A Q&A with fashion designer and visual artist Cedric Brown
Fashion and visual arts lover, Cedric Brown of Cedric Brown Collections grew up with a passion for creating beautiful pieces. After earning her BFA in Fashion Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Brown has started her fashion collection of kimonos, clutches, and more. The plays are featured on popular black TV shows such as our kind of people and Green leaf.
Brown sat down for a phone interview with BlavityU to discuss his early fashion/art influences, his creative process, and his experience as a black artist and designer in two predominantly white fields.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
Blavity: What artistic/fashion references did you have growing up?
Cedric: Well, I will say that since the age of 2, I grew up scribbling fashionable women on paper. I was the kind of person I always doodled. You know how you have a kid in the class who draws on paper all the time? It was definitely me. I doodled everywhere. My mother was a pretty dresser, and she often went out on the town. I would like to choose her clothes. I felt happy to see her come out. I have always loved bright colors. In church when I was young, I brought my coloring book to church every Sunday. I would just get to work using all those bright colors and bringing the coloring book to life. Anyone who knew me as a child or knew me growing up always brings up these scenarios.
Once in high school, I became more serious about my art. I joined the after school program called Youth Art Connection. I was chosen as one of six children to go to Beijing, China to have my artwork displayed in the Beijing Olympics exhibition. Having these opportunities just gave me the confidence to believe that I can succeed and that I’m going to be an artist. I always dreamed of being a designer. Later, when I went to SCAD, my fashion teachers knew that I had a background in art and fashion. One in particular said to me, “It’s your meat and your potatoes. You have to combine the two. From there I have been creating my art and clothing ever since.
Blavity: What led you to embark on a career in art and fashion?
Cedric: So when I was at SCAD, I did a few internships… But all those internships and experiences, none of them would get me a full time job. Everything you heard during the pandemic when people were very upset with the fashion industry because they weren’t really giving black people opportunities – I experienced those things in real life. I would see my white and Asian counterparts rise in rank and get jobs. They’re the ones who really get those great design jobs. I had my dreams. I was like, ‘I’m going to pursue my own line.’ I decided to start by creating scarves because I know that I can really use my creations on them. I really admired the Hermès scarves, the Ferragamo scarves, the Gucci scarves… The vintage ones where you see the illustration on everything. I took entrepreneurship classes and came out on faith. I said, “If I don’t get a full-time job, I’m still going to try my own business, whatever it looks like.
Blavity: What does your creative process look like?
Cedric: It varies for me. I’m really into color. Maybe I’m looking at some color palettes I want to use for next season. If I know I’m doing a project for an organization, I know I have to stick to those colors. After going through colors, I like to get feedback from my consumers. It’s like I’m the buyer and the designer. I research what I hear because I sell my product. I research the comments I get from people. I saw that a lot of my abstract art was what people were really drawn to.
I’m always on the lookout for some really nice and cool abstract pieces. I like to look at a lot of vintage pieces, old TV shows and old designers and get inspiration from them. I start researching what is being sold in stores right now? What are the vibrant colors? What do I see people wearing on the street? I do a combination of everything when I’m looking for a new design.
Blavity: Your fashion designs include kimonos, ties, socks, etc. What led you to focus on these specific elements in your current work?
Cedric: I started with scarves. During my internship, I had the opportunity to meet this designer who is called WesGordon. He is now the creative director of Carolina Herrera. I want to say that he grew up in Atlanta and my godparents knew his mother. They arranged a meeting for us and that was before I really came and started my business. He said to me, ‘If you want to start a business, I recommend you start with one article. As it grows, then expand into other things. He was doing full runway collections and just telling me about the finances of that and just having a better business strategy. I took this and ran with it. I started with scarves. Then I would ask the men to ask me, “You should do pocket squares.” I would love to wear them.
When I moved on to pocket squares, I then made ties and kimonos. I’ve kind of moved on to this since I created my senior collection at SCAD, I had this hand painted kimono. It also went with a jumpsuit I created. I had several shops that saw this piece from this collection and wanted to offer it in their stores. I was like, ‘OK, a lot of shops want this piece. That means it must be poppin. I decided to go with it. Plus, it’s one size fits all. Accessories are one size most of the time, which also helps with inclusiveness. Many people can wear it. I don’t really have to worry about a lot of fit issues and things like that.
Blavity: Your work has been featured on shows such as “Our Kind of People” and on notable black entertainment figures like Lynn Whitfield and rapper Young Thug. What was it like finding out that your work was going to be featured in these high-profile venues?
Cedric: I think it gives my professional life a new meaning. When you work with costume designers and stylists, I think it’s amazing how they pair my pieces with other items and how they style them. For example, with the characters on our kind of people and Green leaf, the way the character chooses to wear it and also when it brings their personality. For example, look Morris Chestnut, a man I have admired since I was a child, I sent these pieces to the costume assistant, Mrs. Christina. I didn’t know who was going to wear the pieces. She just said it was going to be on this particular episode. When I watched the episode, I was like, “That’s Morris Chestnut wearing my tie!” With his confidence and his way of walking, he became a leader, a boss and an entrepreneur. Her confidence was like, ‘Yeah, I know I look good. I’m stunted in this tie and pocket square suit.
For me, it gave this tie so much swag, to see his personality come out of it. When I will also see Mrs. Lynn Whitfield when she wore my kimono as Lady Mae Green leaf, the way she strutted around the room blowing the fabrics and the kimono. You could see what the kimono could do with its shape. It wasn’t just a solid, boring piece, but you can see the movement. It brought so much light to me seeing his confidence with the heels and ensemble he was put together with. young thug often carried my scarves in his back pocket and sometimes he also wore them as a bandana. The way he wears the scarves, a lot of people don’t carry their scarves in their back pocket. Just to see that it also brought a lot of life.
Blavity: What has been your experience as a black fashion designer and artist in two white-dominated fields?
Cedric: When I started, it was definitely a bit tough… Sometimes I go to a luxury market. Right now, since the pandemic and everyone else trying to support black businesses, it’s a little easier to convince people who like, “This is a quality piece and I’m going to support a black designer.” But two or three years ago, just being anywhere, it was like, ‘I’ve never paid that much for a scarf. I have never paid dearly for a kimono. It was definitely different in everything. It was a little tough. I was shy too, even though in high school I sold candy. I had an entrepreneurial spirit. Selling candy was easy. As a reference, it’s almost like selling drugs. People will come and buy you candy. You don’t even have to say you have candy. They will run towards you. However, selling a scarf and luxury items? It was hard. I remember one time when I started, I was a little shy. I was nervous and discouraged… A lot of people don’t have the opportunities or chances that I have to have a business, sell their parts, or go to SCAD.
Since I have these opportunities, I really need to go ahead and really try to sell my pieces. I have been in business for six years now. Over time, this initial piece gets easier. You still feel like you have to navigate the times. You always have to change things within your company. You cannot be complacent. You should always be on the lookout for the next big opportunity to make sure you’re still relevant. As far as stability in the company is concerned, that has definitely changed since the beginning. People are a little quicker to spend money since I’ve been in the business a bit more. They see the socialites and they also see the social influences and the celebrities who are wearing my pieces now.
You can find Cedric’s full collection for men and women on his website.