Candice Brathwaite: ‘At Last Luxury Fashion Is Open To Black Women’

The rise of #LuxuryBlackGirlTikTok led to an online backlash, but we should celebrate the fact women of colour have increased spending power – and clout, says Candice Brathwaite.

Candice Brathwaite

by Grazia |

I’ve got to admit it, when it comes to luxury fashion, my heart has always been bigger than my pocket. When I was 17 and working part-time as a receptionist, I promised myself that when I made enough money I would acquire a classic Chanel flap bag with gold hardware. In the meantime, all my paltry salary could stretch to was luxury fashion magazines. No one could truly identify what colour my bedroom walls were as I’d taken to papering them with the high-end ads. I was manifesting before it became fashionable.

Luckily, three years ago, my pocket and the price point of the things I desired levelled out. My first investment piece was, you guessed it, that Chanel classic flap bag. I still balked at the cost of a brand-new one, settling for vintage. I was and still am so proud of that bag. Having a social media platform meant I shared what, for me, was a big moment – although I worried about alienating others. I settled my fears by telling myself that, if I were 17-year-old Candice, I’d want to see myself enjoying a version of luxury that historically women like me have been excluded from.

Half a decade since that first shared moment and so much has changed. Now, there seems to be no shortage of Black female luxury-content creators. I know this because I subscribe to most of them. Having had to play on the outskirts of luxury fashion for so long, it’s truly a wonder to see Black women enjoying the spoils of fashion houses that once seemed to have their doors firmly closed. But while I have been encouraged by seeing women who look like me exploring this area, not everyone has felt the same.

Late last year, #LuxuryBlackGirlTiktok began trending: a hashtag where Black women could share their latest luxury purchase, fabulous holiday or champagne-fuelled mani-pedi. Quickly, the backlash began. The discussion – sometimes hate disguised as ‘critique’ – wasn’t coming from white or Asian women, but Black women who openly questioned whether Black women purchasing luxury was actually us using our spending power to align ourselves with whiteness. In response, the hashtag #RegularBlackGirlTiktok was formed. While this included great content of Black women going about their regular days, it also provided a lot of negative commentary regarding the purchasing choices of other Black women.

‘It’s as if they think that buying a Birkin will erase their Blackness,’ one woman said in a video. ‘I don’t know, it’s like they think that getting these things will keep them safe because it comes across like they aren’t any Black girl, they are THAT Black girl. I just don’t see the sense in dropping dollars on brands.’

While I wanted to dismiss that rhetoric, there was some truth in the discourse that many Black women end up feeling that way. Many fashion houses have disrespected one of their most loyal customer bases, perhaps because history has shown that we don’t cancel certain brands for long enough to dent their income. Who can forget the story of a shop assistant allegedly refusing to show Oprah a designer bag because she didn’t recognise her, and therefore deemed the price point to be out of her range? (The shop assistant has strongly denied declining to show the bag on grounds of race and says she offered to do so.)

I myself can’t escape my subconscious being conditioned to question Black women who share their luxury purchases. One afternoon while idly scrolling online, I came across a Black luxury-content creator I admired. She was unboxing a Chanel flap bag not too dissimilar to the one I stuck to my teenage bedroom wall. The difference here was that this was another one of many.

‘Gosh, where does she get her money?’ I mumbled to myself. Immediately, I clasped my hand over my mouth, embarrassed that I would wonder that when it has never crossed my mind watching the white women I follow who seem to purchase a Birkin every month. Because since I was that 17-year-old plastering my walls, all I had ever seen was white women enjoying luxury.

With that in mind, I decided to make a video explaining my thoughts and self-reflection. This sparked a hearty and necessary IG Live conversation between me and four other Black female luxury-content creators who had also been judged for their desire to own certain heritage brands – many of which now include the work of high-end Black designers.

But that’s the other positive. Just as social media has made it easier to see Black women enjoying their version of luxury, Black designers are getting in on the action too. Securing a Brandon Blackwood or Telfar bag has become a sport in itself. Brands such as Christopher John Rogers, LaQuan Smith and Pyer Moss have helped colour the landscape, for lack of a better term. It has been awesome to watch them be as revered as the more famous fashion houses who don’t necessarily know how, or want, to speak to a Black demographic.

Of course, it would also be remiss for me to speak about luxury and not analyse how much Black women’s spending power has increased. Now more than ever there are greater numbers of Black women having more disposable income to hand, meaning that they can finally make financial decisions outside of just having to get by.

While new research is sparse, one 2012 study showed that Black Minority Ethnic purchasing power in Britain was growing to a combined disposable income of £300bn. US-based studies, meanwhile, show a 5% annual increase in the spending power of Black households over the last two decades, outpacing the 3% growth of white households. Globally, the luxury market needs us – management consultancy Bain & Company reports that it shrank by 20% due to the pandemic and is currently worth approximately €1 trillion (back to 2015 levels). All of a sudden we not only have the spare coins, but extra headspace to create a luxurious lifestyle on our own terms.

I can’t lie, this debate about why Black women want to enter the luxury space has made me reflect on why I gravitate toward certain items. Do I truly crave the craftsmanship and the idea of it being an investment piece? Or have I been sold the fallacy that being able to purchase a designer bag, shoe or watch will be my physical marker of having ‘made it’ in a world where Black women often feel that their dreams are out of reach? That is still up for debate.

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