Black fashion designers matter: A qualitative study exploring the experiences of Black female fashion design entrepreneurs

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Kennedy Benson, Samii
Major Professor
Eulanda A. Sanders
Committee Member
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Organizational Units
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Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management

The Department of Apparel, Education Studies, and Hospitality Management provides an interdisciplinary look into areas of aesthetics, leadership, event planning, entrepreneurship, and multi-channel retailing. It consists of four majors: Apparel, Merchandising, and Design; Event Management; Family and Consumer Education and Studies; and Hospitality Management.

The Department of Apparel, Education Studies, and Hospitality Management was founded in 2001 from the merging of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences Education and Studies; the Department of Textiles and Clothing, and the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management.

Dates of Existence
2001 - present

Related Units

  • College of Human Sciences (parent college)
  • Department of Family and Consumer Sciences Education and Studies (predecessor)
  • Department of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management (predecessor)
  • Department of Textiles and Clothing (predecessor)
  • Trend Magazine (student organization)

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The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of Black female fashion design entrepreneurs by examining how they launched, financed and successfully maintained their businesses. Fifteen female fashion designers, ages 25 to 50 years old, who identified as Black or African American, participated in this study. The participants also met three out of the following criteria: (a) have completed a fashion design certificate or degree program, (b) design and produce a line at least twice a year, (c) participate in at least two fashion shows a year, (d) rely on their fashion design business as their primary source of income and/or (e) have been in business for at least five years.

Through in-depth interviews the researcher inquired into the characteristics, personality traits, background, education and life experiences of Black female fashion design entrepreneurs; the barriers and challenges they face in regards to their race, class, gender, geographic location and other factors; their motivational factors for starting and maintaining a business; how they define and measure success; as well as an identification of resources and educational opportunities that they benefit from. To better understand the lived experiences of Black female fashion design entrepreneurs, the researcher utilized Black feminist thought as the main theoretical position for this research. In addition, other theoretical concepts including, intersectionality, the integration perspective, the social stratification and entrepreneurship framework, disadvantage theory and protected market theory were found to be applicable to this study.

Utilizing interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) as the initial method of inquiry, 16 major themes emerged from the data: (a) family influence, (b) circle of support, (c) community influence, (d) school environment, (e) culture of fashion, (f) travel experience, (g) knowledge seeker, (h) sharing knowledge, (i) knowledge of self, (j) entrepreneurial mindset, (k) business challenges, (l) facing adversity, (m) growth factors, (n) business strategies, (o) success factors and (p) giving back. The interrelationship of the themes presented resulted in the development of a conceptual model of Black female fashion design entrepreneurs’ experiences. The model displays six phases of events experienced by the Black female fashion design entrepreneurs: (a) nurturing environment; (b) acquiring knowledge; (c) building a foundation; (d) experiencing growth; (e) achieving success; and (f) giving back. The experiences of the Black fashion design entrepreneur are reinforced by her circle of support – the network of people who surround her, acting as a “community” to encourage and support her in accomplishing her business related goals. Throughout the Black fashion design entrepreneurs’ experiences she also takes on the role of knowledge seeker, as she continuously seeks and gains knowledge relevant to the pursuit of her entrepreneurial goals.

This study is the first of its kind concerning Black female fashion designers and their experiences of entrepreneurship thus, it significantly contributes to academic scholarship in the interdisciplinary fields of apparel, merchandising, and design, Black studies, women and gender studies and entrepreneurship. The findings of this research can be useful to fashion design and apparel educators and small business consultants who may provide assistance to nascent Black female fashion design entrepreneurs. This information will also inform key fashion leaders in regards to ways of improving the lack of diversity in the fashion industry. Most of all, this research will serve as a source of positive reinforcement for Black women who are in search of examples of successful role models as they pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017