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The women bringing back style with substance

BLACK EXCELLENCE: I AM Clothing

HOW DO you feel about Black History Month? I’ve always been conflicted. Whilst marking the achievements of black figures is always a cause for celebration, being limited to just one month per year has always been quite odd to me.

Another woman who shares that same sentiment is Chanelle Denton, co-founder of I AM Clothing – a brand which includes classically designed t-shirts, vests and shopper bags for men and women, available in black with white print.

The brand aims to stylishly celebrate black figures whilst educating their customers on black history.

"I came up with the concept a few years ago, because I have two children in school and they weren’t learning black history,” says Denton.

“So it was basically down to my husband and I to give them information about different heroes and different days in the calendar that were prominent for people of black origin.

“I thought maybe there’s a way we can provoke more conversation around black history and more awareness instead of just having it in October, where it is limited in terms of what’s actually being taught and celebrated.”

Denton’s passion to combine awareness of black history with fashion was shared with her business partner Deborah King, who was equally frustrated with the lack of education regarding black history in the UK.

“Deborah and I met over 10 years ago and we both have a love for fashion,” she recalls.

“We’ve always been interested in doing little projects together and as soon as this came about, she was right on the ball and came up with the design and created the website. It was a very easy conversation in terms of getting this executed.”

Denton, the creative director for I AM Clothing and King, the operational manager, successfully launched their brand on Instagram in April 2017. Since the launch, supporters have lauded their approach to celebrating the hidden black figures in black history through clothing – but it wasn’t an easy process for the two ladies.

“There’s a lot of competition out there, especially since there’s lots of statement t-shirts out there with statements like #woke, #melanin etc,” Denton says.

“However, we found that these products are great for empowerment, but there’s not much information on the T-shirts. So we wanted to be slightly more informative, by celebrating those unknown hidden figures through clothing.”

Some of those hidden figures include Queen Nzinga, Yaa Asantewaa, King Mansa Musa and Tenkamenin. While some of these names may be new to some, Jamaican-raised Denton was fortunate enough to be 'woke' from a young age.

“I was fortunate enough to be sent to boarding school in Jamaica and was taught Jamaican history – so I was aware of that side of British history and Caribbean history,” she says.

“Then I studied American history at A- level. When I came back to the UK, I was more frustrated that there was nothing really for my children to learn other than what was being taught during Black History Month and it just wasn’t enough.

“Deborah is of Nigerian descent and she reads a lot of African authors like myself, so whatever we knew up until a point was self-taught – which is great because we want people to be interested in their history enough to go and learn about it themselves.

“Not everything has to be handed to you, but it’d be great to have a bigger foundation. While the British school system may not be providing the foundations, social media has played a big role in that evolution. With the popularity of hashtags like #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy, the celebration of blackness – past and present – is at an all-time high."

Denton and King’s I AM Clothing is joining the ranks of designers and brands that are choosing to capitalise on that in a big way.

“There’s quite a big movement going on in fashion where a lot of smaller designers are able to make a name for themselves, and that’s thanks to social media,” says Denton.

“This has become the best way to channel history in an exciting way and it’s a project I enjoy doing and we’re both very motivated to make it successful.”

And as for the future?

“Deborah and I have been looking into expanding the line into children’s wear so that will be the next phase. Then we will be expanding to more lifestyle items; cushions, dishtowels, spreads and maybe dresses, crop tops etc.

“So we do have a big vision on how we can expand, and there’s definitely scope.”

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