After being under heat by former or current employees and consumers, everywhere you turn, large fashion labels are taking to social media to voice their stance against racism. But the Black community wants to make one thing clear: Posting isn’t enough. Along with the pandemic, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and most recently, Rayshard Brooks, have ignited protests in all 50 states.
The callout among the corporations has grown not just nationwide but also globally. Canadian shoe designer and entrepreneur George Sully is encouraging the fashion community in Canada to go a step further: On June 3, he announced the launch of a new platform, Black Designers of Canada (BDC). It will be the first-ever interactive digital index of Canadian Black designers.
“Creating this is how I negate all of the excuses for exclusion in this system,” Sully said. “Because now you see us.” As the cofounder and designer of shoe labels like Sully Wong, House of Hayla and Shoenado, Sully is a walking testament to the overshadowing of Black creatives in Canada.
Even after large successes like solidifying two installments of his work in the Bata Shoe Museum, his Blackness arguably lends him to little press coverage, which, Sully says, is a double-edged sword. “[Publications] don’t promote us, and then blame it on us that we’re not in the press,” the designer exclaimed. Sully recalls his experience with racism in the industry in other subdued ways, such as when buyers will push his brand off until the end of the season, and eventually say they are “out of budget” to pick up his line. Meanwhile, his White counterparts do not have the same experience.
BDC is a necessary initiative in Canada because, according to Sully, this is one of the very few times that Canada has been forced to take a look at the racism that stirs within its own country, rather than pointing fingers at America. When New York’s “Central Park Karen,” was learned to be a Canadian native, there was no more room for denial. Because the acts of racism in Canada are much more systemic than outright, the argument is often that racism “doesn’t exist” there. However, racism is bred in Canada just as it is in America. While brands and leaders in the fashion industry scramble to compile content that highlights Black designers and creatives during the recent height of the Black Lives Matter movement, the implementation of the BDC index simply asks them to “keep that same energy.”
“We’re not looking for handouts. We’re looking for equal footing,” Sully said. His message is that Black Canadian designers have been here all along and they are open for business—and soon, this index will point anyone who is genuinely ready to support and uplift them in their direction. “If you’re really outraged, let’s turn it into something great,” Sully said. “Don’t ‘like.’ Buy. Don’t post. Invest.”
Black Designers of Canada is asking for designer submissions (referrals or self-submissions) and will be announcing the full index launch soon. Supporters may donate to the ongoing growth of the platform here.