A.Potts (photo by Gregory Wikstrom)
May 11, 2022
6 Brooklyn fashion designers to know right now
Whether Brooklyn natives or new to the city, these designers are already leaving their marks nationally
Summer is around the corner, which means so is expanding your wardrobe. Whether you need a new pair of waterproof boots for a rainy day, a fresh pair of everyday jeans, or a jacket that has been seen on runways, we’ve got you covered.
Check out these six Brooklyn-born and Brooklyn-based fashion designers, what they create, and why: Whether releasing new collections, remixing iconic designs, popping up at events or dressing celebrities, Giani NY, UNBORN.US, Hubane, A.Potts, Melke, and Who Knows? are ones to watch.
Born in Brooklyn, Waqas Ghani began his career as an intern at tailoring company Dani New York during high school. There, he became experienced in alterations, working with various materials, and understanding how the fashion world functions. He then attended Fashion Institute of Technology to study fashion design and to master pattern making, draping, and womenswear with the occasional menswear.
“Around the same time, friends of mine were getting up in the New York scene,” Ghani tells Brooklyn Magazine. “They’d ask me to make merch for them to wear, so I started to make graphic tees and hats instead of the cut-and-sew pieces.”
Giani NY launched with a focus on graphic tees, hats, coach jackets, and embroidery. In 2014, Ghani took a hiatus from producing to get a better grasp of what he wanted the brand to represent. Giani NY rebranded in 2019 with a new logo that is often chain-stitched or hand-painted on hand-sourced products. The Giani NY mascot is a G-shaped circle with a face in the middle. It can be spotted not only on his products, but spray-painted onto walls around the world.
In June 2021, Giani NY released a collaboration with Levi’s Denim called “The Giani 501 Gold-Weft Denim” that featured chain-stitched Giani NY mascots on the back pockets of the jeans. It sold out in minutes.
Earlier this year he collaborated with Swedish brand SneakersNStuff (SNS) in a collection that featured disposable cameras, a mascot logo rug, the “Purple GNS Tee,” and a spray-painted reversible logo jacket. It sold online globally and in New York and Japan stores.
Tiffany Helena, the Bushwick-born designer behind UNBORN.US, leans into what she calls “stylish comfortability.” Meaning she makes whatever pops into her to mind.
“Ever since I was younger I’ve always had a passion for fashion,” Helena says. “Due to being the stubborn teenager I was, I grew further from desiring a college career. My thoughts were, ‘I can be successful without college’—a statement I now feel differently towards. I wanted to pursue fashion design through my self-teaching.”
Helena creates various graphic one-piece suits, two-piece suits, swimsuits, sweatsuits, denim, collared shirts, and more. “The objective of the brand is to inspire,” she says. “We want to push creatives to believe in themselves to also create.”
It seems to be resonating: Celebs including Burna Boy, Jodie Woods, Michael Rainey Jr., Brooklynn Summers and B4byLexiG1rl have all been spotted in UNBORN.US attire.
The Angels Vs. Demons full-zip hoodie and the S.O.L. set are the brand’s most popular products. Helena has also collaborated with Ctrl Alt Delete in New York and been featured in Icon Magazine.
“Our brand is certainly for whoever, wherever,” Helena says. “When you put UNBORN.US on your body, we want you to feel like you’re really putting that shit on! Feeling true and comfortable to yourself—like you’re the only one in the room!”
Hubane is an avant-garde brand specializing in handmade, individual garments and pieces. Flatbush-born founder Israel Yanir uses a material he created called “vernum” for most of his shoes and apparel. A waterproof, durable, and non-toxic material, vernum creates an effect that is almost sculpture-like. If that sounds overly stiff or formal, though, the word “hubane” is Estonian for “cozy.” Even though some of his fits look like they’re out of some dystopian horror flick.
Yanir, who launched Hubane earlier this year, says growing up between Atlanta and Flatbush shaped his aesthetic, which incorporates elements of both electronic music and futuristic films.
“I gain most of my inspiration from what I’d like to see people wearing in a futuristic dystopian time period,” Yanir says.
Despite being a new brand, Hubane has been featured on HighSnobiety’s Instagram and TikTok on various occasions. His products were also highlighted in Howard University’s Homecoming and Springfest. Yanir plans to participate in New York Fashion Week this fall.
Detroit transplant Aaron Potts moved to Brooklyn in the 1990s while studying at Parsons School of Design because he couldn’t afford to live near campus. Potts landed in a pre-gentrified Fort Greene, where he says he would frequently visit Spike Lee’s Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, back when that was a thing you could just do.
“Once I settled in, what I found was a rich haven for Black and queer creatives, an amazing sense of community, and a quietness that I needed as an escape from Manhattan,” Potts says. “It was only natural that my business would be based in my ‘hood.”
He launched his eponymous brand A.Potts in 2017, with a focus on creating garments that work on diverse bodies with an aim to blur the lines of gendered clothing and embrace all races, genders, sizes, and ages. Through texture and fabric play, he combines opposites to create conversation pieces. This means mixing couture with casual, or precious and practical.
“I figured I would love nothing more than manifesting my own ideas about clothes, how we use them in our lives and how we can employ them as tools for connection, expression and self discovery,” Potts says. “I wanted to create a vocabulary, tools and emotional/physical spaces where diverse beauty is elevated and celebrated.”
And so it has: A.Potts has been worn by superstars Usher, H.E.R., Angela Davis, Miss USA Elle Smith and others, and has received a number of accolades, including the Fashion Group International’s Award for All Gender Design in 2020. Potts has had a look featured in the MET’s exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” presented his newest collection “Skinfolk FW22” in New York Fashion Week’s Men’s Day, and has been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times, and more.
Emma Gage moved to Brooklyn from Minneapolis after receiving a BFA in fashion design from Marist College in Poughkeepsie. She decided to launch her own line at either one of the worst or best times imaginable: after losing a job as a designer in 2020 and in the middle of a pandemic. But she came equipped with a plan … and already knew what her brand would be called: Because of her flat Midwestern accent, any time she said “milk,” that most Midwestern of words, it came out as “melk”—which brought her to Melke.
The gender-neutral streetwear brand features pieces made from natural, eco-certified materials as well as scrap fabrics. Gage combines sustainability and ethical fashion with individualism. Inspired by the midwestern landscape she grew up in, Gage leans into fringes, embroidery, and self-made patterns, which can be seen on almost every Melke garment.
“In regards to the clothing, the silhouettes balance between masculine and feminine, each with unique and intriguing details,” she says. “While I feel comfort and creativity from creating, I strive for people to feel comfort and creativity through the pieces they wear.”
Melke has participated in New York Fashion Week, is an interim member of the Council of Fashion Designers in America (CFDA), and has been worn by Piper Perabo, Max Schneider, and Kate Bartlett. The brand is sold on their own e-commerce site as well as at specialty retailers, including Minneapolis’ MartinPatrick3.
Dakarai Francis was born and raised in Brooklyn. Whether it was wearing his flyest kicks to school with his uniform, or getting styled by his mother who worked at Barney’s, or befriending streetwear designers such as Jun Lafayette—he was also born to be a designer.
In 2017, Francis launched his line called Who Knows?, which was inspired by Lafayette, who is behind the LFYT brand.
“I’ve always wanted an outlet for my personal style, but couldn’t come up with a name,” Francia says. “Until one day, I had a conversation with Jun about starting a brand. Through that conversation I said ‘Who knows? The name will come to me!’ And Jun stopped me and said ‘That’s it! Who knows?…Dee knows’.”
Who Knows? deploys materials Francis calls “100 percent real,” such as natural elements like leather and skins. Francis also believes in using his art to create community by collaborating with his favorite garment makers and designers in New York.
The brand features pants, sweaters, shirts, and a signature pair of shoes. The logo, a smiley face that spells ‘WHO’ and a question mark, come with Who Knows? slogans: “Those who know don’t tell, those who tell don’t know” and “Who knows? Dee knows.”
In May 2021, Francis launched his Type-1 Sneaker, modeled after Nike’s Air Force 1, replacing the Nike swoosh with a question mark logo on each side of the shoe. The inside of the shoe was also decorated with its signature logos for added individuality and creativity. He made 150 pairs, which sold out in three days.
Who Knows? has been rocked by Joey Bada$$, AK the Savior, Kirk Knight, Naira Marley, G Herbo, DJ Clark Kent, A$AP Illz, and more. Francis says he has plans in the near future to release more color options for denim and collaborate with friends and artists of all types.
“My life inspires me, God inspires me, my family and friends inspire me, my old work inspires me, waking up inspires me,” he says. “Permanently, I’m inspired.”
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