In one of my college classes, I had to explain how Black people often have to face implicit racial bias during hospital visits because healthcare providers are less likely to believe a Black patient is experiencing discomfort or pain.
These are common narratives that play a role in the high maternal mortality rates of Black women. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women also make up about a third of abortions and are at least three times more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy-related causes.
Historically, forced sterilization has been a reproductive injustice for Black women for years and one that has greatly impacted women to this day. Qualitative research in Georgia has shown that Black people face intersectional barriers to abortion care, emphasized by past experiences of disrespectful care leading to mistrust.
If you also take into account the lack of appropriate interpretation services and poverty-related factors such as the inability to afford abortion services, lack of transportation, and lack of insurance, the fight over abortion rights is more pressing than just a leaked draft opinion.
For poor and working-class women, a disproportionate number of whom are Black, overturning Roe v. Wade will just mean that getting an abortion safely in a health facility will become yet another thing out of reach.
— Laura Nwogu, quality of life reporter at the Savannah Morning News
Pulse of the 912
Danietté Thomas is elevating her brand and the confidence of every customer that graces her doors. I chat with the fashion designer and owner of House of DANIETTÉ about seeing her dreams come to fruition, following your gut, the impact of Black culture on trends and a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with former Vogue editor André Leon Talley.
Laura Nwogu: Your brand has elevated so much over the years from SCAD to New York Fashion Week to the Oscars. If 11-year-old Danietté, who was just sketching designs after class, could see you now, what do you think she would say?
Danietté Thomas: “Keep going, keep pushing, keep pressing. The path may not be very clear, but every step has a reason behind it.”
LN: And you opened your storefront for House of Danietté early April. What does it mean for you to not only be a Black woman who owns a business but to still see big moments happening in your career?
DT: “Every time I accomplish something, I can always count on my friends to remind me that God’s not finished with me. Opening my design house was quite remarkable because I’ve never really wanted to do retail. So working by appointment here in the design house and making products that can go in other stores is great. Also, being able to service people independently for custom designs, but also styling and alterations and running the event venue — It’s like my business multiplied times six overnight, and it’s pretty surreal to go from 400 square feet in my house to 3000 square feet across town.”
“I wasn’t looking for my commercial property when I found it, but it just goes to show you that you can make a plan and you can have goals and want progression, but ultimately God still has a plan for you. And it’s always going to be one that’s going to blow your mind. So, every year when I have this big accomplishment, I’m always like, ‘OK, what’s next?’ Like there’s no way in the world God’s going to do something bigger than this, right? But around this time last year, I was saying the same thing when I won Savannah’s best local clothing designer and was actually flourishing after I had lost my job in the pandemic. I was actually getting some traction with my business, figuring it out, going through my ideation stage. What was I doing that I wasn’t monetizing? Things like that. And then all of a sudden stumbling across commercial property and doing things that I had never done before and never saw myself doing. So, it’s really amazing. I don’t know what God’s going to do after this. I have no idea.”
LN: A big part of your mission is instilling confidence in anyone who graces your doors. As a fashion designer, how do you bring about that confidence in people? What are some things that you do, whether it’s in your designs or how you handle a customer, that help to bring forth that confidence?
DT: “Well, firstly, what I do — and I think all creatives and businesses should practice doing — is I educate my client. No information is a secret. Help them become informed on what real fashion is, why this looks good, why that looks good and why this accentuates you and not accentuating the next person next to you. It’s one of the things that I pride most in what I do because it’s one thing for me to give you information and give you my opinion. It’s another thing to give you education back. That’s why I’ve always taken pride in education and being able to get a prestigious degree in what I’m passionate about. I didn’t want people to think I’m just a subpar seamstress or I came up under grandma. No offense to grandma, but there’s this big world outside of literally our living rooms where we’re working a domestic singer that has figured out fashion and applied as an art form and taking it seriously and why it works and why it doesn’t. It has this whole history behind it that we want to take the opportunity to learn about so that we can build further and grow in this industry. And I think all creatives should practice doing the same.”
LN: And going back a bit, what was the transition like for you to go from sketching designs to actually making designs and seeing them come to life?
DT: “Well, I immediately fell in love with it before I even endured it, and that’s what made me fall in love with fashion. The fact that I could make my 2D sketches I was sketching, having no idea that it was possible for individuals to make clothing. I think I was so young, I hadn’t even thought about how clothing was actually made. I just didn’t think it was possible for me or any other individual around me to make it. But then as I began to learn intricate sewing techniques, I always saw room for improvement. So, whether it came out exactly like my sketch or not, I knew how to always really come out with a plan. The thing that I work with now is there’s not really a blueprint for my industry.
“As much of a perfectionist as I am, I have to accept the flaws that come with it, but figure out how to move better further so that I can carry people through this process and teach others to transition. I know that I’m passionate about my sketches, but I don’t have to create this thorough, detailed sketch. In the initial consultation, I have to identify it as an initial sketch, like ‘Hey, this is our plan and this is what I know will happen.’ But then as it progresses, being able to go back to my sketch and say, ‘OK, this is what we intended, but I think this is what will work better’ and just being transparent with myself and being transparent with my clients to a certain extent so that they understand and feel better about what’s going on. The more communication that we have in this creative industry, of course, the better. But being able to see things come to life, I always push myself to try and get that sketch and make sure it’s completed and posted side by side so that clients know we’re not just out here cutting fabric and throwing it on someone, but we’re taking them through an experience that they can enjoy and understand and feel confident about throughout. They didn’t just fall in love with this sketch, but they fell in love with the idea of themselves being able to evolve to this new level for this prestigious occasion or for whatever it is they may be doing.”
LN: Your work was recognized by the late great André Leon Talley. Can you tell me what that once-in-a-lifetime meetup was like and what it meant for you?
DT: “It made me feel a whole lot better because, when you are at SCAD and you’re in the grind of things, you take on so many different opinions from the dean of the fashion department to even Paula Wallace as a president, — getting her opinion on my collection — different industry professionals that they bring in throughout that entire process over the course of eight months of developing your collection, to the point that you’re like, you keep getting it right, but you were influenced by so many different opinions. Is your opinion good enough on its own after you graduate? After walking across the stage, it’s like, now what? How do I do this alone? How do I progress alone? How do I go work for this person or for that person? How do I have good judgment when I had so many other opinions that helped me get to this great place? And so when André told me that not only my collection was Best in Show but it’s the wish that it was in white, specifically. I made the collection in black because so many of my mentors encouraged me to, but I highly desired to do white.
“White was the original plan, so when he saw my piece and said he almost wished that it was like white or cream or ivory, literally everybody that was affiliated with my process around me at the time, began to laugh because they knew what that was what I originally to do. So, it really justified my work and my intent and my inner gut. As a fashion designer, it was like, I’ve worked myself up to this point and up to this day, and I’ve already got that grit and that grind. I just need to work with it and keep it with me at all times so that I don’t lose it. It’s what makes me unique; it’s what makes me special. And it’s just being able to know when to say yes and when to say no. I think we as creatives and people in general struggle with that, so it’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my days.”
LN: And are there times where you have to balance what’s trending or what’s “in” right now with what your gut is telling you you should do or how you should move forward with a certain design?
DT: “In some way. I have to take my client into perspective: what they want and what they’re looking for. The fashion world exists, but in the Southeastern region of the United States, it almost does not exist, if that makes sense. We, as America, have been kind of following Europe, in my opinion, when it comes to art for centuries. So, now what we’ve got going on is — especially in African American culture — we were not accepted in so many different realms to the point that we created our own world. We’re setting our own trends. People are admiring us for the things that we were picked on for in so many different areas in our life, not just by other cultures, but by some in our own because we’ve been placed here to try and blend in. Now we’re at this point where we’re allowing ourselves to be differentiated, and there’s a lot of confusion. So really, fashion has become — especially in the pandemic — what we make it because who says what what trend is? It’s all about looking nice and feeling good at the end of the day.
“Fashion is what you make it and what you receive by the different rooms that you choose to enter depending on what the realm is in your life. That’s all that fashion is. So I think the trends come into play when there are new exciting things that I feel like I can apply to my clientele and my genre, especially down here where I’m at.”
LN: I love that. And is there a piece of advice that you would give any budding fashion designers or anyone that wants to be in the fashion industry that you wish you had known starting out?
DT: “Come up with where you want to be; figure that out. I think, for years, I struggled with where I wanted to be because where I grew up, creativity was not accepted as a career just yet, especially amongst African Americans. My generation before me had just gotten accepted as educators and doctors and nurses and lawyers, so for me to say I wanted to be a fashion designer was just like, ‘Huh?’ So, I never really said, ‘OK, I want to be a bridal designer,’ ‘OK, I want to do suits,’ or ‘Oh, I want to do activewear’ because I was afraid to place myself somewhere specific that made my heart sore, because I just wanted to go where I was accepted. So it’s like OK, I’ll get good at everything, and then whoever wants to pick me up, or whoever wants to hire me, or whoever wants to make this custom outfit for them, or whoever feels like this is where I can sketch the best — wherever I’m accepted, that’ll be where I’ll go. I’ll get good at everything. I would encourage designers to figure out what makes them happy and then grow in that department.
Do you have to choose just one? No. It’s definitely a wise decision to just work in one arena. Because I’m not big on kids’ wear. There are a lot of kids’ projects I will turn down because one, it’s not worth my time, and two, the kid will grow out of it overnight. But you’ve got to decide where you want to go. … Where do you want to see yourself? What do you want to make? How do you want to make it? What type of home life do you want? What type of work do you want? What you want for your family, what you want for the next generation — figure that stuff out, lay it out and write it down. Make it plain, make it clear, so that you can work with people like mentors and professors and teachers and get educated along that route. Otherwise, everybody’s just working with you as another generic piece of the product. Nobody can help you get where you need to be if you don’t know where you are and where you want to be. Otherwise, they’re just helping you go in one direction. But you’ve got to be the leader of your journey. So, keep dreaming and figure out what their dream is.”
LN: Why do you love the 912?
DT: “Savannah is on the rise. I knew at a very young age I was meant to be a big fish in a small pond. The idea of being around hundreds of thousands of people in a busy city is a little overwhelming for me. And I don’t know if that’s because I’m from a small town or that my family’s from a small town — I don’t know where it comes from. But it’s just so busy and so much and my mind already does 10 things at one time. So when I go to New York, I love it. I thrive in it. I live for it. I’m built for it. But after a week, I’m ready to come home and Savannah is home for me. I don’t know if I could see myself anywhere else. I love being able to just get up and go and be where I need to be in 10 to 15 minutes. And I love that so many people moved here in the pandemic and still are. When I network and go out and about, it’s very rare that I find somebody that’s actually from here.
“So whereas a lot of business owners that grew up here feel like they have to up and leave and go to Atlanta or LA to be able to grow, I like that I can be the trailblazer to show that you can grow here and people will fly here for your gift. People will come here to see you and to do things relevant to your business. If you’ve got the talent, people will come. So, I’m very big on creating nationwide based visibility for my brand. I feel like I’ve accomplished the Savannah popularity, and now it’s time to expand beyond that.”
Art of The 912
The 912 newsletter will highlight a local Black artist every two months as the header image for the weekly issue. This month’s artist is Tafy LaPlanche.
Stories of The 912
Savannah resident Elbi Elm is continuing her mantra of “take up space” with the newest coffee shop on the block, The Culturist Union.
Back in the Day Bakery owner and bestselling author Cheryl Day is a 2022 nominee for the coveted James Beard Foundation book award.
A now verified draft opinion that leaked Monday night shows a majority of Supreme Court justices have privately voted to strike down Roe v. Wade. The possible overturn of the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion legal across the U.S. means that individual states would determine the legality of abortion.
A small but vocal group of Savannah-area residents is pushing for the removal of nine books found in Savannah-Chatham school libraries that include what they consider sexually explicit content.
Only a few weeks stand between Georgia voters and a clear picture of the November 2022 ballot. Early voting for the May 24 primary election begins this week.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: The 912: You can’t ignore the influence of Black culture on fashion