Student at a sewing machine

Runway 2021 Serves as Virtual Tribute to Black Fashion Designers


Following a year underscored by the worldwide pandemic and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Buffalo State College’s Runway fashion show is highlighting the accomplishments of past and present Black fashion designers on a virtual platform.

“History Retailored” will premiere Friday, May 14, at 8:00 p.m. on the college’s YouTube channel. It’s open to the public and free to attend with a suggested donation to the Fashion and Textile Technology (FTT) Department’s new Black Fashion Scholarship.

Erin Habes, ’03, Runway faculty director and lecturer of FTT, said she and her students collaborated with the college’s Africana studies program this year to develop the focus. Runway is also dedicating this year’s fashion event to the BLM movement.

“These conversations on the theme would not be possible without the FTT alumni network and the collaboration with Dr. Marcus Watson, assistant professor of Africana studies and individualized studies, and Naila Ansari, assistant professor of theater and Africana studies,” Habes said.

Through this process, Habes explained, “students got the chance to research designers through a social justice lens. So much of fashion history has been whitewashed. Our students have taken the time to honor Black designers from the 1950s through current day.”

For instance, she pointed to Ann Lowe, a prolific dressmaker during the mid-twentieth century who designed dresses and ball gowns for socialites, including first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Despite the popularity of her designs, Lowe received little recognition.

“One of our students created a wedding dress inspired by Lowe’s designs,” Habes said. “It’s interesting to see the seeds of inspiration our students got from this project.”

The hour-long show will feature the creations of seven senior designers, modeled by a diverse group of Buffalo State students. Brandon Watson, a local photographer, is shooting the “Lookbook” for the show, which will be available digitally on the Runway website. Meanwhile, Aitina Fareed-Cooke, ’12, ’16, an award-winning filmmaker and owner of Get Fokus’d Productions, is filming and editing the show, which includes interviews with the designers.

Brent Patterson, associate professor of graphic design, and a group of his students are creating animations for the digital show, and Ansari will present a dance performance with her students as part of the show. “I’m excited about the chance to work with Naila and her students this year,” Habes said. “They are bringing incredible life to the production.”

A small group of FTT alumni who are working in the industry will judge the designs, and the winners will be announced during the live event. The top designer will receive $1,000, sponsored by Nancy Belfer, a fiber and mixed-media artist and professor emerita of design at Buffalo State.

“Nancy has attended Runway every year for more than a decade, and each year has donated $1,000 to one of our students,” Habes said. “Her history with Buffalo State is incredibly rich, and we are so grateful to her.”

The show also has several sponsors, including presenting sponsor M&T Bank and bespoke sponsors Buffalo Spree magazine and Brandon Watson Studio.

There is no admission charge this year, as there has been in years past, with proceeds funding an annual FTT scholarship; however, this year the department launched a Black Fashion Scholarship on the college’s Giving Day, and Habes said they’re encouraging people to contribute to it.

Despite having to host the iconic fashion show virtually, Habes said, this year’s Runway should be especially powerful with its focus on Black designers and the opportunities for students to participate in a number of creative ways.

“Our students get to participate in a social justice conversation,” Habes said, “that will impact their futures as young professionals in the fashion industry.”

Photos by Bruce Fox, campus photographer.