There’s been much to unpack about the fashion industry’s connection to the the black experience within the past month, and it hasn’t been an easy discussion. Recent milestones have included the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover, the exposure of widespread challenges faced by black people in the industry, and Nike’s affiliation with Colin Kaepernick as the face of its anniversary campaign — all of which have felt like meaningful, collective steps toward diversity.
Those small victories fueled a celebratory feeling at Harlem Fashion Row’s awards gala on Tuesday night at the Capitale in New York. Co-hosted by Nike and LeBron James, the event was a black-tie dinner, fashion show, and awards ceremony all in one — and it ended with a surprise unveiling of James’s latest Nike shoe: the first performance LeBron sneaker for women, and the first designed by women.
The three African-American fashion designers who created the shoe — Undra Celeste, Kimberly Gibson, and Fe Noel — presented their individual collections in a runway show at the start of the Harlem Fashion Row event. In the early stages of the sneaker’s production, they sat down with James to discuss his personal influences and decided to focus on the theme of strong African-American women as the basis of their design. James echoed the sentiment onstage at the gala during the unveiling, and thanked his mom: “Because of you, Gloria James, I am able to give back — her sense of pride and sense of strength.”
The evening’s awards and speeches celebrated industry heavyweights like Bethann Hardison, stylist Jason Rembert, and legendary Harlem designer Dapper Dan. “I’ve never been honored,” Dan told the Cut after his speech. “Tonight makes up for all those years that I missed. It’s like all of this is coming together, like two parallel universes coming together.”
Founded by Brandice Daniel over a decade ago, Harlem Fashion Row champions multicultural and emerging fashion designers by giving them a runway to present their collections at New York Fashion Week. Watch the short film below to see how the HFR x LEBRON 16 came together.