Since the start of the new millennium, Western art and design structures have seen a rise in the popularity of, and opportunities for, women and artists of color. This is, in part, due to the increasing inclusivity of predominantly wealthy white academic institutions, as well as the rise of the internet and the subsequent semi-democratization of information and media. From poets like Danez Smith and Warsan Shire, to painters like Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker, to novelists and essayists like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay to curators like Kimberly Drew (aka @museummammy), people from historically marginalized groups are experiencing success (if not always complete acceptance) within established institutions. However, while the aforementioned artists have brought intellect, talent, creativity and diversity—in both aesthetics and experience—to the establishment, they work within forms that have traditionally been respected as intellectually rigorous.

In contrast, fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner has risen within an industry long-perceived as superficial and frivolous. Might this be because fashion is often considered women’s work within patriarchal systems? Yes. And yet, there is also a level of truth to the critique when many of fashion’s most lauded designers avoid or dismiss social discourse altogether. While there are exceptions, such as design trio threeASFOUR and duo Abasi Rosborough, no one can claim the same combination of focused research and rapid success that Wales Bonner has exhibited in the four years since she founded her eponymous label, all the while opening new spaces for blackness, masculinity and the stories of African diasporic communities.

Born in Southeast London, Wales Bonner grew up in an international, interracial family: “I had two sides to my upbringing because my dad is Jamaican and my mother is English,” she explained to i-D in 2015. “I could always relate to this tension of living in London and being mixed-raced. I went to school in South-West London and felt this pressure to prove the black side of my heritage because I felt like it was questioned. I found growing up really informative in working out who I was and where I wanted to be.”

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