With a love for fashion and visual art, Cedric Brown of Cedric Brown Collections grew up with a passion for creating beautiful pieces. After obtaining his B.F.A. in fashion design from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Brown began his fashion collection of kimonos, pocket squares, and more. The pieces are being featured in popular Black TV shows such as Our Kind of People and Greenleaf.
Brown sat down for a phone interview with BlavityU to discuss his early fashion/art influences, creative process, and experience as a Black artist and designer in two white-majority fields.
The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Blavity: What artistic/fashion references did you have growing up?
Cedric: Well, I will say that since I was 2 years old, I grew up scribbling fashionable women on paper. I was the type of person that I always doodled. You know how you have a kid in the classroom that just draws on paper the whole time? That was definitely me. I doodled everywhere. My mom was a nice dresser, and she would hit the town and go out a lot. I would like to pick out her clothes. I felt happy seeing her going out. I always loved bright colors. At church as a young kid, I brought my coloring book to church every Sunday. I would just get to work using all of these bright colors and making the coloring book come to life. Anybody who knew me as a kid or knew me growing up, they always bring up those scenarios.
Once I got to high school, I got more serious about my art. I joined the after-school program called the Youth Art Connection. I was chosen as one of six kids to go to Beijing, China to have my artwork displayed in the exhibition for the Beijing Olympic Games. Having those opportunities just gave me the confidence to believe that I can make it and that I am going to be an artist. I always had the dream to be a designer. Later when I went to SCAD, my fashion professors knew I had a background in art and fashion. One, in particular, told me, ‘that is your meat and potatoes. You need to combine both.’ From there, I’ve been creating my art and my clothes ever since.
Blavity: What led to you deciding to start a career in art and fashion?
Cedric: So when I was at SCAD, I did a few internships … But all these internships and experiences, none of them would give me a full-time job. Everything you’ve heard in the pandemic when people were very upset about the fashion industry with them not really giving Black people opportunities — I experienced those things in real life. I would see my white and Asian counterparts move up and get jobs. Those are the ones who really get those great design positions. I had my dreams. I was like, ‘I’m going to pursue my own line.’ I decided to start off with creating scarves because I know that I can really use my artwork on it. I really looked up to a lot of the Hermes scarves, Ferragamo scarves, Gucci scarves … The vintage ones where you see the artwork on everything. I took some entrepreneurial classes and I stepped out on faith. I said, ‘If I don’t get a full-time job, I’m still going to try my own business regardless of what it looks like.’
Blavity: What is your creative process like?
Cedric: It varies for me. I’m really into color. I may be looking at some color palettes that I want to use for the next season. If I know that I’m doing a project for an organization, I know I have to stick to these colors. After I moved from the colors, I like getting feedback from my consumers. It’s like I’m the buyer and I’m the designer. I’m researching what I hear because I’m out selling my product. I am researching the feedback I get from people. I saw that a lot of my abstract art was what people were really gravitating to.
I’m always researching some really nice, cool abstract pieces. I like looking at a lot of vintage pieces, old TV shows, and old designers and I get inspired by them. I start researching what is sold in the stores right now? What colors are popping? What am I seeing people wearing in the streets? I do a combination of everything when I’m researching for a new design.
Blavity: Your fashion designs include kimonos, neckties, socks, and more. What led to you focusing on these specific items with your current work?
Cedric: I started off with the scarves. When I was interning, I had the opportunity to meet this designer named Wes Gordon. He’s now the Creative Director for Carolina Herrera. I want to say that he grew up in Atlanta and my godparents knew his mom. They set us up to have a meeting and this was before I really came and got started with my business at all. He was like, ‘If you want to start a business, I recommend you to start off with one item. As that 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 that and ran with it. I started with the scarves. Then I would have men ask me, ‘You should make some pockets squares. I would love to wear those.’
When I moved into pocket squares, I then made neckties and kimonos. I more so moved to that from when I did create my senior collection at SCAD, I did have this hand-painted kimono. It also went with a jumpsuit that I created. I had several boutiques that saw that piece from that collection that wanted to carry it in their stores. I was like, ‘OK, a lot of boutiques want this piece. That means this must be poppin.’ I decided to go with it. Also, it’s one size fits all too. The accessories are one size most of the time, so it also helps with inclusivity. A lot of people can wear it. I don’t have to really worry about a lot of fit problems and stuff like that.
Blavity: Your work has been featured in shows such as “Our Kind of People” and on notable figures in Black entertainment like Lynn Whitfield and rapper Young Thug. What was it like finding out that your work was going to be worn in these highly publicized settings?
Cedric: I think it gives my work life and new meaning. When you work with costume designers and stylists, I think it’s amazing to see how they pair my pieces with other items and the way that they style them. For example, with the characters on Our Kind of People and Greenleaf, the way that the character chooses to wear it and also when they bring their personality with it. For example, watching Morris Chestnut, a man that I have admired since I was a kid, I sent these pieces to the assistant costume designer, Ms. Christina. I didn’t know who was going to be wearing the pieces. She just said that it was gonna be on this particular episode. When I watched the episode, I was like, ‘That is Morris Chestnut wearing my tie!’ With his confidence and the way that he was walking, he came off as a leader, a boss man, and an entrepreneur. His confidence was like, ‘Yeah, I know I look good. I’m stunting in this necktie and pocket square suit.’
To me that gave that necktie so much swag, seeing his personality come out into that. When I would see also Ms. Lynn Whitfield when she wore my kimono as Lady Mae on Greenleaf, the way she would strut around the room having the fabrics and the kimono blow. 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. That brought so much light to me seeing her confidence with the heels and ensemble that it was pieced with. Young Thug would wear my scarves a lot of times in his back pocket and sometimes he would also wear them as a bandanna. The way that he wears the scarves, a lot of people don’t wear their scarves in their back pocket. Just to see that brought so much life too.
Blavity: What has your experience been like being a Black fashion designer and artist in two white-dominated fields?
Cedric: When I first started, it definitely was a little rough … Sometimes, I go into a luxury market. Right now, since the pandemic and everyone trying to support Black businesses, it’s a little bit easier to convince people that 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 never paid that much for a scarf. I never paid much for a kimono.’ It was definitely different in everything. It was a little rough. I was shy as well, even though in high school, I used to sell candy. I was an entrepreneurial spirit. Selling candy was easy. As a reference, it’s almost like selling drugs. People are gonna come up to you to buy candy. You don’t even have to say you got some candy. They’re going to be running up to you. However, selling a scarf and luxury items? It was rough. I remember one time when I first started, I was a bit shy. I was nervous and discouraged … A lot of people don’t have the opportunities or the chances that I have to have a business, sell their pieces or go to SCAD.
Since I do have those opportunities, I really need to go forward and really try to sell my pieces. I have been in business now for six years. As time progresses, that initial piece gets easier. You always feel you have to navigate with the times. You always have to switch things up within your business. You can’t be complacent. You always gotta be looking for the next great opportunity to make sure you are still relevant. As far as being stable in the business, that has definitely changed from the first beginning. People are a little bit quicker to spend money on it since I have been in the business a little bit more. They see the socialites and they see the social influences and celebrities wearing my pieces now as well.
You can find Cedric’s full collection for both men and women on his website.