer is automatically no.”

Brandice kept asking until she got three other designers to agree to be a part of her first show.

Then August 17th, 2007 arrived.

“Because when you don’t know, sometimes you make very ambitious goals…and then you reach those goals.”

“You don’t go to fashion events in New York and have fun.”

“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Brandice remembers about that first show.

The electricity went out.

The runway was still being painted while people were waiting outside in line for the show.

But there was a line.

People wanted to see what Brandice was about to do.

And, once it got started, “even in the middle of all those mistakes, there was something so amazing in the room. The energy was so incredible and everyone felt it.”

Everyone had fun. And by the way, you don’t go to fashion events in New York and have fun. You go to [be seen] and act stuffy. That’s the normal play. But I think people felt the passion and the love that was behind it.

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Guest’s dancing at a Harlem’s Fashion Row event. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

I think people were in a room of Brandice.

A room filled with heart.

A room brimming with what happens when a woman doesn’t ignore a spark.

What Brandice may have lacked in those early days in event logistics, she made up for with her passion and understanding for the heart of fashion.

Her eyes actually water when she tells me about the designers she works with. She can see and feel their stories in the clothes, and that special sight makes her an excellent curator:

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Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

I can always tell when I’m working with a person with a designer’s heart versus someone who’s just making clothes to sell, because there is something else in those clothes that I can see and feel that goes beyond what you can see physically; usually it’s the vision of the designer, the dream of a designer.

It’s this world that they’ve created, that they’ve invited me into through this piece, and it’s so emotional and I can feel it all. A lot of times it overwhelms me. Even talking about it now I can feel my heart getting big in my chest.

It’s almost like when you look at a painting or certain pieces of art – you don’t know why, but something about it gets you emotional or draws you into it.

That’s what I feel when I see certain pieces of clothes or when I see a full collection.

No logistical knowledge can compare with that. The rest can be figured out.

And so she went, planning more fashion shows and showcasing more designers, full speed ahead.

But the faster she went, the more problems she found.

“The more I researched, the sadder I became.”

Brandice called her company Harlem’s Fashion Row, ran fashion events along with her full-time job in fashion production, and enrolled in her long-time dream school, the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), to get a second bachelor’s degree.

Her goal for Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR) was not just to put on more fashion events in Harlem, it was to celebrate and showcase designers of color.

She started researching how many designers of color there were in the fashion industry.

The more I researched, the sadder I became. It was horrible.

Brandice said in a video for the Oprah Winfrey Network that when something speaks to your heart, you have two choices. You can look at the darkness and say:

  1. “Oh that’s terrible,” and move on. Or:
  2. “I’m going to do something about it.”

Brandice chose the second option.

She gave it her all.

But after four years working a full-time job, going to FIT, and putting on events for HFR, it became too much:

I was so split between HFR and my job. HFR was requiring so much more from me. And I had the type of job where my boss would say, ‘Hey Brandice, we need you to go to Indonesia Friday.’ And it would be a Tuesday and I would have to get on a plane and go overseas.

And I knew that that would be very difficult for me to do as HFR was growing.

I just knew it was time for me to quit.

There was only one problem.

I wasn’t ready to quit. I didn’t have enough money saved up to quit. I didn’t have all my revenue streams figured out.

There were so many things I just did not have figured out.

But I did know that I had to bet on myself in that moment, so I did.

Brandice quit her job to go all in on Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2011.

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Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

“I just sat and cried and cried and cried.”

And she was terrified:

It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. It was scary. I would wake up days and not know what the heck to do with all this time.

“Okay, I quit my job, now what do I do?” Every day.

And quite honestly, it took me years to really figure out the structure for my days and what my business model would be doing these events. It took awhile.

But Brandice quiets fear with action, powered by faith.

She focused on planning her next event.

She wanted it to happen at the Jazz at Lincoln Center, a gorgeous event space that overlooks Central Park. Her mission for HFR was always to show the world how incredible, iconic, and talented designers of color were – they deserved to be a part of the elite fashion world and she wanted the space to represent that: “I want to show them in their beautiful clothes in a beautiful space.”

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HFR Dapper Dan tribute at New York Fashion Week. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

When she toured Jazz at Lincoln Center she just knew: “This is it. This is where we’re supposed to be.”

Brandice didn’t know then how expensive it would be to rent that space, but she’s glad she didn’t know. Not knowing helped her dream big.

When she did learn how expensive it was and started to doubt, her friends encouraged her to ask a sponsor for that amount of money (at that time she’d never asked for more than $10,000).

She picked up the phone for a meeting with a company that had sponsored her before, and this time she asked for 10 times the amount they gave last time.

They responded positively. She would be able to produce her next fashion show at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

I just sat and cried and cried and cried. I think I sobbed (not on the phone with them).

It was the closest she’d come to a six-figure sponsorship, and it was the first moment that she really believed Harlem’s Fashion Row could be a thing.

Maybe this was as far as it goes?

Brandice spent the next three years putting on shows, tweaking as she went, and learning everything she could about building a sustainable business.

She learned about email by listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast:

I didn’t know I needed an email list. I didn’t know I needed to email people. I didn’t know. And then Pat Flynn kept talking about it over and over and his guests kept talking about it over and over, and that was when I said, ‘Okay, I need to do this.’

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Billy Porter and Michaela Angela Davis at an HFR event honoring Ruth E. Carter. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

Brandice started an email list in 2014 and used it in an incredibly innovative way: people join Brandice’s email list by RSVP’ing to one of her events.

So there are celebrities on her list.

And stylists.

And designers.

And “editors from every magazine you can think of.”

She uses her email list primarily for publicity, and it works wonders – an incredible way for her supporters to be informed of future events, and for Harlem’s Fashion Row to stay top of mind.

She’s gotten email replies with opportunities to be featured in magazines, speak on panels at incredible events, and connect with celebrity stylists looking for particular designers: “We’ve gotten big opportunities from emails.”

Her business grew for 10 years.

But then in 2017, a big sponsor pulled out at the last minute, and then the outdoor event got rained out. The whole ordeal put her in an instant $40,000 debt.

She had one of those moments many creators have, but rarely talk about: When you’re tired. Fed up. Burnt out. And sincerely wonder if this is still worth doing. That quiet-but-loud declaration that you don’t really mean but you say in your heart anyway: “You know what? I’m done.”

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Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

Sometimes saying it feels good, brings relief, a sign maybe it is time to move on to something new. Brandice had done amazing work in the last decade. Maybe this was as far as it goes?

But during her lowest moments, she couldn’t help but think of the 13-year-old girl dreaming of being a designer one day but having no one who looks like her designing at the highest levels.

Brandice was burnt out on events, but not on her mission.

She decided to step away from what was burning her out for a little while; she wouldn’t deliberately plan any events for 2018: “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be, but I’m not planning anything.”

She kept a clear calendar and an open heart.

“It was all just very cryptic.”

Two months later, Brandice got an email.

It was from Marissa Nance, a marketing agency professional she’d met three years ago in a hotel lobby, where she’d told Brandice: “I don’t really have anything right now, but if I have something, I’ll let you know,” something most people say just to be polite.

But sometimes, they really mean it.

Marissa really meant it.

Three years after that short hotel lobby conversation – where Brandice’s eyes must have shined with her mission – Marissa emailed Brandice:

Hey, remember I told you if I ever had something for you, I’d let you know?

Well, I think I have something.

She kept a clear calendar and an open heart.

Marissa alluded to an “athletic company” that wanted to do something with Black female designers; there was also this “unnamed athlete” who would be involved.
“It was all just very cryptic. And she was like, ‘If you’re interested, you have to sign an NDA.’”

Brandice was interested. She decided to take a chance on this unknown project.

The NDA came through the next day, and that’s when she saw the “big swoosh” – the Nike logo.

The next day, she was on the phone with the brand manager for LeBron James.

“The hair on my arm is standing up.”

On that call, the project was finally explained in detail: Nike wanted to create a shoe inspired by something LeBron had said in a press interview: “African-American women are some of the strongest people on earth.”

They wanted Brandice to take that spark and run with it, finding designers who could bring the heart of that statement to life through footwear.

I remember literally holding back tears. I said to her, ‘I literally have butterflies.’ And that’s not something I would normally say on a business call, but I just was like whatever. I’m just going to say what I feel.

So I was like, ‘I literally have butterflies while you’re talking. The hair on my arm is standing up. I don’t know what this is all about, but there is something really special here.’

And then she said, ‘I feel the same way.’

I got off that call and again just cried.

I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I just knew, ‘This is something special. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but I have to give this everything I have.’

The first thing they asked Brandice to do was send them a slide deck of potential designers to choose from.

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Brandice with the three designers. Left to Right: Kimberly Goldson, Fe Noel, and Undra Celeste. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

Brandice quickly put together a deck highlighting three designers she’d just worked with at that rained-out event in 2017.

The deck and the designers were so good that Nike wanted all three designers to work on the shoe.

Two weeks later Brandice and those three designers – Kimberly Golson, Fe Noel, and Undra Celeste – were on their way to Portland to have their first design meeting with Nike.

Who we really are.

Right before they walked into the meeting with 20 people from Nike and LeBron’s team, Brandice gave the designers a little pep talk. None of the four women had done anything quite like this before – never worked with other designers, never designed footwear – and Brandice knew the temptation to shrink.

She wanted to show up in her full power, and she wanted to give the designers permission to do the same.

I said, ‘When we go in here, we’re going to be 100% ourselves. If we do this project with Nike, they’re going to take us as we are, not as somebody we portrayed to them.

‘So they can decide, but if they’re buying into us, they’re buying into us.

‘Our real stories, our real personalities, who we really are.’

Brandice and the designers walked into that meeting and set the tone with their talent, strength, power, and magic.

They told their stories. (If this shoe was supposed to be about African-American women being some of the strongest people on earth, could the meeting really start any other way?)

She wanted to show up in her full power, and she wanted to give the designers permission to do the same.

Brandice started, telling the room the story of Harlem’s Fashion Row: the mission, the heart, the ups, and the downs. She cried.

Other people cried too.

Then each designer told her story.

Then the rest of the Nike and the LeBron team went around and told their stories. Colleagues who’d been working together for years were blown away at how much they never knew about the hearts of the people they were working with.

This shoe began in a circle of stories.

“This is it.”

After that meeting, Brandice was given about 40 videos of LeBron interviews to sort through in order to find further inspiration and kickstart the design process.

When she watched the video of LeBron describing his mother – who raised him on her own – with the words strength, courage, loyalty, and dignity, she just knew: “This is it.”

She shared her idea with the team and designers. Their response?

We love it, let’s do it.

Like most great creative projects, the design “changed a thousand times.”

But when they landed on the final design, they just knew.

LeBron loved it.

So did his mom.

The shoe launched in September 2018 at a Harlem’s Fashion Row event at New York Fashion Week.

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Brandice and the designers with LeBron James and his daughter. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.
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The shoe they designed. (The leather band also detaches and can be worn as a bracelet.)

It sold out in less than five minutes.

“I think I’ve finally decided to own it.”

The Nike experience refueled Brandice for the future of Harlem’s Fashion Row. It reminded her what she was really capable of:

Sometimes you don’t know what you can do until you’re put into a situation to do it.

A lot of times we overcomplicate things.

For years, I had had a dream of partnering with a designer to bring things into life, but I didn’t ever feel totally qualified to be able to do it.

That experience showed me what was possible for HFR, what was possible for me, what was possible for designers.

I realized I could help designers realize that even when they thought they weren’t enough – they were.

Even though the designers she brought to Nike had never done footwear before, Brandice saw their talent and knew they could bring something to the table no one else could because of their unique experiences.
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Brandice finally realized that being an “outsider” wasn’t a bad thing.

I think I’ve finally decided to own it.

When we get ideas that feel bigger than us, for some reason we think that we’re not qualified and we feel like an outsider and we feel like, ‘Oh, because I’m an outsider, who am I to do this?’

And then I finally got to the place where I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m an outsider and I’m such a proud fashion outsider.’ I still call myself a proud fashion outsider.

I think when you own the fact that you’re an outsider, it changes things because no matter what, you can hire a publicist, you can hire a marketing team, but no one else can do something that is purpose work for you, ever.

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Brandice with designer Ruth E. Carter, who won an Oscar for her work on Black Panther. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

“Stick with it for 10 years.”

Today, Brandice has been working on Harlem’s Fashion Row for 13 years. She also has an inspiring podcast, an online course on getting event sponsorships, a membership community for designers, and just started a non-profit called ICON 360 in response to the COVID crisis, which provides grants to designers of color.

“People tell you to ‘Go follow your dreams, do what you love,’” she said recently on the Side Hustle Pro podcast, “but they don’t tell you ‘Go follow your dreams, do what you love and stick with it for 10 years.’”

I ask her what advice she has for any creators feeling weary in the middle of their journey – still committed to their mission, but sincerely wondering if they’ll ever get where they dream of going, if they’ll ever be seen:

First of all, I’d say, ‘I feel your pain. I understand how you’re feeling.’

But the other thing I’d say is, ‘If you’re on the right path, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s okay to make pivots here and there, but just stick with it.’

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Brandice with Ciara. Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

Pursuing a dream over the long haul – that consistency, that momentum of people knowing your mission and seeing you putting in the time – builds trust. It helps people think, as Brandice explains:

I can depend on him or her to stick with this. I see his or her vision. I can actually put investment behind this person because they’ve stuck with the same vision for this amount of time.iaac-brandice-daniel-nike-lebron-shoe

That’s a person that I can trust.

And what you’re really doing is a process of building character that you’re going to need for your next phase in life, building the stamina and tenacity.

You’re also building trust from people outside who are looking at you that you don’t even realize are paying attention to you.

Give it everything you’ve got and you are going to be surprised and shocked by what comes to you from just being consistent at one particular thing for a length of time.

A few days before I sat down to write this story, Brandice was contacted by Vogue and interviewed for a piece.

The world is finally listening to what Brandice has been saying – and working toward – for over a decade.

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Photo by Noémie Marguerite.

You can connect with Brandice on Instagram, learn more about HFR, or join her email list at brandicedaniel.com.

The post The fashion outsider appeared first on ConvertKit.

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