As a young girl growing up in Maryland, Danielle Williams-Eke found herself in awe of the way the Black women in her life always dressed in their best and most fierce fashions. Her grandmother, an avid shopper, would help shape the relationship Danielle would develop with fashion- using it as a means of creative expression and a way of showing up in the world as her best self.
Her love of the form led her to a summer program at Parsons School of Design in New York while still in high school. At a collegiate level, she immersed herself in fashion design Miami International University of Art & Design, and mastered her studies at Academy of Art University.
Now she is the Design Director at 11 Honoré, the revolutionary e-tailer marries contemporary and high end design with plus-size inclusivity. Not only was Danielle the visionary behind the brand’s in-house line, The 11 Honoré Collection, but she is behind the 11 Honoré x BIPOC Designer Initiative that launched June 17, 2021.
This new initiative will work with designers such as LaQuan Smith, Kirk Pickersgill of Greta Constantine, and Romeo Hunt to provide guidance in launching extended sizing collections.
In the press release for this announcement, Danielle says of the initiative:
“When it comes to sizing you are not going to get it right with the first sample – it takes time with the utmost attention to detail and measurements. As Design Director for 11 Honoré not only is it my responsibility to design for plus size women, who are often ignored in this industry, but as a Black Designer it is important that I am a part of ushering other Black Designers into the plus space. Black designers and creatives have been overlooked and underrepresented in the fashion industry for far too long so needless to say this initiative is very close to my heart.”
ESSENCE.com spoke with Danielle to talk more about her work with 11 Honoré and her vision for a more-inclusive fashion industry.
ESSENCE: Within your role at 11 Honoré, how do you keep women top of mind in the work you do, especially since there are so many intersections of womanhood?
Danielle Williams-Eke: I think probably one of the biggest challenges, for example, that I’ve run into is really finding the balance between addressing the [fashion] trends, and then translating them into plus sizes in a way that feels authentic and feels modern and on trend. But also finding a way to make that fits and compliments and makes her look and feel her best. Some consumers want the trend just as they see it on straight sizes, but that just won’t translate.
DWE: Like the Boyfriend Blazer trend. What consumers want is the oversized look, but my job (keeping women top of mind) is to make that look compliment curves, so maybe playing with the tailoring and cut to make it fit better so it’s flattering. My job is constantly trying to find that balance , and approaching it in a way that feels authentic, but that also feels made especially for our customer.
ESSENCE: As a Black woman in the fashion industry, how have you seen Black women both behind the scenes and in front of the camera make in the fashion industry?
DWE: I think whether people want to acknowledge it or not, Black women have had a tremendous impact on the plus size industry for many years (including the push for inclusion, body positivity, and all of that). I’ve been working on the brand side for some time now and I can remember back to many years ago to some of these Black women who are the pioneers, if you will, of advocating for us in these spaces. It was Black women coming into boardrooms and talking to brands about their grievances with lack of representation all around.
I was always struck by how they were very fearless and willing to tell these CEOs of billion dollar corporations, “You’re not serving us and here’s what we want to see and here’s how we want to see it.”
The Black woman has always been very vocal about what she wants.It really was something that I admire and I continue to live up to, because there weren’t many people willing to go have those conversations with those brands. And I think that’s been a part of why we are now seeing more inclusion and diversity within the industry- Black women have been doing this work.
ESSENCE: Black women always speak up and out!
DWE: Oh, yeah. Even in the influencing world, it’s Black women using their platform, tapping into a community, and sharing their insights with these brands. They are here to serve, not just get partnerships and sponsorships. They’re making a real impact and being fearless in using their platform to do this work.
ESSENCE: Do you think this work has real roots? Will fashion continue to be inclusive or are they just riding the wave?
DWE: I think the industry has woken up. The data tells us over 60% of women are a size 12 and above. So the simple fact that the majority of women in America can’t fit a lot of these brands right now, I think a lot of them open their eyes. And also, just from a business perspective, creating clothing for more types of women lends to an improved bottom line.
ESSENCE: There are so many brands out there now. In your role, how does sustainability play a part, if at all?
DWE: I think the approach that we have taken is to create quality clothing versus fast fashion (which is seasonless). For many of them, much of the clothing is almost also seasonless. I think about fabric and quality construction. I give the consumer more thoughtful clothing, and to be thought of more highly and invested in. With our pieces you’re not wearing while it’s on trend and throwing away, these are pieces you can have for many years.
ESSENCE: What is your advice for those who don’t have the means to tap into the designer space? How else can the industry make fashion accessible?
DWE: Take your time. Building your wardrobe doesn’t have to happen overnight. At 11 Honoré, we have designers that range from contemporary to high end with all types of price points. I say start identifying holes within your wardrobe, or identify pieces you wear often and where it makes sense to invest. Start with classic pieces that you can build-on and add different accessories. It really is about curating and collecting these pieces along the way that you’ll have for many years.
ESSENCE: Any advice for women who are afraid to approach high-end designers because they’re not sure how to translate the fit or tailoring?
DWE: It can be intimidating to worry about things like fit and construction, but my advice is to do your research before you make your purchases. Ask questions in the boutiques or of customer experience specialists if you’re online. Ask about fabric fits, care instructions, the best way to get it tailored if need be (and if the brand offers that service), how to do size conversion on international designs. Ask to see pictures of that particular piece on a body type similar to yours. Don’t be afraid to ask a bunch of questions before you invest.
ESSENCE: Aside from putting plus and Black models in campaigns and on runways, how else can we think about creative more diverse and inclusive environments in fashion?
DWE: It’s deeper than just casting the models or the designers of color, or whatever it might be. I truly think that the diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry is really about being able to look around a show or an event or C-suite and see people who look and think differently. I think the more we can diversify those who are working within the brand, the more voices you have at the table to call out things or to bring up. At the end of the day, your consumer is not just one woman who looks one way. And so it really should be about having your internal team be a representative of your consumer base. So if you know if you want to learn how to speak to Black women better, or to understand what Black women want, you need to have a Black woman in the room. Have that representation at all levels, and especially so in leadership roles. Brands should want to know more and be informed so you don’t have to issue that apology.