Town Hall 5: BrownMill and SDN: Black Owned Businesses at The Canvas

By: Eline Steurs

The Canvas’ fifth Town Hall featured  Black owned businesses in The Canvas community.  Speakers included Johana Supreme, head of PR from BrownMill Company, Kwaku Boateng Agyemang, Co-Founder of BrownMill Company and Marcus Hicks, Founder of SDN Brooklyn. 

Johana Supreme, Head of PR of BrownMill Company 

 Kwaku Boateng Agyemang, Co-Founder of BrownMill Company

BrownMill Company is an innovative lifestyle brand of luxury clothing touted as a combination of bespoke tailoring and street wear. All of BrownMill Company's clothes are produced using recycled textile material driven by a strategy called Urban Upcycling. Pieces of salvaged material are incorporated into every design, creating entirely new garments crafted to perfection. The style is further motivated by its ties to the community and to the urban backdrop in which it began, drawing heavily from the black and brown cultural experience in America. The clothing and accessories produced by this company range from hats and tops to outerwear and pants. Each customer receives a custom product, individual in its own right, just as BrownMill Company stands as a unique clothing brand in an industry of imitators. By allowing their cultural background as Black Americans, in addition to familiar high-end brands like vintage Ralph Lauren, and Savile Row Tailoring, to inform their clothing style, BrownMill Company strives to bridge the gap between streetwear and high fashion. Sustainability is a pillar of BrownMill Company's business and life practices. The company's mission is to reduce waste and inspire sustainable lifestyles.

Marcus Hicks, Founder of SDN Brooklyn

SDN is a Brooklyn-based clothing company focusing on sustainability, forward design and a commitment to progressive causes. They strive to use organic and sustainable textiles as well as local and fair labor. SDN works with Doctors Without Borders by donating a portion of the proceeds of EXTRA SHADY baseball cap. They also donate to New Alternatives, an organization assisting homeless LGBTQ, from the sales of our Ona Judge Wrap Dresses. SDN aims to "do" fashion differently. To make a difference, be responsible and foster community.

Community Action

The discussion began with the question: 

What can we as a Community do to help the movement?

The importance of having discussions concerning race and Black Lives Matter was raised, even if it they are uncomfortable or awkward to have. These conversations must be followed up with action and speaking out, even if we feel as though we don’t have the perfect words. Making mistakes shouldn’t discourage us from advocating, but instead inspire us to reflect, learn, and do better.

“Spontaneous Activism”

At this moment, we are seeing a lot of ‘spontaneous’ activism from brands that either have not supported social justice issues in the past, or that even have a history of discrimination themselves.

How do we tell the difference between companies who post just to avoid being called out, versus those who genuinely want to make a change?

 In this situation, it’s important to look out for authenticity. Are these brands just posting, or are they following up with action? Why are they just speaking up now? This generation is one that dares to speak its mind, and isn’t afraid to call people out on their performative acts.

This brought up the question: 

How do you, as a brand or individual, make sure you're advocating authentically?

Advocating authentically happens with introspection and recognizing intentions. It is necessary to ask yourself difficult questions like, 'Am I posting this just to follow a trend, or am I committed to learning more about this issue?" This highlighted #blackouttuesday. Although the intentions were positive, it exposed the lack of real action being taken. He asserts that sometimes words aren’t enough—we need action.

Tokenizing BIPOC

In an effort to support the movement and dismantle corporate racism, many companies promise to deliver greater diversity by providing more opportunities to BIPOC. However, this needs to be bigger than ticking a box or fulfilling a quota.  It is equally important, especially in this moment, for companies not to expect their BIPOC employees to assume the role of the diversity spokesperson. 

 Although this double role can take a mental toll, it was argued that BIPOC are the people who must be consulted on topics pertaining to race because they are the most qualified people to do so. With this, there is an increased need to have more than just one BIPOC in the room. Companies need to ask themselves—why aren’t we more diverse, and what can we do about it? 

This poses the issue of tokenizing. It is crucial to make everyone on team feel included, valued, and listened to from the very beginning. BIPOC should not just be consulted on race issues in times of crises. If everyone feels like they are part of the team from day one, nobody will feel like a token.

Town Hall 5 Reading & Viewing List:

Click below to listen to this discussion on Spotify.