When it comes to the fashion world, there's no denying the direct influence and contribution of Black women.
Although recognition and credit tend to go unsaid, the simple truth is: Black women are the blueprint. As the tides shift within the industry, the true measure of sustainable progress will be weighed by how well the new class of designers and emerging brands are embraced and amplified. However, it's important to note that this isn't a request for permission: this is an announcement. Black designers aren't waiting for a chance for their stories to be told, they're letting their brands speak for themselves. And if you truly want to know where the future of fashion is headed, you must first tap into the rising voices who are creating history today.
Meet Sadé Lewis and Shaniya Charles, the design duo behind the self-titled fashion and lifestyle brand, Sadé + Shaniya. When the two Brooklynites met in their high school English class, their bond was formed over their shared interest in extracurricular activities, like Modeling Club and their desire to dissect the ambiguity of the industry they aspired to break into. As Sadé shares, "I feel like we align on things that we didn't like about the fashion industry and how it real mysterious and superficial, as well as not really seeing people that looked like us at the forefront."
Shaniya Charles, left. Sadé Lewis, right.
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
As graduates of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology, FIT, the pair have been able to combine their talents beyond the textbooks, weaving their story into the fabric of their take on accessible high fashion and ready-to-wear pieces. Drawing inspiration from their personal journey, Black culture, and womanhood, the complex and nuanced experience that Black women share serves as a natural muse for everything they put their hands to.
Their signature design, the Mora Bag, tells a story of the duality of Black womanhood that serves as a stylish and metaphorical reminder to pack light and be light. "The color palettes that we looking into were [colors] that would trigger us to be soft and more vulnerable. There's always the notion that the Black woman is hard, she's strong, and she can do all these things. And she can, but she also has to step into the power of being vulnerable, being open, and being able to feel like you can release," Shaniya shares.
When the innovation of two Black women joins forces, there's no limit to the possibilities that they can unleash. Luckily, xoNecole has a front-row seat to the beginning stages of these dynamic designers, destined to dominate the fashion world on their own terms.
xoNecole: As Black women, sometimes we don't always have control over our narratives. With storytelling being such a huge part of you all’s design process, how does Black womanhood play the role of muse for you two?
Sadé Lewis: The origin of our collections, everything is based off a real story or feeling. For example, The Looking Glass [collection] was very much about looking yourself in the mirror and seeing this multifaceted person. You don't have to fit into one version of yourself, or one version of what people think you should be, you are many things. So that was our individual journey during that time. Literally, accepting us being women who can be everything at once, you know? It definitely always comes from something that we're going through. We don't try to pressure ourselves to create timing. It just comes when it comes. And yeah, it's always from within us, navigating our own lives, then figuring out how can we make a physical manifestation of how we feel.
Shaniya Charles: We also grab inspiration from the woman that we talk to, the people that we deal with on an everyday basis, and the majority of them are Black women. We try to make sure that we're telling their stories as well. Although it's our narrative, we want to make sure that our consumers are connecting to what we're putting out and feel or see themselves in what we are creating.
Sadé Lewis: As Black women, we want to be safe, we want to be able to control our narratives and our lives. This brand for us isn't just popularity. It's so we can have the freedom to be our absolute selves and create how we want to create, tell our story how we want to tell our story, and live how we want to live - and be an avenue for other people to do the same. The overall goal is to be able to support other women and other creatives in their endeavors.
"As Black women, we want to be safe, we want to be able to control our narratives and our lives. This brand for us isn't just popularity. It's so we can have the freedom to be our absolute selves and create how we want to create, tell our story how we want to tell our story, and live how we want to live - and be an avenue for other people to do the same. The overall goal is to be able to support other women and other creatives in their endeavors."
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
Let’s get into your short film which premiered on the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)! That was you all’s first short film too. What was the inspiration behind the 'Green Eyes'' story?
Shaniya: First and foremost, we both love Erykah Badu! Green Eyes is one of our favorite songs. Sadé was listening to the song in the shower. And she came out and she was like, "I have an idea. We're going to create a visual fashion show based on this!" From there, we just started planning out what we wanted the story to be, the garments we would create for it, and how that would be an introduction to our actual collection that was coming up. We partnered with a Black woman to create the film; we wanted to make sure that although it's our story, that the people involved in it were also authentic and Black.
Sadé: That shower moment was literally me listening to the song. It almost felt like I was in a trance. There's no visual for that song, so it was just me envisioning alone and in a way pleading to this man. When it comes to communication between a man and a woman, sometimes it's just not there. We have egos and pride. The story that Erykah was telling was a matter of pride. It's not time to put your pride out there when you really feel this is your person. This is your soulmate, but your pride is literally ruining everything.
It was really cool to work with the director, Kyra Andrews. She has a theme about her work where she does love stories and Black romance shorts. It was really cool to tell her about our ideas and how we connect to the song and see how she could visually support that the film. It was very hands-on for all of us, even the actors in the film. We did it in one day, in the middle of a snowstorm, but it was really fun. Seeing the end result was like, wow.
As two Black women and emerging designers, I’m sure there have been obstacles that you’ve had to overcome through your trajectory. What are some of the challenges that you all experienced starting out?
Sadé: This is an industry that in all honesty, a lot of the cultural, creative, and artistic design aspects do come from Black people - we are at the forefront of a lot of those things. It's also hard as women to be respected and to be taken seriously. I don't know when those challenges will ever end for our people. So when things get hard and we might feel like our message is not getting across or things didn't perform as well as we want it to, we do have each other to remind us why we're here and that we're in it for the long run; we're not in it to be a quick trend.
You both have been friends for over a decade. How has it been working together while maintaining your friendship? How do you all make it work?
Shaniya: Our communication has always been at the forefront. From high school, we've always been very honest with each other. We make sure that we are each others' open and safe space. Even if something's bothering me, or something's bothering her, we try our best to communicate that. And I think the communication aspect and comfortability that we both have in each other allows us to explore different avenues of friendship and business partnership.
Sadé: We don't really have much of a system in place because I know it's important to separate business from friendship; it's not much a strict structure. But I think the both of us know when it's time to talk business and just time to just be friends. We have a good sense of understanding each other's needs. Just having that grace for each other and knowing when to read the room.
"I think the both of us know when it's time to talk business and just time to just be friends. We have a good sense of understanding each other's needs. Just having that grace for each other and knowing when to read the room."
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
The whole “networking across” concept that Issa Rae famously coined has really become a collective mindset for many creatives. For those who are looking for their creative partner-in-crime, what are some tips that you would give to finding one successfully?
Sadé: I would say, be open and honest about your needs. I think a lot of times when people are doing something creative, or looking for a service, they go to Google and type in, "Photographers. NYC." And it's like, you might know someone from your high school or your college who's into photography. I think we have to have more of a mindset of working together. If we all came together with our respective interests, we could be so powerful.
It's not necessarily always about looking up to these big names. Because a lot of the time, they're not going to have the same respect. Or uphold your ideas and your project to the same reverence as someone who is grinding just like you. And then you'll learn who you can really build with. Just be open to the people around you and what they can offer.
Shaniya: Be authentic to who you are. It's a lot of pressure and there's a lot coming at you at once in terms of being creative, but I feel like you should just be authentic to who you are. If you like photography or designer, you'll align with the people that you're supposed to align with. We have so much pressure around us now from social media and a whole bunch of different outlets saying, you should do this, you should do that. But just be authentic and true to who you are as a person. And whatever is supposed to align with you and the people that you are supposed to meet will come your way and those relationships will foster and grow to be what you need them to be.
"It's not necessarily always about looking up to these big names. Because a lot of the time, they're not going to have the same respect. Or uphold your ideas and your project to the same reverence as someone who is grinding just like you. And then you'll learn who you can really build with. Just be open to the people around you and what they can offer."
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
It’s really encouraging to hear that you all are able to lean on each other through the ups and the downs of your journey. Is there anything that you all tell each other to keep each other motivated?
Sadé: We have these little moments where we'll just go to each other and we'll be like, "Girl, you the sh*t." Or, "Wow, you really my best friend, you a bad b*tch." Stuff like that. Also, because we put a lot of storytelling and meaning behind our collection, we use that to align ourselves. This work comes from a place within.
It's always from a place based on the story that we're telling and our experiences together. I feel like that is our anchor; reminding each other that you're creating from a real place. And also, we both come from the fashion industry. We studied it in college and we also work in it. It's like, you really know what you're doing. Just trust yourself and keep going.
To stay connected to Shaniya and Sadé's upcoming collection, and cop a Mora Bag of your own, click here.
Featured image courtesy of Sadé + Shaniya
Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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I'm a wellness founder who currently has no therapist. Now, don't judge me; I'm being vulnerable with you.
A few years back, I felt like my life was shifting and that I wanted to find a new therapist to help me get to the root of what I was experiencing but didn't exactly have the language for it. Almost a decade ago, I was a depressed, socially anxious Black girl in an abusive relationship with practically no friends in college. Fast-forward to now and I'm a grown woman thriving and the founder of one of the largest wellness organizations for Black women.
The shy girl I once was (and still am at times, if I'm being honest) has now led meditations at Coachella, worked with Taraji P. Henson's brand, and produced her own content on mental health and Black women's healing with Foot Locker Women! But can I tell you that deep down, there are days when I still felt like that girl who thought she was broken and unloved?
That realization made me angry; I felt like I had done so much self-work and work in therapy that feeling like that girl again as a grown-ass woman made no sense.
It felt like I was going backward, and I didn't understand why, so I figured the best thing to do was discuss this in therapy. After switching insurance, I was on the search for a new therapist, and I specified to her what I was experiencing and asked if we could work through it together. She seemed kind and supportive, and she was a Black woman, something I wanted in this next chapter of therapy and womanhood as I started therapy in my early twenties and I was now approaching my thirties.
A few weeks into our sessions, she flat-out asked me, "Why are you here?" She couldn't understand why someone as successful as me needed therapy and said to me multiple times during the sessions to follow in so many words, "You don't need to be there, I think you're fine."
Yvonne Orji Therapy GIF by Insecure on HBOGiphy
Her words immediately triggered me because I felt like it was her way of saying as a Black woman, seeing me doing well made her wonder why I needed this support. I left and never went back following that session.
That was almost two years ago. There have been times when I wanted to go back, but I'd tensed up at the thought given the traumatic experience, life will always send us experiences the way that challenge us, and I don't think that never returning to therapy is the answer. Before I even began searching for a new therapist, I processed my sessions with the former therapist and, as best as I could, sent empathy her way.
We can often think that our therapists are going to be perfect and not misstep, but they're human and flawed just as we are. Whether we admit it or not, we all walk have our own biases and ways that we see the world. Perhaps she looked at me and thought, This woman is thriving; what problems could she have? She could have gone through life with no one supporting her once she began to succeed.
As I go back into therapy, I've sat with myself, and I feel confident enough to express myself again and share what I need from them in this season as I interview new therapists. There are many articles to support how to find a therapist, but I want to support you if you're heading back to therapy after taking a much-needed break.
Figure Out Your "Why"
You want to know why you're going back and ask yourself if there is something you may need from therapy now that you didn't need before. Your needs could be the same, but as time goes by, we change along with our needs. It helps to prepare a script as you approach therapists to share, for example: "Hi, my name is ______, and I'm looking for support in ______ in therapy at this point of my life."
In this post-pandemic era, Black therapists and therapists overall are overwhelmed and overworked. I can't even begin to tell you how many therapists I know personally that have stopped seeing clients due to burnout. You might not find the therapist you're looking for overnight, and you could very well be scrolling through potential therapists, getting excited at the idea of a conversation with them, and then discovering they are no longer accepting new clients. Do not be discouraged; your therapist is out there.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Vulnerable
I like to look at therapy in many ways like I look at love. And what I mean by that is much like dating; you are not going to get the experience you're looking for without vulnerability. I challenge you to be transparent with your therapist, they will only be able to help you get to the root of what you need support with if they get to know who you really are, and what you need.
I am rooting for you as you head back to therapy. Know that I am supporting you and cheering you on from the sidelines as we go back and do this healing work together.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image via Giphy