Next in Fashion’s ‘streetwear’ episode is a master class of how Black men can be effective and ineffective allies to Black women.
By Paige Robinson
The fashion industry has a racism problem. Fashion trends come and go, but apparently racism never goes out of style. This racism gets confronted, although inadvertently, in a streetwear-focused episode of Netflix’s Next in Fashion. The two guest judges, celebrity stylist Jason Bolden and designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, demonstrate how Black men can effectively and ineffectively support Black women.
Black women are subjected to both sexism and racism, and in an ideal world, Black men would use the privilege they have in a patriarchal system to be allies.
The role of an ally is situational, but it essentially boils down to this: if you have a seat at the table, you better be helping to build more chairs. However, as celebrities like Terry Crews and Snoop Dogg show, Black men are not always good allies for Black women. In many cases, they are never our allies at all.
Jason Bolden has his own Netflix show, Styling Fashion, wherein he and his husband champion diversity, representation and “Black Girl Magic” as a stylist-interior design duo. Kerby Jean-Raymond’s brand, Pyer Moss, is built around activism and he has consistently and loudly called out racism and tokenism in fashion. Both men publicly and vocally support Black women. However, while on Next in Fashion, Jean-Raymond’s allyship is more effective than Bolden’s.
In reality competition show, Next in Fashion—on which both Bolden and Moss serve as guest judges—designer Tan France of Netflix’s Queer Eye and designer/model Alexa Chung are trying to find the “next in fashion.” Designers first compete in pairs and later as individuals by designing and creating clothes to match each episode’s theme. In each episode, outfits are judged by France, Chung and two guest judges.
In the streetwear competition, both Peterson and Simoyi, as Black women from Brooklyn, are connected to streetwear culture in ways that most of the other designers are not. In the episode, Peterson is referred to as “the grand dame of streetwear,” and rightfully so — she designed for FUBU in its early days and later created for brands like Rocnation. Even Jean-Raymond follows in Peterson’s footsteps.
Yet Peterson and Simoyi were set to be eliminated. This is like coming into the house someone helped build and telling them they need to redecorate. So Simoyi pushes back.
“We were given streetwear. And we designed from our perspective,” Simoyi argues.
“…The high-end brands and designers are taking ideas from us every single day. And it only becomes cool when it’s high-end. For a lot of us, minorities and the underprivileged — we want you to see us, but it’s so hard to be seen,” She continues.
Simoyi never explicitly uses the word “Black” but her language is coded in such a way that it’s clear she is talking about race. Then Simoyi appeals to Jean-Raymond and Bolden, “It’s really frustrating because I look to designers like Kerby. I look to you, Jason, because you guys are in those spaces.”
Simoyi is speaking to Jean-Raymond and Bolden as Black men, and calling on them to be allies to her and Peterson.
“The space that you occupy is your space. You have to occupy the space and amplify it. I still go through it and I work with the top people in the business. But what you have to understand is, your struggle is what makes you magic. And if tonight is a no, it does not matter. You need one ‘yes’,” Bolden sympathizes.
Bolden’s response, while meant as reassurance, is insufficient and ineffective, especially as a Black man and a self-proclaimed ally of Black women.
Why do their struggles as Black women in a white, male-dominated space give them “magic”? Why won’t they get this mysterious “yes” today, when both Bolden and Jean-Raymond have the power to give it to them?
On Next in Fashion, Bolden is in a position of power. He’s a judge. He’s part of the Netflix family. Even off-set, as a celebrity stylist, he has the daily opportunity to provide exposure and work for Black designers.
Instead of using his contextual power or promising to work with either designer outside of the show, he chose to tell Simoyi—a Black woman advocating for herself—that this is the way things are, and we as Black people must contort ourselves to fit in the system. He’s speaking to certain realities of the Black experience, but that’s not effective allyship.
Jean-Raymond initially echoes Bolden’s sentiment that Peterson and Simoyi just need one “yes.” Then he decides that since a “yes” isn’t happening here, his “no” to the process itself would suffice. The designer gets mad, says so, and leaves. Walks off the set. Jean-Raymond refuses to be complicit in eliminating Black women from this space. Production is forced to stop because the judges can’t reach a consensus. No one goes home. Jean-Raymond successfully forced the show to forego an elimination. He was an effective ally by leveraging the power he had as a judge and as a Black man in a position of power. His allyship was disruptive and successful.
Being an effective ally doesn’t have to be radical or a grand gesture. It certainly shouldn’t be empty words. As Jean-Raymond proved, it can be as simple as leaving a room and actively refusing to be a part of the problem.
Paige is a soon-to-be college graduate double majoring in American Studies (concentration in race studies) and East Asian Languages and Cultures. She loves all things pop culture, pop music, and entertainment. When she’s not watching Netflix, you can find her working on her creative writing. Follow Paige on Twitter @paiger1616