By: Adriana Brown
This past year has brought along many trials and tribulations for us all. As we have been faced with foreign challenges, we have learned to preserve with a newly found ferocity. For VCU fashion merchandising students Nana Opoku-Manu and Taniya Evans, this perseverance came in the form of forming a student organization: Blk in Fashion.
When these two students had time to reflect on their careers at VCU as well as their lives during COVID-19, they both realized that they were lacking something integral: a sense of community and belonging. As the Black Lives Matter movement has taught us, it is vital that everyone has a safe space to grow and thrive. For Opoku-Manu and Evans, this space did not exist for them within the fashion program at VCU. So what did they do? They made space.
When asked why she founded Blk in Fashion with co-founder Evans, Opoku-Manu said, “the Black Lives Matter movement was happening, and it was really eye-opening to what the world was doing and what everyone was doing,”. Both founders explained that after being a part of the fashion programs for three or so years, neither of them felt a sense of community or belonging within it. Evans expanded on her feeling of being underrepresented by saying, “we come out with these experiences of not feeling valued or feeling unprepared to go into the industry because a Black person’s experience in the fashion industry is not the same as someone who isn’t Black— in terms of looking for jobs, going up in the industry, negotiating a salary,”.
While the pandemic has sequestered all of us to our homes and computer screens, Blk in Fashion has taken this limitation and ran with it. In their eight months of existence, the organization has hosted several events via zoom. These events have given fashion students the opportunity to hear the testimonies of people within the fashion industry who they can relate to, some being VCU alumni. The purpose of these talks are to “educate and empower” students, as well as the wider VCU community, on subjects related to diversity in the fashion industry.
Blk in Fashion is looking forward to a bright future of inclusivity and representation within the fashion industry. For this organization, it’s all about having the difficult conversations that have otherwise been silenced. It’s about inspiring other students, especially those who are new to the program, to create space for themselves where there otherwise is none.
“To younger students,” the two founders said, “don’t feel discouraged if you’re not seeing people like you. We are here now”.