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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: April Walker

April Walker did for Brooklyn what Dapper Dan did for Harlem and helped shape the streetwear industry through her brand, Walker Wear. She was also the first woman in streetwear and the first to dominate in men’s streetwear, being endorsed by the likes of Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg and Aaliyah.

Though she is a pioneer of the urban fashion world, she wasn’t thinking of being a trailblazer. She was simply following her passions. (And she knew she wanted to be independent.) But those passions led her to establishing her boutique, her brand, and paving the way for what we now know as streetwear.

April Walker in the Walker Wear showroom. Photo courtesy of April Walker

Walker became an entrepreneur at 20, citing 1984’s ‘Freshfest’ as the catalyst that changed how she viewed “dressing for success”, seeing some of hiphop’s pioneers performing on stage, living their best lives. In 1987, Walker started her store Fashion in Effect out of her home, and by the next year, she’d opened a shop on Greene Avenue in Brooklyn, inspired by Dapper Dan and what he was doing in Harlem.

Fashion in Effect was a custom shop where she did exactly what I tell all of my students and new designers establishing a brand: she listened to her customers. And the work she did at Fashion in Effect helped establish the specs for the first Walker Wear rough and rugged suit. That first shop became the testing ground for the first collection of Walker Wear, which launched in the 1990s. She would become the first woman of color to simultaneously open a clothing boutique and start a streetwear brand during hip hop’s golden era.

Notorious B.I.G. wearing Walker Wear.

Her advice to her younger self (and great advice for budding entrepreneurs): study your money. “This is a business. Learn the fashion business. I lost a lot of money at the beginning because I didn’t use money as a tool, and I didn’t understand how to make the money work for my business.”—CFDA, October 2020

Photo credit: Kelvin Bullock/@Kelbpics

Walker has also been outspoken when it comes to the fashion industry and its treatment of people of color. Last year (in June 2020), she wrote an essay on racism in the fashion industry titled 'The Fashion Industry Needs A Hard Reset — Especially for Black Designers'. In it, she argues that there is a lack of Black representation in the industry despite the spending power of the Black community and how Black creatives are largely responsible for creating the category of streetwear.

“Despite the generous use of the buzzword ‘inclusivity,’ the playing field is not level.”

Ms. Walker has been busy over the years, and her brand is still thriving today. She has created a course called BYOB which stands for “Be Your Own Brand” or “Build Your Own Brand” and has also contributed to a course for Parsons: Parsons X Complex Streetwear Essentials. She is also the author of the book “WalkerGems: Get Your A$% Off The Couch” and in the process of authoring a second as well as working on a film.

A runway look from the Walker Wear Lookbook.

A runway look from the Walker Wear Lookbook.


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