Sustainability, Community, Storytelling: The Rising Designers Defining Luxury's New Era

When you think of the term luxury fashion, what comes to mind first? Maybe it’s an iconic style like the Chanel flap bag or the employment of high-end materials on a fabric label. No matter what metric you use to measure the value of an item, I think we can all agree that the world of luxury fashion is often steeped in exclusivity, mystique, and as far as the current “quiet luxury” movement is concerned, a lot of monotonous silhouettes. It’s not to say that any of those things are negative on their own, but with the prices of luxury goods skyrocketing and designers commanding ever more for their products, shoppers are getting more discerning than ever. Are those thousand-dollar pumps going to hurt to walk in? How well will that leather handbag really age? And perhaps most importantly, what am I actually getting in return for this investment?

The more shoppers get wise to where their dollars are going, the harder it becomes for brands to offer the bare minimum. No longer is it enough to simply take a product made with high-quality materials and a well-designed label and sell it at an upmarket price. Now, the luxury shopper is more tuned-in. They’re looking out for what not only looks and feels good, but pieces that tell a story, are made mindfully, and present the opportunity to be a part of a community that’s bigger than themselves.

While established brands are scrambling to stay relevant in an environment led by fickle algorithms and growing Gen Z customer bases, there’s an influx of younger names coming onto the scene who are resetting the bar for what a luxury label can be and it’s time we look to them as the new standards. Whether its an ongoing commitment to underrepresented garment workers, an aesthetic world steeped in cultural heritage, or a stringent standard of ethical and local craftsmanship, three young designers—Nia Thomas, Jacques Agbobly, and Áwet Woldegebriel—are the mavericks behind luxury fashion’s next chapter. And they demand to be heard.

rising Black fashion designers

(Image credit: Nia Thomas)

When you see a Nia Thomas piece in the wild, you immediately know its origins. Thomas, a New York-born, Mexico City-based knitwear designer is behind some of the most exciting resortwear pieces right now, something that the discerning buyers at Moda Operandi and Shopbop and editors at Vogue and The Cut have given their sought-after stamps of approval to. “If it automatically makes me want to go on a trip or start dancing, then it’s I know it’s going to be a best seller,” Thomas explains to Who What Wear. Her designs are emotional, instinctual. Looking at them, you’re mentally transported to the shade of a palm tree on a stretch of white sand beach or to the heat of the dance floor where you can almost feel the pule of the rhythm beneath your feet. For the designer, it’s all about invoking these emotions of joy. Beach and vacation attire are naturally at the core of things with items like the best-selling Sessa Crocheted Shirt, an open weave cabana-style button-up that Thomas says is boasts a pretty even split between its female and male customers. Yet a peek at the fall 2024 collection confirms that her knitwear vision is excitingly heading for our colder-weather wardrobes, too.

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