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The Radical Origins of Denim Day & 4 Bold Black Designers to Celebrate Now

Apr 28, 2021 09:00AM ● By Mary Hinesley

Revolutionary and rebellious, denim is a popular fabric that seems quintessentially “American cool” in its nature. 

We’ve all seen the old western cowboy films, with White men on horses sporting faded jeans and slinging guns. But the truth is that Denim was the fabric of the people long before movie stars wore it on the big screen. Denim’s roots run deep in working-class style and social activism. 

Wednesday, April 28th, marks Denim Day. Established in 1999, Denim Day is about more than the fabric. For the past 22 years, this day and the non-profit behind it, Peace Over Violence, have worked to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence. 


Denim Day stems from a desire to show support to survivors of assault. This tradition began as a social response after a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court. The day after this court ruling, women who worked in the Italian Parliament showed up to the office wearing jeans in protest. The tradition was born. 

Before Denim became a symbol of solidarity, it was a political one. In the 1960s, freedom riders and Black activists adopted denim. They wore the fabric to march and protest during the civil rights movement. White’s followed this trend, and denim came to possess a rebellious essence at its core. 

Caroline A. Jones, author of Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist, wrote, “It took Martin Luther King’s march on Washington to make them popular.” Jones described that Black activists wore poor sharecropper’s blue denim overalls to showcase how little had been achieved since the era of Reconstruction. 

Gender norms could also be protested by wearing Denim. Zoey Washington, a fashion writer, observes: “Youth activists, specifically members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, used denim as an equalizer between the sexes and an identifier between social classes.” 

This fabric has a far-reaching history, and to this day, continues to represent the desires of the people. Denim is a powerful symbol worn by those who seek to dismantle the system and strive for a more equitable future. Today, we stand in solidarity, honor those that came before, and celebrate the creativity that can spring from a fashion movement rooted in political activism. 

4 Black Designers Whose Creativity Pays Homage to Denim’s Radical Roots: 

1.  Romeo Hunte


Romeo is a New York designer who bends gender-conforming rules with sophisticated edginess. Romeo creates cool, unexpected designs with this classic texture, from boxy denim pants to this reversible poncho. Shop Romeo’s Brand. 

2.  Nichole Lynel 


Nicole is the brilliant designer behind the collection, NL the Label. If you’re looking for wildly contemporary denim you won’t see anywhere else, check out her website here. 

3 & 4. Muhammad Abdul-Basit & Deric Crawley 


Muhammad & Deric are indeed a dynamic duo. Based in Philly, they created the brand Jeantrix. The two are known for using exciting colors to make a bold statement. Their daring collaboration hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Last summer, Jeantrix’s denim was worn by Beyoncè in her 2020 visual album, “Black is King.” Her musical collection centers on Black belonging and regality. It seeks to restore hope for salvation, an act of rebellion in and of itself.

 Mary is a millennial currently based in Nashville, TN. She studied Political Science & English at the University of Tennessee and went on to work in the NYC Mayor’s Office following graduation. She is an Americorps VISTA alum. Mary later transitioned into writing for brands and creative advertising agencies as a copywriter & blogger. (That said, she has serious doubts about late capitalism but has been known to partake in spurts of online shopping for ridiculous items- like the perfect selfie stick or that handmade candle kit she has never used.) 

Mary enjoys connecting, learning, and sharing stories. She is particularly interested in political, community, or historical pieces, and those that seek to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health. As a white cis-gender female, she is an advocate for racial and gender equity. 


Instagram: @ihailmary 

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