BET.com's THE GLAM GAP is a weekly video series spotlighting Black entrepreneurs and influencers in the beauty, fashion, and lifestyle space.
Neishea Lemle is seldom seen without the rings that spell out her nickname, “Shay,” on her left hand. She does it for two reasons: because people sometimes have trouble pronouncing her full first name (sounds like ‘knee-shay’), and because they’ve become part of her signature style, which she describes as “prissy tomboy chic, with an edge.”
The celebrity stylist and costume designer’s 11-year fashion career began with her working in corporate. However, when her friend, Nefertiti Nguru, who’d always admired her personal style, began directing a film, she asked Lemle to be the costume designer. That project helped her realize her true calling, and she began assisting more experienced stylists and costume designers. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles to hone her skills, build contacts, and gain more access to Hollywood projects.
Since then, Lemle has styled musicians and actors, including Luke James, Amanda Seales, and Eris Baker of “This is Us” fame. She’s also worked on shows and movies such as “Grown-ish,” “BlackAF,” “Empire,” and Hidden Figures. However, her most affirming moment so far came when she styled Baker for the 2019 Emmy Awards in an ethereal gown with a headpiece that she’d customized herself. That appearance landed Baker on multiple best-dressed lists, catapulting her into the teen style-star stratosphere.
“It was a very proud moment that made me believe in myself more, like, ‘I can actually do this for real,’” she says.
Lemle is excited to see more Black creatives getting high-profile opportunities and seats at key tables where decisions are made. However, she realizes that’s only the beginning. “I feel like we’re getting a little bit of footing, but it could be more,” she says. “We have to hire more Black people, more Black creatives. We need to support Black entrepreneurs. We need to make sure there’s access for Black people to have more opportunities.”
The style expert also realizes how much talent goes untapped in underserved communities, especially those with predominantly Black populations. Generally, those individuals are shut off from access to internships, mentors, and other conduits that can lead to success in fashion and other creative pursuits. To that end, Lemle hopes to see more resources, scholarships, and enrichment programs made available to them soon.
Lemle also believes that brands should hire more diverse creative teams, and that Black creatives need to “cast down their buckets,” as Booker T. Washington once said.
“As Black people start creating more of their own content, let’s hire our own people. Let’s teach them. Let’s get them in and train them. With that, more opportunity will arise.”
More Black people in decision-making positions can only benefit the fashion industry as a whole, according to Lemle. “Black culture has always been at the forefront of fashion... Everything that we start, you see it trend in high fashion magazines or in white spaces. When they say it’s great, then it becomes a thing. But we’ve been doing it for years.”
To prove her point, she recalls the story of style innovator and visionary designer, Dapper Dan, who was once shunned by luxury designer houses, including Gucci, but who now has a Harlem-based atelier, in partnership with that brand. Lemle also notes that certain trends, such as bamboo earrings, which were once considered “ghetto” or “low class,” are now on designer runways, on the pages of high fashion magazines, and are embraced by celebrities of all races.
It can’t be denied that Black style and hip-hop culture influence the masses. The clothes, shoes, and accessories now seen in stores would likely be of a totally different flavor were it not for the inspiration of Black style. For that reason, Lemle says, “I think black culture is fashion.”
Follow Neishea Lemle on Instagram @neishea and watch THE GLAM GAP episode below!