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Charles Harbsion wins Harlems Fashion Row / Banana Republic contest

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Harlems Fashion Row and Banana republic chose Charles Harbison to design a sustainable capsule collection, an award that closes the designer loop.

Its eco-friendly styles will debut in Banana republic stores and online in September.

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It’s kismet, since the American designer spent three years working in a Banana Republic in a mall while in college. His final designs are still a secret, but the designer spoke candidly on Thursday about the development of his career.

This spring, Harbison plans to reintroduce its own Harbison label as a direct-to-consumer brand through social media and e-commerce a first for the company. Wholesale distribution will come later, as he and his partners plan to be nimble and flexible without getting over their heads, he said. Using a pre-order format and dead tissue are some of the ways Harbison will manage inventory and limit raw material.

For the HFR x Banana Republic limited-edition collaboration, he won a competition, but declined to specify the amount. I hope I can negotiate more in the future, where I have a little more interest. Right now I’m just grateful, and the check I get isn’t bad at all.

After setting up his Harbison company in New York in 2013, the designer moved to Los Angeles four years ago. In addition to frequent hikes, lots of solitude, more space, and better weather, being based on the west coast also allowed him to shake things up, he said.

It was largely for the health of the company and for my mental health, ”he added. “It was a really amazing transition. Being customer-focused over the past few years and not doing full collections has been good for the portfolio. I was able to maintain the brand’s voice but in a different way.

In the beginning, the plan was to take the ideas he liked and connected with – gender neutrality, race, class, and quirk – and infuse them into American sportswear.

The change for the brand followed my own personal change. At one point, I realized I had to prioritize myself, because the dynamics of the business in New York were not good for me or for me the speed, the amount of product I had to create, the dynamics of sales, marketing, and shows, and investing so much with very little return, ”Harbison explained. “Being a collection-based business, the environment in New York, in my opinion, was not designed to serve emerging brands that were American and sporty and focused on separations.

The move led to a more cheerful and upbeat aesthetic, which only reflected what Harbison was going through in his own life, he said. It also led to a more sustainable business approach, instead of making a sample collection of over 100 pieces and only seeing a few of these models end up in stores, as was the case in New York. .

There was a way we weren’t really environmentally responsible. Shifting to a customer-based model means we’re not doing more than what we’re actually selling, ”he said. “I am able to work with women whom I appreciate and respect, and who have an emotional connection with the brand. I’m able to materialize something that satisfies me as a designer, and the brand, as well as them as individuals. It’s not just women. His men too.

In recent years, Harbison has worked freelance for brands such as Cult Gaia, where he helped launch women’s clothing. He collaborated with Nicholas The Label and consulted with Emanuel Ungaro, when the company was exploring a foray into contemporary sportswear.

Born in the foothills of North Carolina in the small town of Lincolnton, Harbison received his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University, then studied global textiles abroad in Uzbekistan before attending Parsons in New York. . He then worked at Michael Kors Collection in textile design and womenswear before venturing out on his own.

When asked about the racial prejudice he has faced, Harbison said it’s not just relegated to the industry. It’s relegated to our society. Obviously, being a black fashion designer and having been raised in the rural working class of North Carolina, it was certainly a difficult journey to find a voice in an industry that was monopolized by whiteness and wealth. It was an enigma that I always solved, because I like the medium too much to be dissuaded from working in it. So my goal has always been to be as competent as possible and to be relentless. Of course, it is awesome and it has negative consequences. But neither am I downgrading the strength she built in me.

After working in the ruthless fashion industry in New York City, Harbison said he has sworn not to participate in competitions and is arguing for money and prominence on these platforms.

I had really become quite disillusioned. I felt I had been overlooked a few times for things we were ready to win. The judges even came to me to tell me that and to inform me of the politics that I did not know and which determined many of these decisions. Said Harbison. I felt it wasn’t about work. For me, it’s work first, product first.

Well aware of where Harlems Fashion Row founder Brandice Daniels heart has championed young color designers for years, Harbison said it made the group’s competition, backed by Banana Republic, attractive. He also had a personal connection to the national retailer, having worked as a Banana Republic sales associate for three years, as an undergraduate double major at North Carolina State University. His job at the Crabtree Valley Mall was a safe space, Harbison said, as he began to stand out in fashion, grappling with quirk and growing up. There are people there that I met who I am still friends with today.

Beyond that, the designer spoke about the appeal of retailers. Aesthetically, there has always been a devotion to classic and utilitarian American sportswear. If there is a competition to participate, let it be a competition where I really report to the entity that judges. And I guess it was a good decision.

Looking back, Harbison said that the earliest incarnation of his business aesthetic reflected the life he and his friends lived in New York City by emphasizing clothing marketed to men and women, navigating racial politics and sex in their relationships and having these conversations on a regular basis at a time that was the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the positive feedback from buyers for its products on social media, there was a gulf between it all and getting these clothes into their hands, as the dynamics of stores and wholesaling did not quite match our situation. , did he declare.

The upcoming launch of the sustainable HFR x Banana Republic capsule collection will be the first time in the life of the designer, when he can put clothes in the hands of so many.

I believe in good design and having access to good design, ”he said. “I am able to take this beautiful and digestible platform inherited from Banana Republic and infuse it with modern, innovative and avant-garde ideas. And it’s not just presented to the privileged few.

Given the luck, Harbison said he would have said to himself, don’t be put off by some of the losses, because in the end you’ll definitely be in for it.

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