La La Anthony and Kahlana Barfield Brown on Celebrating HBCUs and Black Designers
The fashion world has made incredible strides when it comes to championing inclusivity, especially for Black designers. Long gone are the days when an industry titan like André Leon Talley was the only Black person in the room at a runway show. Though there's still a long way to go, the Black community is gaining more visibility in fashion, from editors and stylists to designers. In fact, some of the most anticipated collection debuts and runway shows are from Black-owned brands, like Christopher John Rogers, Theophilio, Harbison, and Sergio Hudson. Even Bridal Fashion Week has welcomed names like Hanifa and Andrea Osei Bride to great acclaim. This past New York Fashion Week season gave us another era-defining moment on the journey to more representation: the Big Motion HBCU Runway in partnership with UPS.
"The goal is not only to spotlight the incredible talent emerging from our institutions but also enrich the fashion world with fresh perspectives, diverse voices, and a commitment to inclusivity that the industry needs."
Three HBCU alumni designers showcased their collections using $150,000 in small-business grants from UPS: Nola McEachin and Shaq Robotham of The Brand Label, Undra Duncan of Undra Celeste New York, and Chelsea Grays for her eponymous label. Celebrities like actor La La Anthony, who attended Howard University, showed support from the front row. "Everyone needs a platform to showcase their work, so it's something I wanted to get behind," she told POPSUGAR. "To see such a huge partner like UPS put money into these designers in front of all the movers and shakers of New York was really a moment. You can have a great product, you can have great whatever, but you need the exposure and you need the eyes on it."
Fashion and beauty expert and editor Kahlana Barfield Brown, a proud Howard University graduate, was on hand to help select and mentor the show's designers. "The goal is not only to spotlight the incredible talent emerging from our institutions but also enrich the fashion world with fresh perspectives, diverse voices, and a commitment to inclusivity that the industry needs," she said.
In the spirit of HBCU homecoming season, we spoke to Anthony and Barfield Brown about their experiences at Howard University and their hopes for the future of fashion.
La La Anthony on Attending Howard University
POPSUGAR: Tell us the story behind how you got into the entertainment industry.
La La Anthony: I started when I was like 16 years old, interning at a radio station in Atlanta, myself and Ludacris at the time. My love for music then took me to LA to work on the radio, and then MTV, and then acting. I also went to Howard for half a year as a communications major. So I got a real quick piece of the college experience, but enough that it really helped shape who I am and my career, for sure.
PS: How did attending an HBCU shape your style and the woman that you are today?
LA: Although I went to college for a short time, it gave me so much independence. It taught me how to live on my own, especially since I was staying on campus with a roommate that I had never met before. So you learn how to live with someone that you don't have any history with and explore so many different people from different backgrounds, whether it's culturally or financially. It really gave me a lot of skills that I then used as my career continued to evolve.
La La Anthony on the Future of Fashion
PS: What was your first experience with fashion, and why do you love it?
LA: I was always a tomboy, but I love fashion because it allows everyone to be their unique selves. You can tell a lot about a person in the way that they dress, and that became an outlet to really be who I was. In my earlier years, I was a sneakerhead where I would showcase all the best sneakers that I bought, and I would be so proud that I could save my money to buy them.
Now I think fashion should be fun and whatever you feel. People sometimes are like, "OK, what are the trends now?" I don't think too much about them anymore. The trends are whatever you feel good in. It's just how you wear it and the confidence when you wear it.
PS: What are your hopes for the future of the fashion and entertainment industries?
LA: I just hope to continue to see great Black talent emerging. There's so much more we can do, so many more stories to be told, and so many more fashion rules to be broken. Just to continue to support these up-and-coming designers, young and old. We run to all these fashion shows, which are great, but it's also great to put into our own.
Pictured: Chelsea Grays
Kahlana Barfield Brown on Attending Howard University
PS: As a proud HBCU grad, how did your experience at an HBCU shape your style and the woman you are today?
Kahlana Barfield Brown: Growing up in Seattle, my style was always different, and when I got to Howard, it was the first time I saw other Black girls who spoke the same fashion language as me. Everyone represented their regional style to the fullest — students from NYC to the Midwest to the West Coast. I was influenced and inspired to put my best foot forward every day. And we always walk across the yard in stilettos, no matter what.
Pictured: Kevin Warren, Shaq, Nola, Chelsea Grays, Shiona Turini, Alexander-Julian Gibbson, Kahlana Barfield Brown, and Undra Duncan
Kahlana Barfield Brown on How Black Culture Influences Her Style
PS: How does your culture influence your approach to fashion?
KBB: Black culture shapes not just my approach to fashion but also my entire artistic perspective. Whether it's drawing inspiration from the creativity of Black musicians, athletes, activists, artists, and more, it's a celebration of individuality and self-expression. I also feel a profound responsibility to honor and pay homage to my culture by actively promoting and supporting Black designers, creators, and voices within fashion, so Black excellence continues to thrive in the industry.
Pictured: Undra Celeste New York
Kahlana Barfield Brown on Her Introduction to Fashion
PS: What was your first experience with fashion, and why do you love it?
KBB: I was 3 years old when my fascination with fashion began. I always wanted to stand out, so I'd turn my shirts into dresses and my dresses into tops. My parents would gas me up and always encourage me, and my grandma was my fashion idol. She was that person that always said, "Your sense of style is a reflection of you." That's what people see first. It's your image.
Pictured: The Brand Label
Kahlana Barfield Brown on the Future of Fashion
PS: What are your hopes for the future of the fashion industry?
KBB: I would love to see a fashion world that truly embraces diversity in all its forms, from race and ethnicity to body size, gender, and beyond. I hope to see inclusivity not as a trend but as an integral part of the industry's DNA, meaning more inclusive sizing, diverse models, and authentic representation at all levels of the industry, from designers to decision-makers. Ultimately, I hope the fashion industry becomes a powerful force for positive change, promoting acceptance, empowerment, and equality for everyone.
Pictured: Designers Nola and Shaq of The Brand Label, Chelsea Grays, and Undra Duncan of Undra Celeste