At BET, we are privileged to celebrate our Blackness every day. In honor of Black History Month, we are pulling out extra confetti as we profile some of the most influential Black people in the fashion and beauty industries—especially if their accomplishments and contributions are overlooked by mainstream society. Cheers to our icons!
As a woman who never saw herself being a fashion legend, April Walker has made major strides in the multi-billion-dollar business. In fact, her signature streetwear clothing resulted in an extremely successful legacy that still plays a major role in hip hop culture today.
According to Walker, she could have never imagined the impact she’d have on urban fashion. “I did not grow up knowing that I would pursue fashion, though when I look back on it, I used to save my fashion hangtags to make wall collages with them,” she tells BET Style exclusively. Reminiscing on her youth, she humbly offers, “I also won best dressed in high school and loved the art of ‘getting fly.’
For a woman, who single-handedly changed the way celebrities express themselves on the red carpet, Walker is humble. If you’re not familiar with her brand, Walker Wear, it only takes a quick Google search to find some of the hottest rappers like Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and Jay-Z sporting her custom-made looks in images and video shoots.
As we reminisced over the past like a therapeutic jam session, it became all clear: Walker Wear started with Walker’s love for hip hop. “I grew up in love with music.” She concluded she wanted to be involved in the world of hip hop the moment she heard the beat drop, and it was a no-brainer just the route she needed to take—fashion. “When hip hop music came on the scene, I had a natural affinity for it,” she explains. “Fashion is such a form of self-expression like music, but we didn’t have many alternatives outside of Dapper Dan and a few others that were starting out, so I decided to create.”
In 1987, the ambitious designer started her first atelier shop, Fashion In Effect. “There was a need for this fashion lifestyle that existed. I knew my tribe was there, but we weren’t being serviced,” she tells us. “I knew that this was my passion because I went all in from the beginning. It was the one thing that would get me up early in the morning and the one thing that would keep me going to bed late at night without complaint. I loved it.”
After building a team, Fashion In Effect would make it a point to listen to the repeated requests of their customers. Some requests being: baggier pants, deeper pockets, and bottoms tailored to their Timbs. “All of these confirmations gave us the gumption to start a clothing line,” she explains.
According to Walker, the brand was received well but it wasn’t overnight. “There were a lot of steps that were taken to build the momentum,” she says. “Remember, this is before the internet and before cell phones. So literally, building a brand was through trial, error, word of mouth, credibility, and a lot of hustle.”
FYI: The hustle was real. Walker created her-story as the first woman to dominate the streetwear fashion game. She also became a trailblazer that opened the doors for women in distribution, while commanding millions in sales.
Despite all the success achieved in the fashion industry, there were plenty of trials ahead for the New Yorker. “I entered the fashion industry full of elitism and hierarchy,” she explains. “I was trailblazing in this new lane with a focus on hip hop, which was mostly catered to men (menswear). That was a challenge.”
She continues, “Being a woman in a man’s world wasn’t easy. Finding funding for a new category that didn’t yet exist wasn’t easy, but still, we found a way to push through. I credit my team for a lot of the pushing through. The right team will help you create and carve the dream.”
According to Walker, benefits for women in the fashion industry now exist. “There is different energy right now for women owning their superpowers unapologetically,” she shares. “It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur and Black women are one of the driving forces of entrepreneurship.”
Recently, Walker launched The Walker Wear RAW Series as a collaborative campaign to share human stories and promote sustainability through visual content, storytelling, and meaningful conversations. Each designer was selected because Walker genuinely became fans of their work.
This month, for Black History Month, the series started by highlighting Black American fashion stylists and costume wardrobe designers all dipped in Walker Wear’s RAW denim or other styles. The campaign series has been launched across social media platforms.
“This project means a lot to me because it’s highlighting Black stylists, who are so full of talent and time, however, aren’t afforded the same opportunities or press, like other ethnicities” she shares. “We have to be that change and celebrate each other. My hope is to foster contagious behavior and show how lateral cooperation creates vertical movement. It’s also important to start addressing how we can make changes in the fashion industry to be less wasteful, more responsible, and environmentally-friendly. We want our planet to thrive in the future.”
Walker has also relaunched the Walker Wear brand to bridge the gap of generations and reignite her love for creation and design. “It gives me a chance to discover how young people think by collaborating and working with them. In a sense, it keeps me and my mind agile, not rigid, and that’s a good thing,” she playfully adds.
As a living legend, she will continue to move forward with servant leadership, by mentoring and sharing gems from her book, Walkergems, Get Your A$% Off The Couch. She is also conducting online classes in a BYOB (Be Your Own Brand) course for high-school students who want to create and manifest their own dreams. “Together is better,” she declares.
**Editor’s Note: The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.