A new initiative for rising designers, Banking on Style, is leveling the playing field for creatives of color.

Despite the push for more representation in the fashion community, Black designers continue to face significant barriers to success. From securing investors to establishing retail support, forging pathways for long-term growth is critical. Recognizing these unique challenges and the opportunity to provide a platform for creative advancement, ESSENCE has teamed up with Chase Consumer Banking and American lifestyle brand Lands’ End to launch Banking on Style. This exciting program gives emerging fashion designers a platform to elevate their brands through a powerful collaboration and design contest.

Competing in the design contest are accomplished designers Undra Duncan, Sergio Hudson, and Deidre Jefferies. Each created a capsule collection of women’s and men’s tops, and one accessory for the chance to be included in Chase Style, the professional wardrobe worn by Chase branch employees. The winning designer’s collection, produced by Lands’ End, will be available to branch employees in early 2021.

In December 2019, the trio visited Lands’ End headquarters for a chance to meet, kick off the competition, and be introduced to Chase’s trademark color palette and iconic logo. Thus began a monthslong collaboration and integration into developing a collection with an established brand like Lands’ End.

Insight and recognition are not the only benefits of the Banking on Style program, as the winning designer will receive a $10,000 cash prize toward helping advance his or her label. “Finding the right investor is so challenging for a Black designer. It’s hard to find someone who wants to invest in you without taking your entire company,” exclaims luxury womenswear designer Deidre Jefferies.

Throughout the past few months, the fashion community has been hit hard due to the effects of COVID-19. Manufacturers and storefronts have shut down while men’s and couture fashion weeks were canceled. “It’s been a pretty tough time,” explains Undra Duncan, one of four designers chosen to design Lebron James’s first women’s sneaker.

“Being selected to participate in this initiative means so much to me,” says Hudson. The L.A.-based designer’s namesake label has been worn by Beyoncé, Saweetie and other A-list entertainers. “Since COVID-19, business has been nonexistent, so to participate in the project is exciting,” she adds.

Each designer brings a unique style POV to the Banking on Style initiative. Hudson’s mod takes on power suits using color blocking and fringe is dynamic and bold, whereas Duncan’s spin on women’s contemporary wear is a polished approach that includes pops of flair and texture. Jefferies embraces a sleek modern edge to styles that include low-cut jumpsuits and knee-length dresses.

Despite the competitive nature of the initiative, Banking on Style is all about bringing great designers together and celebrating their talent. Connecting with the other designers has been the most exciting part,” Duncan adds. “We mostly work independently, so being able to come together is almost like therapy—but with a lot more laughs.”

The winning designer will be announced across ESSENCE platforms later this year. Come back to see more about the Banking on Style program and get to know the designers and more through our Behind the Seams content series.

Sponsored by Chase.