The title “fashion capital” is usually reserved for New York, Paris, London or Milan — destinations not often considered in the same category as Baltimore. But on 25th Street, a group of Black entrepreneurs is challenging the perception that Charm City lacks flair.
“We can kind of be our own little fashion hub,” said Brittany Williams, 34, a personal shopper and the founder of IBW Creative Agency, a Baltimore-based events and styling venture. “We’re bigger than the city at this point.”
The blocks that line the southern border of Charles Village have been dubbed the “Black Wall Street of Baltimore” by business owners and it’s there that a number of homegrown clothing stores have sprung up, next to and on top of one another, over the past six years.
On April 1, to cement the presence of their scene, Williams will host a runway event highlighting the designers behind local urban streetwear brands Huey Brand, L.R.L Clothing Store, Ouftur Couture, Republic of Greatmen, STCK MRKT, Strut and WaaaH LifeStyle Brand. The Welcome to 25th Street Spring Fashion Show, which will be held in The Voxel, a performing arts theater, is also intended to expand the cultural pocket’s influence.
“Baltimore, I feel like we have our own style,” said Aja Trice, 34, the owner and designer of Strut, which sells graphic T-shirts, skirts, bags and jewelry. “We start our own trends.” All of the brands have online stores, offering logo-clad shirts, sweatsuits and hats, but the brick-and-mortar shops on 25th Street are unique to the city.
“These are things you can only find on this block,” said Williams, who also goes by B. Will.
The Baltimore native built her fashion chops in New York, where she worked behind the scenes dressing models at New York Fashion Week and with Nike, teaching employees at retailers like Foot Locker all about the brand’s kicks. In 2016, she graduated from a fashion styling certificate program at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Williams, who graduated from Baltimore City College in 2007, moved back to her hometown. As a personal shopper, she forged connections with all seven brands that will present new creations in the upcoming fashion show. Most share customers already, she said.
“You can’t come to the city without experiencing this at least one time,” said Larry Luv, 34, the owner of Huey, which produces staples like T-shirts and sweatshirts designed “for people to enjoy themselves.”
Andre “Dre” Miles, the owner and designer behind Republic, a brand of clothing that he said is meant for leisure and also feels “luxury,” described the relationships that grew between him and his fellow designers as “organic.” All of the brands operate out of storefronts on the blocks of 25th Street between Mace and Saint Paul Streets except for STCK MRKT (pronounced “STOCK market”), which had a pop-up event there but mostly does business online.
Miles, 41, takes pride in fostering a “personal relationship” with his customers, who he said sometimes recognize him by his brand before they learn his name. “It’s little parts of you all over the city,” he said.
In the weeks leading up to the show, the designers were reluctant to reveal too much about the collections they’d soon be sending down the runway. Corey “Cee” Griffin, the owner of L.R.L, said that attendees could expect to see more clothing for women (the brand usually caters to men). Others, like STCK MRKT, will show unisex clothing and accessories, according to Jay Howard, a brand partner.
For Robert “Robby” Walston, who co-runs Ouftur (pronounced “off tour”), the fashion show will offer a “chance to experiment and create a different direction, and see how people feel about it,” he said. It’s the first time the brand that specializes in unisex hoodies, jackets and cargo pants will appear on a runway.
The evening show, for which tickets range from $75 to $150, will include bites from Baltimore-based Siblings Catering, beverages from Long Pour Bartending and beats courtesy of DJ No ID. Money raised will cover the event’s expenses.
Landing The Voxel, across the street from Huey and Republic, required pitching a convincing idea for how the space would be put to use, according to Williams. She called for the same level of vision from the designers.
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“Every brand … I pushed them creatively,” she said. “I want people to come with an open mind and expect something different from each of them.”
Empowering Baltimoreans is at the core of the designers’ brands. L.R.L stands for love, respect and loyalty. WaaaH means “we are at a high” — “to show people there’s ways to elevate yourself in a positive way, without doing bad things,” explained DAndre Williams, 28, a co-owner of the WaaaH LifeStyle Brand and South Baltimore native.
Likewise, Miles said the idea behind Republic is to convey that “whatever you put your energy into will become greater.”
For Luv, running a business — and uniting as a group of Black designers — is “extremely important” in myth-busting Baltimore’s image as a city that only has problems.
“A majority of the media that gets pushed, or the narrative that gets pushed for us, it’s negative when you think of Baltimore,” he said. He’s intent on inspiring the city’s younger generations through his work. “Part of my motivation was to create something I didn’t see when I was growing up,” he explained.
What will come in the aftermath of the show? Griffin has high hopes.
“I know that we’re gonna one, make money,” he said. “Two, I think we’re gonna make history. And then third, most importantly to me, is that we’re gonna make a difference.”