MR continues our Women’s History Month salute to Women in Menswear by catching up with Brandice Daniel, founder, and CEO of Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR), an agency creating a bridge between brands and designers of color in fashion through brand strategy, collaborations, new media, experiential marketing, recruiting, and pipeline programs. Daniels shares the importance of mentoring, of seeking wisdom, and the demand for audacity.
“I’ve had so much support from other women in this industry, and I believe that much of that came about because we helped each other. When I look back at my journey, the first major ally I had was Audrey Smaltz [former model and founder of The Ground Crew]. She didn’t know me, no one introduced us, and, at that time, I didn’t have a proven idea. My assumption is that she had probably heard hundreds of ideas over the years from a lot of different people, yet she was still willing to take a chance with another woman who wanted to do something impactful in fashion.
“I picked up so many mentors along the way. Harriette Cole [author and founder of Harriet Cole Media] — who worked for many magazines in our industry — was someone who I was always able to call. Teri Agins [author and former Wall Street Journal editor] has been incredible, and Lavelle Olexa [a former exec at Lord & Taylor] has been a great resource for me. These are women who said, ‘Call me if you need me,’ and they really meant it!
“One time at an event, we were trying to do something very complicated with a runway that was in a swimming pool. I’m usually pretty calm, but in this case, I had lost all calmness. Harriette Cole said ‘Brandice, if it’s not done by a certain time, just have the models walk around the pool.’ In that moment, it was the exact thing I needed to hear for that event to go without a hitch and to calm my nerves. It was very practical and not necessarily life advice, but it was one of the best things I’d ever heard from a mentor: Nobody knew what was really supposed to happen with that pool, so when people got there, they just enjoyed the show!
“Young women entering the fashion business today should be bold. Ask for the things that you want. Because so often as women, we make assumptions about what’s possible — and what’s not — and I want women to have more audacity. What is important for me is to show up fully, in all my womanhood and power, no matter who the boss is.
“I was once at a gathering of executives where I told one of the men about one of the deals that we have with HFR, but when we started talking about money, he thought I should have been asking 10 times what I quoted. That moment has never left me because I realized that he saw, not just the opportunity, but the financial opportunity. He was so sure that he would have been able to command a much higher amount, and said it in front of a room full of people. What I got from that is I need to have more audacity myself.
“One of the things that I would do differently is that I would seek wisdom. Often, we’ll seek knowledge and advice, but wisdom is very specific: That’s saying that here is someone who has done something very similar to me and succeeded. I’m going to get basically the shortcut from them about how to do this most effectively. For the first 10 years of Harlem’s Fashion Row, I didn’t always seek wisdom. And now, if I’m trying something new, the first thing I do is go and find someone who’s done it before and ask them for advice. I go get the wisdom now. I know after doing this for so long, that that is the shortcut. People say there are no shortcuts, but there are!
“Finding a work/life balance is challenging. I have a daughter (who is very, very clear on what she expects from her mother) and a husband (and I always say husbands are full time jobs). It’s difficult because the business is doing really well, but it requires a lot of me. It’s challenging, but I do know that it’s just a season. It won’t be like this forever. There are times when I feel like everything’s in harmony. As women, we have to give ourselves grace and say, ‘Okay, this is a moment, a stressful moment, but this isn’t a moment that has to last for a year.’ So, if I’m having a stressful month balancing the personal and the professional, I know that we’ll get it back in harmony.
“I’m most proud of the fact that I started HFR. The most difficult part of any idea or business is starting. And if there’s anything I’m even more proud of, it’s the fact that we haven’t quit. There have been many ups and downs, and now we’re in a place where I’m seeing so many incredible opportunities for designers of color, so when I think back over the journey, I can say I’m so happy I didn’t quit.”