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 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 tackles 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 illuminates how African American creatives are leading innovation and change within the contemporary fashion system.

Welcome remarks are given by Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of Cooper Hewitt.


Kimberly Jenkins, a leading voice on the intersection of fashion and race, tracks the historical and political influence of African Americans on the fashion system.

Celebrating Black Bodies in Contemporary Fashion

Featuring photographer Kennedi Carter, model Aaron Rose Philip, and Co-Founder of WangaWoman, CEO of ESSENCE Caroline Wanga, this program explores how African Americans are represented across the fashion industry. Moderated by Jenkins, panelists address how their work highlights a spectrum of Blackness within fashion, media, and popular culture.

Confusing the Algorithm | Fashion, Surveillance, and Racial Bias

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 interdisciplinary performance artist Maud Acheampong, Associate at Adjaye Associates and Founder and Executive Director of Beyond the Built Environment Pascale Sablan, and fashion design practitioner Chinouk Filique de Miranda.

Viewing of WilliWear Spring 1986 Expedition Film

Willi Smith conceived Expedition as a new format for presenting the WilliWear spring 1986 collection. With the introduction of this film viewing by Cooper Hewitt’s Curatorial Program Assistant, Myra Edmonds, Expedition by Max Vadukul embodies WilliWear’s embrace of film as a mechanism for disseminating fashion concepts beyond the runway and Smith’s desire to draw inspiration from and reflect on his African heritage while encouraging his audience to explore African cultures. A version of the film with audio descriptions is available here.


Sustainable Fashion Practice from Africa to North America

This program brings together artist Tahir Carl Mohez Karmali 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 Fashion

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 the Founder of UMMA Models Shannie, and artist Brendan Fernandes.

Keynote Conversation with Law Roach

As the image architect to some of the most prominent Hollywood rising stars like Zendaya and the Hollywood Reporter’s 2021 Top Stylist of the Year, Law Roach’s vision as a creative is shaping the future of fashion and media. With Darnell-Jamal Lisby is conversation with Law, this program centers 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 

Major support is provided by 

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