On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN linked up with legendary urban fashion designer April Walker to talk about her career and the current state of streetwear in the fashion industry.
Hailing from Brooklyn, Walker was inspired to launch her career after visiting Dapper Dan’s shop in Harlem in the ‘80s. From there, she launched her own store, Fashion in Effect, in Brooklyn where she created styles that catered to the burgeoning hip hop culture. Walker’s work would later get the attention from hip hop artists such as Audio Two and a young Notorious B.I.G., who would regularly frequent her store. Then, in the early ‘90s, the businesswoman launched her own brand Walker Wear and later scored a host of celebrity endorsements including 2pac, B.I.G., Run-DMC, Mike Tyson, Naughty by Nature, and Aaliyah, among many others.
Walker’s signature brand paved the way for other companies like FUBU, Phat Farm, Sean John, and Rocawear to later dominate in the hip hop landscape. But despite being an early pioneer and the first woman to dominate urban fashion, she has remained unsung in the broader scope of the fashion industry.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list nine facts that we learned from the April Walker interview. Take a look at them below.
1. On Being a Female Designer of Men’s Clothes
Walker was a trailblazer in hip hop fashion and she also was a pioneer for up-and-coming female designers who aspired to make it big in the space. On “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. recalled how some hip hop fans thought that Walker Wear was owned by Run-DMC or Naughty By Nature because Walker stayed behind the scenes back in the day. During the interview, she revealed that she deliberately played the background because she is a woman. “I was very ambiguous on purpose,” she said. “I remember having a conversation with my father when I was first deciding I was going to go for it. I was like, I don’t know if they’ll accept a woman making men’s clothes. And he was like, ‘If you got to chance it, don’t do it.’ So, I just let the product lead.”
2. On Brooklyn Being a Mecca for Rising Talent
Walker said that during her rise in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, her native borough of Brooklyn was a mecca for many other up-and-coming artists, actors, and musicians like B.I.G., JAY-Z, Guru, Easy Mo Bee, Rosie Perez, Spike Lee, and Wesley Snipes. “The neighborhood was very creative and we were all on this Voltron move,” she said. “It was a special time.”
3. On LL Cool J Promoting FUBU in a GAP Ad
In 1997, LL Cool J pulled one of the greatest finesses in urban fashion history. While appearing in a GAP clothing ad, he cunningly wore a FUBU cap to promote the fledgling brand created by his Queens cohorts Daymond John, Keith Perrin, and J. Alexander Martin. Walker reflected on the move and said that it was a big win for urban fashion at the time. “The message was so strong,” she said. “It was everything. I remember the first time I saw it. We had to figure out ways to make something out of nothing every time because we didn’t have the same marketing dollars as Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. So, we had to fit in the culture however we could get it. So, that was so clever because they let it happen. And they were so clueless to the culture. Whoever did that ad, they probably got fired after.”
4. On Modern Day Streetwear
Though streetwear is now considered one of the most popular types of clothing in the fashion industry, Walker believes the rise of fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova have disintegrated brand loyalty. “There are a lot more designers and we’re living in the age of technology,” she said. “And a lot of times, the last thing you see is what you love. It’s [no] loyalty anymore. I came up in loyalty. I came up in a different time with brands meaning something of substance. I think you have Fashion Nova and all this disposable clothing. To me, that ‘For Us By Us’ was real.”
5. On Stepping Away from the Fashion Industry
After grinding her way to success in the late ‘80s into the ‘90s, Walker revealed that she fell out of love with fashion at one point in her career. “I started at 21 and it was just me falling love in hip hop and knowing I didn’t want to work for someone else,” she said. “Now, fast forward, I watched it become this multimillion-dollar business and I watched a lot of designers get screwed over. Sometimes, if you are in love with something and you get to see the inside navigations of it, you can fall out of love. And the fashion business mirrored the music business. In the ‘90s, all the Black music label divisions started closing up. And shortly after that, they started saying urban fashion was going to be dead. I saw the writing on the wall.”
6. On Damon Dash Starting Rocawear
Walker served as a mentor to a bevy of musicians and label owners in the hip hop industry who aspired to launch clothing brands. During her interview, she recalled a time when she was mentoring former Roc-A-Fella Records CEO Damon Dash, who was trying to get Rocawear off the ground. According to Walker, he initially wanted to sew the fledgling brand’s clothes himself, but he quickly changed his mind. “He bought like seven [sewing] machines,” Walker said. “I came and got them. He was like, ‘I can’t do this myself.’”
7. On Her Lawsuit Against Virgil Abloh
In August, Walker filed a suit against Off-White founder Virgil Abloh and claimed that the brand illegally used Walker Wear’s “WW” logo on one of their jackets without her permission. She likened her situation to an incident that happened with Dapper Dan in 2017 when Gucci allegedly lifted one of his designs from the ‘80s. After Black Twitter rallied behind Dan, the luxury label donated funds to the designer and appointed him as the head of a 2017 campaign. While Walker was happy to see Dan’s situation turn around, she said that she believes that she hasn’t received the same support because she is a woman. “I had to talk to some lawyers that reached out to try to settle this amicably,” the designer said. “I also believe that the only thing worse than racism in this country is sexism. I say that because I didn’t have half of that rallying. It’s just things that you notice as a woman.”
She added that Abloh’s jacket, which is being sold in Saks Fifth Avenue, has confused her fanbase into thinking that the design was a partnership. “If a lot of my customers [are] getting confused, that’s clearly the arrogance of another brand saying we can do that and people won’t notice. How dare you, when we are an established brand just like a lot of the other iconic brands?”
8. On Working with Artists That Align with Her Brand
When asked by N.O.R.E. if she’s ever witnessed any artists wearing her designs and looking corny in the process, Walker explained that she’s had the luxury of exclusively working with people who are in alignment with her brand. “I think…if you’re lucky enough, you choose to work with artists that are in alignment with your value system,” she said. “Like ‘Pac, Biggie, Naughty By Nature, EPMD, all those guys were in alignment with what we stood for. There were times that we had to turn down artists.”
9. On New York Fashion Week
The semiannual New York Fashion Week is one of the industry’s biggest events of the year. Despite her impressive resume, Walker has never participated in the event and revealed on “Drink Champs” that she doesn’t need it for validation. “I’ve never been a Fashion Week contender,” she said. “I’ve never depended on Fashion Week to dictate my success or validate my dopeness as a brand. If you look at the color of the people that walk the runway, it’s very different for the designers that are allowed into Fashion Week. So, it’s problematic in a lot of ways. I think the world is changing, just not fast enough. Your tribe is your tribe. You don’t need Fashion Week to tell you got heat.”