Fashion and politics have always been intertwined. From the political tees of the 1960s to the support for immigrants at this year’s New York Fashion Week: Men’s, it’s impossible to get dressed without considering the state of the world outside your window. Black Bourgeois founder and chief designer Jerry L. Christian understands this, and has made social activism one of the founding principles of his brand.
“[The election] just reaffirmed what I’ve already known about this country,” he says. “I’m an avid reader of history, so my perspective is usually based on historical context and the correlation to present-day conditions. None of what we’re seeing is new, especially for Black folk.”
But initially, socially conscious designs weren’t part of his business plan. He had a knack for fashion and started his line after several friends suggested it was his next step. “Only as I got closer to launch and started maturing as a man in regard to my social, political, and ethical ideologies did it occur to me that I could combine my two passions and make clothing with a larger purpose on the backend.”
Christian’s biggest obstacle in bringing Black Bourgeois to fruition was his understanding of the fashion world.
“All I knew about fashion prior to embarking on my endeavor was that I like fashion and sneakers, and I know what is dope and what is wack,” he joked. After being connected with industry insiders through his friends, he started learning the ropes. From textiles and pattern making to prototypes and production, he experienced what could only be described as “culture shock”. He soon became a perfectionist, reluctant to release his designs to the world until they were perfect. But he realized it was now or never.
“There’s no perfect timing for anything, and fear tends to paralyze people and prevent them from taking risks or following their heart.” With the 2016 launch of Black Bourgeois, it’s safe to say that Christian wasn’t one of those people.
His brand is defined by fashion-forward cut and sew pieces as well as graphic tees and sweatshirts for both men and women—all of which are manufactured domestically in New York City. Decorated with phrases like “Black Excellence”, “Entrepreneur” (echoing the infamous Supreme logo), and “Love” (scribbled over racism, classism, and sexism), it’s clear there’s a message of black empowerment in his clothing.
“I always say our kind nature and forgiveness is our greatest gift and curse as a people, and until people respect us enough to not take advantage of those things, it might do us some good to be a bit more [kind] to ourselves,” he said.
For Black Bourgeois’ next phase, he’s exploring partnerships with nonprofit organizations like Unstripped Voice, National Urban League, and Gathering Justice. The goal is to work with others who are pursuing social, racial, and economic equity for Black people.
It’s a cause that resonates with Christian’s other career goals. A former finance man, who still dabbles in the industry, he views his previous work as unfulfilling. “I realized me doing finance was living what I was taught was the ‘American Dream’ but not my own dream.”
It seems Black Bourgeois is helping him forge ahead towards a dream that he owns 100%.