Written by: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Introducing Nareasha Willis, creator and lead visionary behind AVNU, an apparel line notorious for the viral tag, Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Nareasha as the ladies talk about #BlackVogueMovement, cultural appropriation and bringing ‘ghetto’ back in style.
Nareasha – I am such a fan of your work and completely stand by #TheFightForBlackVogue. How did you get your start in fashion?
As a child, I was always fashionable. I attended a charter school where I had to wear uniforms, and I remember always matching items to make my uniform look better. I attended Seton Hall University, where I studied journalism. During my sophomore year my mom sat me down and asked me why I didn’t pursue fashion. I always excelled in school and was conditioned that smart people had to pursue careers such as a doctor or a lawyer. I struggled with pursuing a career in the fashion industry. I couldn’t afford designer clothes so I had the mindset I didn’t fit in. I realized you should always create what you want to be apart of. I created my own platform Avenue N in 2013 to showcase my street style and to highlight Black designers.
Do you remember when Amandla Stenberg made that video about cultural appropriation a few years ago that sparked conversation about the representation and dis-configuration of Black culture? How do you feel that cultural appropriation has changed what is considered “fashion” and “style” today?
According to Amanda Steinberg video on cultural appropriation, the same patterns are still happening, not only in the fashion industry; the music industry as well. Cultural appropriation is even in language. The usage of the term “girl, bye” or other slang we may use. It is deemed as a lack of education or “ghetto” when a person of color uses certain terms. Although trends are created from People of Color lifestyles, it is not acknowledged until it is exposed on European platforms.
This term, “ghetto,” used to be so frowned upon and used as a slur against the Black community. However, you’ve managed to successfully create chatter around this word in a positive manner and flip the script on it. In a sense, you’re reclaiming our Blackness for us in the fashion space What were your intentions with this campaign?
The word “ghetto” has such a negative connotation. It’s offensive to me because I was raised in the projects. When I was growing up, people were so surprised when I mentioned where I was from. Our society reduces people from the ghetto to a lower status. It’s important that we reclaim the word and recognize the value of the ghetto, because the ghetto influences so much of American and global culture – from fashion, music, and art. As an African-American without any memory or connection to my motherland but my features. This is why I also find it important to promote us owning our creative contributions. After 9 months, I am still in a legal battle with Condé Nast/Vogue to protect the movement I’ve created.
“Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable” incorporates necklaces, sweatshirts, crops, and just about everything included in a Black girl’s dream wardrobe was born and raised in NYC. How has hip-hop culture influenced your aesthetic when designing these pieces?
Hip-hop is the blueprint of all things fashion. My mentor April Walker – founder of Walker Wear – is a pioneer of men’s street wear with the inspiration of Hip-Hop.
Your Black VOGUE movement is exactly that – a movement. Raising awareness around Black fashion, Black culture, and Black everything. How do you feel like your platform that you’ve created is bringing awareness to our culture, and being comfortable in our own skin?
Black Vogue Movement is a platform I created to promote diversity on and off the runway. To reassure every Brown girl and boy that our culture is appropriate and influential in the fashion industry. As Black millennials, we have the power to generate trends and new platforms. From embracing dark skinned women to supporting Black-owned businesses, we are living in a time where a shift is commencing in the Black community.
As a fellow Black girl, I can honestly say that I was moved by your collection once I stumbled upon it and I was even at your anniversary event, “Everything is Ghetto” a couple of months ago to celebrate with you. In the past year, you’ve been recognized by Teen VOGUE, Refinery29, xoNecole and Rolling Out. What’s next for AVNU and the Black VOGUE movement?
AVNU will continue to embody its original purpose of targeting cultural appropriation; fashion meets activism. However, I’m focusing on expanding from t-shirts to everyday wear. In America, being African American is hard. Despite my legal battles, The Black Vogue Movement, has something cooking closing out the Summer that I’m so excited for, stay tuned !
Nareasha Willis can be found on Instagram, @Avenue_N @BlackVogueMvmt @ShopAVNU and, you can also learn more about her and shop the line now available for purchase online at www.shopavnu.com .