The pandemic put considerable pressure on the fashion industry, especially for those in the fledgling stages of their careers. Despite the challenges posed, emerging designers worked hard to make their mark and create collections with long-lasting impact. Some brands had big breaks with celebrity endorsements and on-schedule showcases. Instagram was, undoubtedly, a key tool and became a way of being noticed in an industry that’s awash with unseen talent bubbling away in the background.
Sustainability has been central to the fashion conversation for years, but 2021 affirmed its relevance—particularly for the younger generation. Footwear designers like Amy Crookes and Ancuta Sarca have discovered innovative methods to make beautiful upcycled shoes, while Sohee Park (of Miss Sohee) creates “couture” from deadstock, and recycled fabrics.
Look out for Lukhanyo Mdingi, Feben, Erik Litzen and Samuel Yang of Samuel Guì Yang, Edvin Thompson of Theophilio and Foday Dumbuya of Labrum next year, who are respectively pioneering exquisite collections charged with themes of identity, heritage and political messaging. Elsewhere, it is people that come first for Petit Kouraj and Studio 189. The former partners with women-led organisation DOT Haiti to ensure its artisans are given educational and training opportunities; and the latter works from Accra to create jobs and support skill development for its community.
When it comes to buzzy brands, Marshall Columbia, Mach & Mach, D’Accori, S.S. Daley, Auné Collections and Louisa Ballou have led with charge; garnering famous attention from stylish A-listers. 2022 will bring many more faces to the table, providing an exciting opportunity for a new class of movers and shakers to offer their fashion slant. Here, Vogue highlights 16 powerful brands to commit to memory, now.
Lowdown: You may already be familiar with LVMH finalist Lukhanyo Mdingi, who was one of three winners of this year’s Karl Lagerfeld Prize. The Cape Town-based designer collaborates with local artisans to create pieces with intricate attention to detail, often spun from wonderful bright colours like sunshine yellow, orange, green and red.
Métier: Mdingi is a master of pattern.
Hero piece: The multi-textured scarf is a labour of love.
Lowdown: Offbeat shoe designer Amy Crookes has honed a one-of-a-kind design DNA. “Sexy stretchy footwear” is how she surmises her practice in her Instagram bio—a suitable term for her crinkled, psychedelic boots and pumps. The Parsons graduate founded her eponymous label in 2018 and recently unveiled her sprightly shirred capsule, which is crafted in Italy.
Métier: Conversation-starter boots and booties.
Hero piece: The mega thigh-high shirred Victorine boots are a keeper.
Lowdown: Get to know Feben, the London-based Central Saint Martins graduate making clothes that go beyond the fabric. Interwoven with tropes of her own identity as a black woman, political messaging and riffs on the body, her collections are refreshingly impactful. Unsurprisingly, she’s on some famous radars, and has worked with Beyoncé, Michaela Coel, Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe. Power duo Ib Kamara and Rafael Pavarotti were behind her spring/summer 2022 campaign which, as one would expect, beautiful.
Métier: Boldness and beauty.
Hero piece: The turquoise wavy textured trousers in Feben’s SS22 collection.
Lowdown: Liverpudlian Steven Stokey-Daley was first catapulted into the fashion fore in autumn 2020, when he was scouted by stylist Harry Lambert to design gorgeous breezy shirts for Harry Styles’s “Golden” music video. He prides himself on a made-to-order business model, ensuring zero waste in the creative process. Stokey-Daley often repurposes old fabrics like tablecloths and curtains, offering one-off bespoke quality to every piece he makes.
Métier: Excellent shirts.
Hero piece: His sell-out knits, like the argyle sweater vest.
Lowdown: From the artisans that they work with, to the traditional craftsmanship they champion, Studio 189 founders Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah pride themselves on a creative community that’s far more than just a “brand”. Accra is Studio 189’s home city, where all its various business
branches—e-commerce, manufacturing and projects—operate from.
Métier: Pieces that you will want to treasure for your lifetime and pass on.
Hero piece: The ruffled hand-batiked cotton shirt dress will take you through every season.
Lowdown: Mo D’Accori is behind the fabulous party platforms you’ve seen all over Instagram. His über-high Belle sandals—that he assures are deceptively comfortable—have been worn and loved by Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, and Ariana Grande. Expect big things for 2022.
Métier: Shoes to dance in, and never take off.
Hero piece: The Belle sandals are a must.
Lowdown: Sohee Park—the South Korean-born, London-based designer behind Miss Sohee—has been making waves in the industry for some time. Her unique approach, which she likens to couture, is not only delicately beautiful, but eco-conscious. She reignites deadstock and recycled fabrics to create extravagant pieces, often adorned with sequins, pearls and embellishments.
Hero piece: The shrouding encrusted wig-headpiece hybrid from her autumn/winter 2021 collection is best-described as wearable art.
Lowdown: Auné Collections pieces are hard to come by. Well-loved among fashion plates, the in-house brand belongs to the Lisbon boutique store of the same name that stocks second-hand archive pieces and emerging designers. The label’s dreamy mesh pieces—conceived by founder Xenab Lone—swiftly sell out upon release. Auné celebrates a forward-thinking business model that’s carving a way for fellow designers: each product is “handmade-to-measure for all shapes and sizes”.
Métier: Wondrous mesh creations.
Hero piece: The showstopper Fardosa cami mini dress is quite a throwback.
Lowdown: Stylist Nasrin Jean-Baptiste founded Petit Kouraj motivated by the desire to create unique bags bursting with character. Based in Brooklyn and crafted in Haiti, Jean-Baptiste’s knitted tote range is wonderfully colourful. Each piece is made in partnership with DOT Haiti, a women-led organisation that ensures communities are given educational opportunities and vocational training. All materials are sourced responsibly and collaborators are chosen on the basis that they align with Jean-Baptiste’s own values.
Métier: Fringed bags that will have people stopping you in the street to ask where they’re from.
Hero piece: The striking midnight-blue fringed bag is a stylish way to hold all your personals.
Lowdown: Last year, footwear designer Ancuta Sarca garnered attention from none other than Cher. Yes, the real-life Cher. Romanian-born, London-based Sarca enjoyed a stint on Fashion East’s esteemed roster; being recognised for her sporty and sustainable shoes. Using innovative manufacturing techniques, Sarca is a master of upcycling and creates athletic, avant-garde designs.
Métier: Heels that would look right at home on a football pitch.
Hero piece: Trot around in the hybrid low-heel laced mules.
Lowdown: Creative director and founder of Theophilio, Edvin Thompson, mused to Vogue that his rousing spring/summer 2022 show was his “most confident, unabashed celebration of Jamaica’s spirit and iconograph”. Thompson fuses the mood of Brooklyn with his Jamaican heritage; creating city-worthy silhouettes peppered with Rastafari hues and motifs.
Métier: An impossibly cool Gen-Z uniform.
Hero piece: We want everything, but if we had to choose: the pink panel slip dress.
Lowdown: Brooklyn-based Marshall Columbia started his now widely-recognised buzzy brand on Depop, selling his signature puffy beaded bags on the platform. Lockdown tempted him to take his eponymous label one step further and he ventured into the realm of ready-to-wear, which was quickly picked up by Ssense. We predict the next 12 months will be big for Marshall—just you wait.
Métier: Nostalgic neon cut-out tops and puffy bags.
Hero piece: Marshall’s embellished plush shoulder bag doubles up as a commuter pillow.
Lowdown: “Designed by an immigrant” is emblazoned across hoodies and T-shirts in Labrum’s range, epitomising founder Foday Dumbuya’s desire to merge Western and West African culture via his menswear. It’s not just everyday gear in Labrum’s remit: exquisite tailoring is paramount, too. Suits are fashioned from cheery stripes and prints with louche, effortlessly cool silhouettes.
Métier: The ultimate all-rounder wardrobe.
Hero piece: The structured indigo denim jacket is the perfect layering piece.
Samuel Guì Yang
Lowdown: Casual-cool is Samuel Guì Yang’s forté. Its founders Erik Litzen and Samuel Yang marry traditional Chinese dress with riffs on Western culture, resulting in highly-wearable pieces with a sleek, modern spin. Femininity is at the heart of their design blueprint: each season explores silhouette and form with this in mind.
Métier: Everyday staples with a timeless twist.
Hero piece: The pristine-white blazer isn’t to be missed.
Lowdown: Louisa Ballou’s sexy swimwear has already made it into famous wardrobes— most notably her alluring “Sex Wax” swimsuits, a favourite of Bella Hadid. Her wanderlust-invoking tropical designs will tempt you to book some sunny holidays come 2022. Don’t wait around.
Métier: ’90s-inspired swimwear and resortwear.
Hero piece: The killer “Sex Wax” one-piece, obviously.
Mach & Mach
Lowdown: Mach & Mach’s sparkly slingbacks have become nothing short of an internet sensation. It’s been nearly a decade since sisters Nino and Gvantsa Macharashvili founded the Tbilisi-based brand, but 2021 has been a whopper year. They recently forayed into womenswear too, which is given the same glitter-choked treatment as their accessories.
Hero piece: You’ll be the best-dressed at a party in the embellished heels.
This story originally appeared in British Vogue.