Brandon Blackwood, an innovative designer with Jamaican-Chinese roots, has made a profound impact in the fashion world through his self-named handbag line. His cutting-edge and contemporary designs have garnered global acclaim, attracting a vast and devoted following due to his unwavering commitment to authenticity and social awareness. Particularly noteworthy is his iconic ‘End Systemic Racism’ (ESR) tote, which made its debut in 2020 amidst a significant period of civil unrest, symbolizing his passionate dedication to combating systemic racism and standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. With a growing roster of celebrity fans and a prominent presence within the fashion industry, Brandon Blackwood’s influence remains steadfast, reshaping norms and showcasing the transformative power of fashion as a force for positive change.
From Humble Beginnings to Media Sensation
During his formative years, Blackwood split his time between New York City and Tokyo. His passion for fashion design emerged early, and he crafted handbags for friends throughout middle school and high school. Despite his family’s expectations for a career in science, he initially pursued neuroscience at Bard College but ultimately graduated with a degree in American Studies after changing his major. During college, he interned at Elle and Nylon magazines, and after graduating, he worked at Crossroads Trading, buying and selling trendy second-hand clothing. Encouraged by stylists and editors he met during this time, he ventured into professional design.
Back in 2015, a friend who worked as a writer at Essence magazine inspired him to start his own line. Determined to realize his dreams, Blackwood managed to save $3,000 and requested an additional $4,000 as a belated graduation gift from his mother. Using these funds, he crafted four purses and covered the cost of producing samples. After photographing his creations with friends, he presented the images to his friend at Essence, who ensured the purses were swiftly featured in the magazine. Subsequently, his handbags gained attention and were soon showcased in Elle and Galore magazines.
Mr. Blackwood’s life took a dramatic turn when he introduced the ESR tote. His Instagram following skyrocketed from nearly 30,000 to over 300,000
In 2020, at the height of civil unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd, Blackwood gained widespread recognition with his internet-famous handbag, the ESR tote. This tote, which boldly displayed the phrase ‘End Systemic Racism’ instead of his usual company name, became a best-seller and a symbol of authenticity and social consciousness. A portion of the profits from its sales were donated to local non-profit organizations and to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization working to provide legal representation for racial and ethnic minorities in civil rights cases. Blackwood’s actions became part of a worldwide movement as consumers increasingly sought out brands that championed racial, gender, and financial equality.
The Hollywood Effect
Since then, his eponymous handbag line has flourished as many celebrities have embraced Blackwood’s handbags, including Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Brie Larson, Amandla Stenberg, Cardi B, Zoe Kravitz, Solange Knowles, Keke Palmer, and Kim Kardashian. Notably, one of his totes was featured in the music video ‘Fast (Motion)’ by American rapper Saweetie. Additionally, the hip-hop duo Trill Dollar released a song titled ‘Bag (Brandon Blackwood)’ in 2021. For a recent ad campaign featuring the May collection, Blackwood collaborated with Saucy Santana, a gender-fluid rapper from Miami, drawing more attention to the brand.
Still early on in his career, here are three cool and inspiring things about Brandon Blackwood…
He has designed for the Queen of Pop, Beyoncé
Blackwood recently did work on Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour’, perhaps the biggest moment of his young career. She opened the tour in his custom-made ice blue gown with matching gloves and heels. Beyoncé had the internet buzzing about who she was wearing. The star-making turn has solidified Brandon Blackwood as one of the top designers of note in the current era.
Collaboration with Starbucks
Blackwood recently partnered with Starbucks for their #SipandSlingCollection with the introduction of sleek pouches for fashionistas to hold their favorite drinks. The cupholder purse, made of leather and available in two shades, has become an instant classic.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Brandon Blackwood Team Up
Blackwood became an inspiration for not only young designers but people of color everywhere when he was invited by Vice Present Kamala Harris to discuss the roadblocks faced by Black entrepreneurs. Noting the disadvantage that Black people often start at, Blackwood spoke up about the needs of POC entrepreneurs to receive funding, programs, and other opportunities in order to level the playing field.
What the Future Holds
Despite initial challenges and being turned down by some retailers in the past, Blackwood’s unique branding and powerful message has garnered attention and changed perceptions. As a result, retailers who previously showed no interest in his designs are now keen to collaborate with him. Looking ahead, Brandon Blackwood aims to nurture his brand’s growth further and expand into lifestyle designing, such as creating candles and clothing, providing his customers with a deeper insight into his identity and the brand’s values. His dedication to authenticity and social impact continues to resonate with an ever-expanding audience and showcases the power of using fashion as a catalyst for positive change.