Meet the Activist Organizing Black Lives Matter Protests at Men’s Fashion Week

Black Lives Matter demonstrators at men's Fashion Week.
Black Lives Matter demonstrators at men’s Fashion Week. Photo: Matthew Sperzel

Just to the right of the menswear peacocks angling their Yeezys toward street-style lenses yesterday was a line of silent figures with raised hands, wearing shirts with slogans including “Stop Killing Us,” “Walter Scott,” and “Sandra Bland.” This small-scale Black Lives Matter demonstration, held all day in front of men’s Fashion Week’s HQ, was the brainchild of Hannah Stoudemire, a blogger who works in sales at Lanvin. Stoudemire was moved to protest after she noticed the paucity of designers posting about the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings. She spoke to the Cut about the thinking behind the demonstration and the surprising reactions — both heartwarming and frustrating — that the group elicited from Fashion Week’s attendees.

What kind of reaction did you get from people? Did anyone initiate conversations?
I came to men’s Fashion Week to get the CFDA to recognize us, because they’re an American organization and black American designers have graduated through [the CFDA Incubator] and won CFDA Awards. For them not to issue a statement or offer any acknowledgment hurts. They use black culture, our music, and our models, so they should at least acknowledge that it’s happening. And that mission was accomplished when [CFDA CEO] Steven Kolb approved the CFDA [account] posting our picture.

I ran over to him and I told him I really do have to thank him, because I had been in love with fashion since I was 4 years old, and I was very disheartened to find out that the thing that I loved the most didn’t love me back. I broke down on him, crying, and he just embraced me. He took the time, he listened to me. He commented under the CFDA photo on Instagram, “Thanks for the hug. You made my day.”

Do you feel like you accomplished what you wanted to with this demonstration?
Absolutely. This is a major first step, and I think it only goes up from here. Steven is a major person, and whatever he does or says, [fashion] people look to him. All we needed was someone to acknowledge it. Maybe they’ll be inspired by his boldness to stand up for something that’s right. It’s not political, it’s bipartisan — we’re humans.

Were your fellow demonstrators also in the fashion industry?
Some were, but I mainly reached out to strangers. A girl that I didn’t know came all the way from Westchester. She got up at 6 a.m. to come to New York City and put $30 in a meter to stand with us today. And someone that I invited from Brooklyn who is my friend, who is black, did not leave their house and come out.

Why do you think some people were reluctant to be involved?
I think a lot of people are selfish and are worried that their association with this will be viewed as militant and angry. And I wasn’t angry at all today. But I think they’re afraid, and I think they think that they’ll lose endorsements or partnerships.

Or followers.
Yes, especially black bloggers, black stylists, they’re afraid to associate with what we were doing because they didn’t want to be … that type of black. “I’m the cool black [person], I’m not that,” you know?

We got a lot of scoffs, handshakes, eye-rolls, a lot of people arrogantly walking past. People purposely sat in groups [in front of us] and took photos of their shoes and discussed where their latest jacket was from. Lives matter more than clothes. If we aren’t alive to create these things, then you won’t get the art.

You were near a lot of people who were shooting street style and who were posing hard, which was kind of an ironic placement.
I called [Public School designer] Maxwell Osborne out. I saw him by our meetup spot, which was DVF on West 14th and Washington, and he was by the High Line. He saw us gathering, looked to see what was going on, and saw our shirts, and he kind of disappeared behind a building. Then we saw him again at the venue — he walked right past, him and his partner [Dao-Yi Chow], and they’re both minorities — he dodged us, he ducked his head, and he didn’t acknowledge us at all. He wouldn’t even look at us.

And [Brother Vellies designer] Aurora James, that’s another one I’m calling out. She posted something on her personal Instagram, and it was very subtle. It was a safe post about having a discussion at the Brother Vellies shop. And then I went to the brand’s Instagram, because the brand is what matters. You source from South Africa and Kenya; you’re not going to put #BlackLivesMatter, are you serious? You profit off of it it, but you won’t post about it? I would love for them to respond. [Note: We reached out to a rep for Osborne, who had no comment. We have also reached out to a rep for James and will update this when we hear back.]

I used to like them. Not anymore. Unfollow.

Was there anyone else you really engaged with?
A photographer came from the pit, with his tripod and all his equipment. He took his shot, and then he came back across the street and he stood with us. And the workers at Skylight Clarkson Square came out and brought us water. It was a beautiful thing.

Will you be demonstrating again?
I will do it again for women’s Fashion Week, but I’m not going to say when or where. That’s the No. 1 thing: the element of surprise. [The crowd’s] reaction was priceless because it was unexpected.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Activist Behind Fashion Week’s #BLM Protests