Designer Andrea Pitter on Making the Wedding Industry More Diverse: "Listen to the People Dropping the Coin"
As a talented New York-based designer and bridal salon owner focused on Black women, Andrea Pitter doesn't just make wedding dresses — she makes wedding dreams come true for her brides. Pitter graces the cover of The Knot's Spring 2021 issue, which is available now, and opens up about taking charge to make the wedding industry more inclusive to Black women's needs and to portray Black love in a better light. Pitter leads by example, as her store, Pantora Bridal, was created "as a safe space for Black women" in Brooklyn, and her designs are carried in stores all over the country, including Kleinfeld.
The wedding industry leader also showcases some of her fantastic designs throughout the spread, including a striking white jumpsuit and a shimmery, white belted blazer and matching pants from her ready-to-wear collection. There's also her stunning cover look: a beautiful wedding gown with off-the-shoulder, poufy sleeves, a deep V-cut neckline, and a design of sparkly silver sequins on the bodice. Keep reading for her standout quotes on her road to success, how diversity is much more than surface-level actions, and more. Then be sure to shop her 2021 collection online now.
- On designing dresses and opening a bridal salon: "I knew that in order to sell wedding dresses, I had to be my own seller. So I opened the store in 2013. And we continued to go to New York bridal market and attempt to pick up retailers, but it wasn't that easy. A lot of retailers were playing the comparison game like, 'Oh, you're the Black Vera Wang.' And I was like, 'I'm just Andrea. We don't have to turn me into someone else so it's more palatable for you.'"
- On her journey to success: "So it started off as a 400-square-foot boutique and we opened up an extension store across the street, because it was the closest thing that had more space. Then we realized that it was not ideal for us to be bouncing back and forth from one space to the next. Then our first retailer picked us up, and we realized we were expanding fairly fast. So about three years ago, we moved to Nostrand Avenue, which is about a 3,000-square-foot space. Our team has tripled in size, and we're now sold at four retailers and were recently picked up by Kleinfeld. I'm really excited about that. They're pros and have been really, really supportive."
- On being recognized only as a Black designer: "When Pantora does get recognition, it's often on a 'Black Designers' list. I think a lot of Black designers experience that. Our talent exists year-round, but when we get recognition it's only on 'Black Designers to Know' lists. But if we are talented, and you truly want to give us the recognition, then it should come at any point in time, not just when you want to specifically acknowledge Black talent."
- On wedding gowns being designed for Black women: "I think that Black women have such big spending power. The fact that we aren't acknowledging them in fashion does not make any sense. It just doesn't. I would love for size charts to make sense for different body types. I would love to see designers and brands pay attention to skin tones. Pantora is not the first brand to create mesh that matches skin tones — and we would never claim to be — but we made a point of creating a line of mesh called Forgotten Skin Tones that addresses as many skin tones as possible, so Black women can get the illusion look that's trending everywhere. I would love to see other brands do that."
- On how the wedding industry can be more diverse: "I'd love for people to really understand what diversity looks like, because it's not just including Black women. It's also their thoughts, sentiments, and culture. I think sometimes we think that diversity is legitimately just putting a Black face in the room. But what are the thoughts of that Black person? How does that represent the community? And I don't think any one Black person can represent everyone. I actually understand why everyone may not be as opinionated as I am, because when you speak so loudly about concerns and issues like this, it's very hard to make sure that people understand that you're not trying to be the Black delegate. I can just speak for people who are like me and who think like me, but I can't speak for every Black person. I can defend us and speak up as much as I can, but I can't speak for everyone."
- On Black women's portrayal in magazines: "But I do think that even the way Black women appear in the media is an issue. In bridal photo shoots, when we are included we are often the bridesmaid. We're rarely the bride. Or sometimes it feels like we're a prop. If we were thought of differently, it could change the way the media portrays us. And that goes back to having Black women in boardrooms. It's not just about hiring a Black person. Black people should also be actively making decisions. We're going to get so much further as a society just by realizing what inclusivity means."
- On the challenges Black women face when wedding dress shopping: "I've had too many brides come into our salon and say they've been told they're considered plus-size, and we're looking at them like, 'There's no way.' And it's because they have a booty. Then the dresses that they're being told are the best dresses for them are all A-line or the alterations suggested don't give that little pinch that shows off the booty. We want to show the curves! And it can feel like these ideas are somewhat frowned upon, or people are not necessarily taking the time to understand our body types or our values."
- On the importance of representation in bridal fashion: "We're very willing to accept money from Black women, but we're not willing to accept the thoughts of Black women. Representation is important because I need to be able to see myself when I'm shopping, and I need to know that my voice is heard. I need to know that my money is going to a place that represents my values. Black women do, in fact, get married, despite what the media tells you. Black love is very prevalent, despite what the media tells you. So we need to show as much Black love, Black body acceptance and Black joy as possible."
- On what the wedding industry can do better: "The first order of business is to go hire some Black people and not in a performative way. I've noticed over the past couple of months that a lot of brands have booked more Black models — but what does your core team look like? Because if it does not include Black women, all you're doing is putting a face out there, but you're not representing the values. Maybe a lot of foolishness would stop if we had different opinions being heard. Historically, the wedding industry and the fashion industry are white, male-owned and -operated, but geared towards women. I just think that it's time to listen to the people who are dropping the coin. And I'm so happy that people are waking up and Black women are demanding better."