This year may have not been one of our most winning, but there are still achievements to celebrate; particularly the handful of designers who harnessed the energy and activism of the moment to compel substantive structural changes in the fashion industry and beyond.
As The Glow Up has previously reported, Aurora James, founder of the ethically made luxury footwear and accessories brand Brother Vellies, is one such designer. In June, she launched the 15 Percent Pledge in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the rampant dearth of genuine diversity and inclusion ironically revealed on #BlackoutTuesday. Since that time, Sephora, Macy’s, American Vogue, InStyle, Rent the Runway, West Elm, and more have committed to devoting a minimum of 15 percent of their content and product offerings to Black creators, designers and brands.
“[This year has] been hard, but I think that I’ve used this time to be more self-reflective,” James told former college classmate turned Pyer-Moss founder Kerby Jean-Raymond, a fellow fashion activist and current collaborator with Brother Vellies, during a discussion filmed for the 2021 Footwear News Achievement Awards (FNAA) on Tuesday, where James was honored as Person of the Year (h/t Women’s Wear Daily). “[I’ve been thinking about], ‘How do I want to spend my time on this planet and what do I want people to remember me for?’ Probably not a handbag.
“I think with George Floyd being murdered, I was so over it,” James also added, explaining the origin of the 15 Percent Pledge. “As a business owner, I was just tracking how Black-owned businesses were being decimated—not getting any financing, no PPP [paycheck protection program] money, no VC [venture capital] money. If these retailers actually want to support Black people, this is something they could actually do.”
The 34th annual awards ceremony—often considered the “Oscars of the footwear industry” and taking place during the 75th anniversary year of Footwear News, was laden with Black excellence. As reported by WWD, Cardi B and Rihanna were also honored during this year’s virtual ceremony, which also featured appearances by John Legend, Jaden Smith, Jason Momoa, Virgil Abloh, Christian Louboutin, and André Leon Talley, among others.
Said Legend, who opened the festivities from his piano at home in Los Angeles:
Amidst a devastating pandemic, cascading economic hardships, and a renewed movement for racial justice, 2020 called upon all of us to focus on the things that matter; to reimagine what work and life could look like. To take a hard look at the way we live—not just how we behave personally, but how we allow our fellow human beings to be treated—and to reconsider what we owe to one another. This year has been uncertain in many ways, but we end it with renewed hope for a just future, and an unwavering commitment to make it so. It feels strange to celebrate in these moments that remain uncertain, when divisions can feel deep and untractable but it is in exactly these moments that we must celebrate those doing the work. Seasons of hard work must be leavened with moments of joy and celebration...So no, 2020 has not been perfect, but in its weird, twisted way, I hope it has shown us how to walk together down a new and better road.
“People’s lives are in danger because of who they are,” Legend added later in the ceremony (h/t WWD). “As artists and tastemakers, we have the opportunity to create spaces where all people are welcome to join with Black, Brown and LGBTQ leaders that have been at the vanguard of this movement for so long.”
Flexing in an all-chartreuse ensemble featuring a furry hat with matching sunglasses and sweater, Rihanna shared her Collaborator of the Year award with shoe designer Amina Muaddi, with whom Fenty Maison’s latest shoe collection was created, as well asher “deputy sheriff” at the brand, Jahleel Weaver.
“This is for the culture, this is for the kids, for our clientele, and this is for the community,” said the entertainer-mogul in her acceptance speech.
Cardi B donned feathers to accept her Style Influencer of the Year Award from the king of red bottoms, Christian Louboutin, who described the “Bodak Yellow” rapper and Reebok collaborator as: “A hell of a woman, one of a kind. She stands and fights for what she believes in. She is a force, she speaks her own language…and is the opposite of politically correct” (h/t WWD).
Cardi, who once again found herself in the center of controversy this past weekend as she publicly contemplated the purchase of an $88,000 bag, said:
“I be trying to give y’all different variety. I might do a Birkin with a bathing suit and then I might just do the latest Louis Vuitton, a leather jacket. I like to be raunchy and I like to be chic and elegant,” said Cardi following a montage of some of her fashion shoots. “I get bored with doing just one thing...I’m happy that people like all my looks...I wish I could have given you more looks this year, but [singing] BOVID!” she concluded, flicking her famously long tongue at her translucent award.
Other big winners on FNAA’s biggest night included Versace VP Sneakers & Men’s Footwear Salehe Bembury (who was famously racially profiled while shopping in Beverly Hills this year), awarded Designer of the Year. Veteran shoe designer D’Wayne Edwards (Karl Kani, Pensole) won the Icon Award for Social Impact, presented by two-time NBA All-Star Baron Davis.
The full stream of the 34th Annual Footwear News Achievement Awards is available to view online.