kent state student designers on celebrating blackness through fashion


(from left to right) photo courtesy of brye wheeler, caitlyn bray and simone hester

Fashion students Brye Wheeler, Simone Hester and Caitlyn Bray are working to integrate their Blackness into the fashion industry. Each of them found their love for fashion at a young age and worked to promote themselves and their art as they grew up. 


“My mom gave up picking out my outfits as soon as I could consciously make the decision,” said sophomore fashion design major Brye Wheeler. “I used to dress up all the time, and I loved all the glittery and girly things.” 


As Wheeler grew up, she was expected to grow out of her love for creativity and art. She was encouraged to work in a STEM field or go into a trade – but she was dedicated to fashion. 


“Especially within the Black community, people kept telling me that we needed more people to join trades and do things that are more analytical, and I’m just not the right candidate for that,”  Wheeler said. 


Wheeler does not aspire to have a career in science, but science inspires her work as a fashion designer. 


“I really like taking science and making it into art,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been on a deep sea marine biology kick, so I want to make something to deal with that, very structured, yet feminine.” 

wheeler designed three looks for black united students’ “all around the world” fashion show in april of 2022. // photo courtesy of brye wheeler

Last year, Wheeler had an opportunity to participate in her first fashion show with Black United Students (BUS). The theme was “All Around the World,” and Wheeler was given South America as her continent. Wheeler explained how she worked to challenge herself to stay within the parameters of not just that culture and region but to make something interesting with those influences. 


“I’m participating in this year’s BUS fashion show, and the theme is decades,” Wheeler said. “I chose the ‘70s because I really like the glitzy glam of that era. I like the extravagant glamour, and I think the ‘60s and ‘70s did that really well.” 


Like Wheeler, sophomore fashion merchandising and fashion design major Caitlyn Bray found her love of fashion through putting outfits together. Bray said she wants to help people feel happy and comfortable in their own skin through clothes. 


“I styled my mom once and she told me she got the most compliments she had ever received that day and I guess that’s where it all started,” Bray said. 


Bray wants Black people to be recognized for their influence on the fashion industry. Whether it be hoop earrings or statement belts, Bray wants to incorporate Black culture into different designs and styles, making it her own. 


“I want to help other Black designers start off somewhere,” Bray said. “I want to be bigger than the typical brand names like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Valentino, yet stay within my realm of Blackness.”


Bray said she works to receive the same recognition and attention as her white counterparts within the classroom. Bray explained her instinct to ask for what she believes she deserves. 


“I feel like I’m not going to get as many opportunities for internships or even going into shows because I’m Black,” Bray said. “But I make an effort to do the best I can here.” 


Sophomore fashion design major Simone Hester explained how people in the fashion school often come here with connections. Hester said she learned quickly that she will have to work harder to get to where her classmates are in the industry.


“Obviously I have to work harder to get what I want, I spend a lot of time perfecting my craft,” Hester said. “I have two minors, textiles and art entrepreneurship, so I’m hoping by having all this experience I will be able to get myself higher on the list.”


Hester takes inspiration from streetwear and activewear brands. However, Hester said she is still working on finding what she truly wants to design and make her own. 


“Everytime I see a matching sweatsuit I get really excited,” Hester said. “I also really like denim, and I really want to design some denim pieces.”   


As these Black student designers prepare to enter a predominantly white industry, they explain their aspiration to represent Black styles and culture. Wheeler, Bray and Hester have experienced discrimination in different ways which they say makes them want to stand out more in the classroom and industry. 


Bray said she believes the American fashion industry is based on Black culture and trends. She hopes to enable Black people to get the appreciation they deserve for their leadership in the fashion industry.


“Ultimately I want to be another Black voice, to inspire Black women and men to start their businesses and achieve their goals,” Bray said. 

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Hi! I’m Catie Pusateri, A Magazine’s editor-in-chief. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty and culture. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.