Harlem to Houston

Meet the Business Mogul Shining a Light on Diverse Designers (and Making Shoes with LeBron James)

Harlem's Fashion Row CEO and founder Brandice Daniel will speak at a Houston conference on January 26.

By Gabrielle Nicole Pharms January 17, 2019

Brandice Daniel, CEO and founder of Harlem's Fashion Row

Over more than a decade in the fashion industry, business maven Brandice Daniel has reached a slew of career milestones, from curating major events (and securing equally major sponsorships) to founding her latest venture, Harlem's Fashion Row, an organization that promotes multicultural designers.

But success didn't happen overnight. Back in 2014, Daniel was selling T-shirts and asking for donations to fund a HFR fashion show. "That was putting my pride aside," she says now. "I've learned in business that you have to put your ego to the side to get the results that you need."

She'll offer more wisdom next Saturday, January 26 when she speaks in Houston at local entrepreneur Miara Shaw's The Hope of Purpose Experience, a networking event for influencers and business professionals. Houstonia spoke with Daniel ahead of her keynote to talk overcoming challenges, leaps of faith, and LeBron James.

On your website, you say, "Sometimes you find your purpose and other times your purpose finds you." How has that proven true in your own life?

I always knew I wanted to do something in fashion, but I didn’t know what that was. I went to a fashion show in Brooklyn and while I was there, the idea hit me: I want to do this in Harlem. It would not let me go. It was one of those ideas that I would wake up thinking about. I would dream about it. I would talk about it all day long. I didn’t even understand why it was so important at the time. I didn’t even understand why I was so compelled to do this. Designers of color are majorly underrepresented in the fashion industry. It wasn’t something that I went to look for; it was really something that found me.

How much of a role has timing played in your success?

Timing has definitely been really important. What no one really understands is that everything takes a lot longer than what we think. It takes a lot longer, a lot more effort, a lot more tenacity, money—more [of] all of it. To me, I’ve realized that certain opportunities hadn’t come until I was ready for it. Now, the fashion industry is very comfortable talking about race and diversity in fashion. When I started 11 years ago, that wasn’t a conversation anyone wanted to have. Timing is now perfect on it, and I’m mature enough personally to be able to have conversations that the industry is now actually ready to have.

Target sponsored one of your earlier HFR events. What do you look for in brand partnerships?

The goal is always to create a win-win situation. How do you create a partnership where there’s an exchange of value? It can’t be a partnership where one person is getting way more value than the other person. Target, at the time, was opening a store in Harlem. They were looking to increase their visibility, especially among African-American influencers. So it just worked out perfectly at that time. With any other brand that I work with, I’m always looking for the synergy and a win-win situation. It’s always important to me that it feels right.

Most notably, HFR partnered with LeBron James and Nike to release the pro baller's first performance sneaker for women—designed by women of color. How did that partnership come about?

Last year, HFR celebrated 10 years. It was a really rough, difficult time for us, and for me personally—there were so many things that just took a lot more effort than I thought it should have taken for our 10th year. I thought we’d have people lined up ready to work with us, but that was not the case. It took a lot of perseverance. I had a really vulnerable conversation with God, and I basically said, I don’t know if I’m making the impact I’m supposed to make. I don’t know if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not sure why this year was so difficult, but I surrender this: Whatever you want to do with it, you do with it. The only thing I want is a brand partnership where we would bring a product to life. Maybe a month or so after that, I got a phone call from someone who I hadn’t spoken to in a while. She began to tell me that an athletic brand reached out to her and asked if she knew any black female designers, and that they had this athlete [LeBron] who made a comment about black women being the strongest women on earth. Specifically, he was speaking in reference to his mother who'd raised him as a single mom.

The woman who heard it, Melanie Auguste, had the idea: “We should do something with black female designers. We need to do something with this statement that he said and make this the inspiration for his next shoe.” It was really her idea to find designers that they could work with for the project, so they reached out to us. I knew from that first call that this was going to be something really special. There was so much synergy with their team. I selected designers for the project that I thought would be a great fit for it. It was such a natural, organic fit. Such a big brand like Nike totally respected us as black women.

We don't often see the work that goes into getting a success story. What challenges have you learned valuable lessons from facing?

I’ve learned that a “no” is not always a “no.” Sometimes you haven’t convinced someone to say “yes.” That was from the very first fashion show that we did—everyone said “no” to me except one person. At the end of it, four out of the five end up saying “yes” because I had to keep going back to them over and over again until they finally said “yes.” I’ve learned that sometimes currency isn’t always money. Getting things done doesn’t require money, it requires currency. Currency comes in all different forms. I think we have to remember that currency can come through relationships, through an exchange of value. There’s lots of different ways to approach something that needs currency to take care of it.

What's the main takeaway you want folks to learn from your upcoming keynote at The Hope of Purpose?

You have to take a cliff jump. That’s what my talk is going to be about. We all want to know that everything is going to turn out okay—that’s not reality. It’s not going to be perfect. Things won’t be all lined up. Are you willing to take that cliff jump in order to get to where you need to get in life? I can honestly say that I’m maxing out my life right now on every front; I feel like I am going at full throttle. I know it’s because of the cliff jump I’ve been willing to take, even when it’s been very uncomfortable. It doesn’t get easier. Everything in my life would be different had I not taken the cliff jump to move to New York or start my business or reach out to brands to sponsor our events or reach out to designers. It’s so important that we understand that if we want to get to that place that we dream about, it’s going to require a lot from us.

The Hope of Purpose Experience runs from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on January 26 at the Microsoft Technology Center in CityCentre. Tickets start at $167.

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