Through fashion, she educates, encourages, and empowers us all to dream without limits as CEO and founder of Harlem Fashion Row (affectionately called “HFR”), which has become the preeminent platform for designers of color to showcase their collections in front of top fashion buyers, editors, celebrities, and influencers. She pushes diversity in fashion and innovates in the dwindling retail industry
MONARCH: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself prior to launching Harlem Fashion Row?
BRANDICE DANIEL: I’m from Memphis, so I attended the University of Tennessee and majored in fashion merchandising. My first job in fashion outside of working in retail was as an allocation analyst for a company named Catherine’s. So I did that, and I eventually left that company as an associate buyer. Then I moved to New York, where I worked in apparel production for a company on Madison and 34th Street.
MONARCH: What countries did you get to travel to in Asia?
BRANDICE DANIEL: I visited Indonesia quite a bit, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Guangdong in China. On those travels, I got a chance to stop in places like Taiwan and Singapore.
MONARCH: So understanding that you didn’t have any plans on starting Harlem’s Fashion Row, what sparked the idea?
BRANDICE DANIEL: I actually thought I wanted to own a boutique. I offered to volunteer my time and services to a boutique that had just opened in Harlem called Yoyama, and I worked there on Saturdays. He paid me, and he would sometimes give me a shirt or something like that. And I quickly realized this was not what I wanted to do. One day I went to a fashion show at a small restaurant in Brooklyn, and while I was there, I had this idea I would like to do this but bring it to Harlem, which is where I live. So I started to look for designers to show in HFR’s very first event. I really couldn’t find any Black designers. It was really difficult to find them. And so I decide we’d show the collection of these boutiques that were popping up in Harlem. A lot of them were owned by the designers themselves, so it was like pieces of Harlem. There was B. Yoyama, there was Denim Library, there were all these upscale boutiques that were popping up. So I asked five of them to be part of the very first show, and four out of the five said yes. The first to sign up was the place where I was volunteering of course. So that was the start of HFR.
MONARCH: What advice do you have for people that want to break into the fashion world?
BRANDICE DANIEL: The first thing I’m going to say is make sure you’re solving a problem with whatever it is you bring to the market because people will then pay you a lot more for it. And then make sure that you understand why you’re doing it. Sometimes people say, “I want to do this,” and I ask, “Why do you want to do that?” And they have no answer. So you always need to have a why that is compelling to you because it’s going to get you through the tough times. It’s not easy.
MONARCH: That’s a very important piece of advice. If you have a purpose for why you’re doing something, that’s going to get you through when you feel like you want to quit. So when you started this journey, did you believe that you would have such a major impact in the fashion world?
BRANDICE DANIEL: I certainly had aspirations for HFR to have a major impact; that was the goal. I always felt like designers deserve to be seen in a space that is really beautiful, shown in a way that demands respect for them and the people we honor every year, to feel proud to be honored on this platform. So that was a major, major goal for me. I still have lots of things I want to do in terms of impact. But we’re getting there.
MONARCH: It’s always baby steps; even when you’ve made an impact, it’s still step by step. How do you find your sponsors? How are you able to fund all of this? Because I know it’s not easy.
BRANDICE DANIEL: No, it’s not easy. First we do a fashion show and style awards in Harlem every year. We have not always done Harlem, but the last few years, we have, and now we’re committed to doing every event in Harlem. It’s always a surprise location, so two years ago we did it. We blocked off 137th Street between 7th and 8th, and we did a fashion show on that street. Neighbors came out. They sat on their stoops. It was incredible. We had Anna Wintour there that year. She presented on the stoop in Harlem. Linda Fargo was there from Bergdorf Goodman—so many great fashion people there watching the fashion show.
This year we did it at Grant’s Tomb, which is in Harlem. It was really beautiful. Every year it’ll potentially be somewhere different, and we usually don’t let the attendees know until 24 to 48 hours before the event. It’s always exciting—where is it going to be? And in terms of our brand partners, this year we partnered with LVMH, which is Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton. In the past, Pinterest has been a partner. We worked with Nordstrom’s support of our events. Tommy Hilfiger is a supporter of our events. Bergdorf Goodman is a supporter. We’ve had really great brand partnerships over the last few years. Last year Banana Republic was a partner. It’s been a long road of figuring out how to get brand sponsors for your niche. As a matter of fact, I have a whole course on it. If you go to my personal website, you can sign up for a free course.
MONARCH: Kudos to you. That’s amazing, a major step with HFR. From the outside, everything looks perfect because in this fashion world that you and I are both a part of, people are always seeing the final product. They never get to see the behind-the-scenes hustle and grind, the stresses that go on behind the scenes. Can you share some hurdles that you’ve experienced along the way on this journey?
BRANDICE DANIEL: I decided I was going to do an event at a beautiful, huge venue at Lincoln Center. I remember that venue cost me almost six figures, which, let me tell you, I did not have. A lot of times my vision for things has not matched my budget, so I usually go with the vision and do a lot of praying: God, how in the world can I make this vision happen, because I don’t have the money for this? Needless to say, I was stressed out because I had made so many commitments, and at the last minute, Target came on board to sponsor the event. So budget matching vision has definitely been one of my challenges.
MONARCH: I had a conversation with a fellow entrepreneur, a friend of mine. We often say that entrepreneurship can be a lonely place if you let it be. To grow, one has to be open and willing to talk to others—people that are steps ahead of you, that have navigated and survived the waters that you’re swimming through right now. Those are the individuals you can learn from.
BRANDICE DANIEL: I call that seeking wisdom. I always say I like wisdom, not advice. Sometimes people say the only way is to experience it, but I don’t agree with that. I think there is a shortcut if you seek wisdom. But wisdom is seeking advice from someone who’s done what you want to do or who’s been where you want to be and has done it successfully.
MONARCH: Do you think the understanding to seek wisdom comes with age? I find the younger generation just wants to go, go, go, and they don’t often want to talk to someone older who’s been there that can guide them.
BRANDICE DANIEL: Yeah, I think the older I’ve gotten, the wiser I’ve gotten, but I also think it’s the experience. With each experience, I think, how do I not go through that again? I should also say that I have mentors that range in age. Some are younger than me, people who are 10, 15 years younger, but they are wise in certain areas that I have yet to wrap my head around. So I’m very open to receiving wisdom from wherever and whomever I can.
MONARCH: Recently, a number of fashion brands are taking steps toward designing a more inclusive and equitable industry. Do you feel like this is a trend, or do you feel like these efforts will be lasting?
BRANDICE DANIEL: I think that if we hold this industry accountable, this will not be a trend. I am of the belief that it is really up to us and what we demand from these brands. In 2020 there was this horrible murder; the whole world stood still, and we all had to look at and absorb everything that came with that, which included understanding the systemic oppression that we’ve had through the years. But also it came from the fact that we as a people were vocal, and because of that, people had to step up. We have to make sure we are continuing to support the people who are still being loud, the people who are still standing up and saying, “No, Black people deserve a place in this industry.” Because Lord knows we have influenced billions of dollars that all of these people have benefited from. So my answer is, in some cases, yes, a trend, in other cases, we’re here no matter how things are going. As we move forward, we have to continue to make the noise.
MONARCH: Now let’s talk about you. Describe your sense of style. What’s your personal style like?
BRANDICE DANIEL: You know, I think I am rediscovering my style right now. When I was in college and high school, my style was very bold. As a matter of fact, my line name was Extravagant because I would wear super bold prints. I was never afraid of color or metallics. But what happened is entrepreneurship. During that process of building a brand, I really put my style on the back burner and put everything into my business. So now I’m in the process of rediscovering that, and I’m having so much fun doing that. But I love a good blazer, a pair of jeans. Right now I’m wearing a top from the Khalana Barfield collection she did with Target. Actually, I have on her pants, and I have on black and gold Nikes. My earrings are actually by Simone Smith, who is LL Cool J’s wife, a Black designer. Everything I have on is by Black designers. The ring is Jonathan Hayden. You know, all of it—necklace, the jewelry, everything.
MONARCH: Live your purpose
BRANDICE DANIEL: I live it totally, yes. Ninety percent of my closet is designers of color.
MONARCH: I love that. That really resonates with me. And that’s important, you know, to walk the walk right. What you’re doing is important to so many of us, and I think, again, because of 2020, more of us are more cautious about where we’re spending and what we’re spending on, even down to the littlest things. I do my best to support Black as well, and I think that’s very important for us to do. How else are we going to help each other grow? I have so many close designer friends, and I know the pain of the finances, the struggles. It’s real out there for them. You inspire so many, myself included. Who inspires you?
BRANDICE DANIEL: Oh my goodness, I have so many people. I’m an avid reader, so I’m reading and listening to podcasts all the time. And there are so many people who inspire me. Lois Alexander Lane is probably my top inspiration. She was doing very similar to what I’m doing with HFR before I got started. She passed, actually, the year I started Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2007. She founded the Harlem Institute of Fashion and the Black Fashion Museum.
Tiffany the Budgetnista is a huge inspiration to me. Watching the business she’s built from such a place of kindness is super inspiring to me. As a mentor, Josh Green is a really big inspiration to me as well. I’m inspired by the designers I get a chance to work with; seeing their journeys makes me so happy. Clarence Ruth, whom we just showed—everything he does is so inspiring. I find inspiration in so many places.
MONARCH: You mention that you’re an avid reader and you listen to podcasts. Could you share with us maybe the last book or podcast you listened to or maybe your favorite?
BRANDICE DANIEL: Right now I’m reading Good to Great. I read it years and years ago, and I’m reading it again right now; I’m getting so much more from it. Another favorite business book that I read is called Unapologetically Ambitious and is written by a Black woman who was one of the CEOs in Silicon Valley. Her name is Shellye Archambeau. As far as podcasts, I love How I Built This; Masters of Scale is another favorite podcast of mine. And lately, I’ve been listening to entrepreneurs on Fire. I love The Great Girlfriend, and that was actually a podcast I founded a few years ago. I’m no longer a host, but it’s still an incredible podcast.
MONARCH: Thank you for those gems. I haven’t read those books or listened to any of those podcasts, but I will definitely put them on my list. So what can we look for from Brandice in the future?
BRANDICE DANIEL: We have something so exciting that we’re getting ready to launch. Make sure you go to harlemsfashionrow. com and that you sign up for our mailing list. Our mailing list is going to be exclusive on this new project we’re launching. We have not launched anything this important since 2007, when we launched HFR. So we are incredibly excited about this project.
MONARCH: We will definitely check it out. We’ll help spread the word. I know it’s always exciting when you have a new launch coming out. So congratulations in advance on that, and we can’t wait to see what’s coming. Before we wrap up, share with our readers where they can find you.
BRANDICE DANIEL: You can find me on social. I’m @brandicedaniel on Instagram. That’s my main platform that I use. You can also go to my website, brandicedaniel.com. There are some free resources there. I also encourage everyone to go to harlemsfashionrow.com.
MONARCH: Thank you, Brandice. This has been a wonderful experience getting to know you on a more intimate level. You’ve done such an amazing job for the community of Harlem, Black designers, and the fashion industry overall.