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African American Designers Try To Break Into The Fashion World

As the nation marks the first day of black history month, black fashion designers speak out about the fashion world. They say "Olympus Fashion Week" - which begins on Friday - is a tough industry to break into. NY1's Cheryl Willis filed the following report.

Barbara Harris knows exactly what to do with a dream deferred: Redesign it at a later age.

When Barbara Harris - her friends call her Bree - was in college she wanted to be a fashion designer, but her parents said no way and steered her into a traditional college which led to two prosperous careers in corporate America. But the brainy baby boomer never let go of her first love. And when she retired, she didn't exactly retire.

"You can sit at home, you can go sit on the beach, you can volunteer, but why not go back to that one thing that you really always had an interest in," says Harris.

So in her mid-fifties, Bree took the plunge and put on her very own fashion show in 2003. She calls her collection Multi by Bree.

Bree had the money to create her own fashion line, but many struggling black designers say they feel shut out of the fashion industry. For example, of the more than 80 designers showing at this season's Fashion week less than 5 of them are African American.

Gerald Bazile, 27, says he doesn't feel the love at all. He emigrated to the United States from Haiti, and when he's not working at JFK Airport, he uses his free time and his hard earned paycheck to buy fabric to spice up his couture collection called Duroseau.

"It's very hard, especially when my talent is natural, because I didn't go to school for fashion. I taught myself how to sew," says Bazile. "It's kind of hard, but I will do it!"

And he is doing it, Robin Givens will be wearing one of his gowns to an upcoming event. It's the first time someone famous is wearing one of Bazile's designs.

Designer Debra Ginyard is doing her thing too. Her fledging fashion business is called "Dot and Snookie," but she too feels the fashion industry gives her the cold shoulder.

"It breaks my heart to go every year and hardly ever see any black women in the fashion shows," says Ginyard. "And, the few black designers that we do have hardly have any black women in their shows."

On the surface it may appear all is well with black designers. After all there's Sean Jean by P Diddy, and there are also lines by Russell Simmons, 50 Cent and Beyonce. But the designers we spoke with say they don't have that kind of access or that kind of money.

"I have no funding, everything comes out my pockets - my pockets and my parents. Everything is from me," says Bazile.

"A lot of emerging designers cannot afford to be in those tents. Do you want to pay $10,000, maybe up to a million who knows what the fee really is," says fashion stylist Princessa Washington.

It's estimated that fashion shows can run anywhere from $80,000 and up, way up, depending on the venue.

Established designers like Tracey Reese and Michael Westley are among the few African Americans who put on shows at Bryant Park just about every season in recent years. But, struggling designers say they are inspired by people like Barbara Harris, who proves that dreams can get new life on the runway.

- Cheryl Willis

Excerpt from NY1 News

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