“Fashion, Culture, Futures” Virtual Symposium to be Presented by Cooper Hewitt and the National Museum of African American History and Culture

—Two-Part Program Explores the Influence and Impact of African Americans on the Fashion System—

“Fashion, Culture, Futures: African American Ingenuity, Activism, and Storytelling” is a two-part symposium co-organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Presented virtually Thursday, June 17, and Thursday, Oct. 21, both programs will bring together academics, designers, critics, models, artists, activists and others to share new perspectives on the relationship between fashion and the African American experience.

Part one of the symposium, presented by Cooper Hewitt, will tackle the complex network of artists, innovators and image makers that influence the field of fashion. Inspired by Cooper Hewitt’s current “Willi Smith: Street Couture” exhibition and Willi Smith’s efforts to use fashion to express broader ideas about representation, inclusion and diversity, the program will illuminate how African American creatives are leading innovation and change within the contemporary fashion system. Sessions will address a broad range of topics, including representation in contemporary fashion, surveillance and algorithmic bias, economics and ecology from Africa to North America and queer and modest style in the mainstream. The symposium is free to attend with advance registration. To register and learn more, visit www.cooperhewitt.org.

The Oct. 21 symposium, presented by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will explore the inspirational ways that African Americans have and will continue to redefine the fashion industry. Even as they have faced inequality, discrimination and misrepresentation, African Americans have creatively influenced and been influenced by the fashion industry. The conference covers the following topics: historical and contemporary contributions of African Americans, fashion collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, LGBTQ+ influences on fashion, modeling during and after segregation, social media and fashion, and African Americans in the global world of fashion. Program details will be announced at nmaahc.si.edu.

Program Schedule, June 17, noon to 6 p.m.

Welcome, 12 p.m. to 12:10 p.m.
The virtual symposium begins with welcoming remarks by Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of Cooper Hewitt.

Introduction, 12:10 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Kimberly Jenkins, a leading voice on the intersection of fashion and race, will track the historical and political influence of African Americans on the fashion system.

Celebrating Black Bodies in Contemporary Fashion, 12:30 p.m. to 1:25 p.m.
Featuring photographer Kennedi Carter, model Aaron Philip and CEO of Essence magazine Caroline Wanga, this program will explore how African Americans are represented across the fashion industry. Moderated by Jenkins, panelists will address how their work highlights a spectrum of Blackness within fashion, media and popular culture.

Confusing the Algorithm: Fashion, Surveillance, and Racial Bias, 1:30 p.m. to 2:25 p.m.
As technological advances have amplified surveillance tactics, the fashion industry has emerged as a poignant medium of subversion and critique. Moderated by Cooper Hewitt’s Curator of Contemporary Design Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, panelists include artist Maud Acheampong, architect Pascale Sablan and scholar Chinouk Filique.

Sustainable Fashion Practice from Africa to North America, 3 p.m. to 3:55 p.m.
This program brings together artist Tahir Carl Karmali, fashion entrepreneur Abrima Erwiah of Studio One Eighty Nine and environmental equity consultant Teju Adisa-Farrar to discuss worker welfare, the environmental impact of the fashion industry and how Black creatives are advancing models for change based in heritage and handcraft.

Aesthetics of Freedom: Hypervisibility in Modest and Queer Fashions, 4 p.m. to 4:55 p.m.
Modest fashion and style birthed from queer experiences have been historically excluded by social and political codes and misappropriated by the broader fashion system. Moderated by Cooper Hewitt’s Education Associate Darnell-Jamal Lisby, this conversation explores ways these systemic pitfalls have been creatively combatted. Speakers include founder of UMMA Models Shannie and artist Brendan Fernandes.

Keynote Conversation with Law Roach, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
As image architect to rising stars like Zendaya and the Hollywood Reporter’s Top Stylist of the Year (2021), Law Roach’s creative vision is shaping the future of fashion and media. This program will center Roach’s process and experiences, touching on the various points discussed throughout the day.


“Fashion, Culture, Futures: African American Ingenuity, Activism, and Storytelling” is co-organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Principal support is provided by Target.

Major support is provided by Gucci.

Funding is also provided by The Keith Haring Foundation and One Smithsonian.


Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 215,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world. For more information, visit www.cooperhewitt.org or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

About the national museum of African American History and Culture

Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 7 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting, and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.