Brandon Blackwood is a handbag designer for a new generation.
Since gaining widespread attention in June of 2020 for selling his brand’s signature satin canvas tote with the words “End Systemic Racism” replacing the brand logo, Blackwood has become a household name among a wide spectrum of fashion fans. His ability to tap into cultural moments, his unconventional approach to growing his business and his continued prioritization of accessibility — to his styles, as well as himself — have worked wonders to transition the Brandon Blackwood New York label from a viral moment to an industry force. In the last year, its sales have increased 50,000%, according to Blackwood. Its Instagram following has grown from 36,000 to nearly half a million, and the team behind it has grown from two to 18.
“It’s a whole other ballgame,” Blackwood said, comparing the brand’s current and pre-2020 states. And keeping up with the pace of change was a challenge, to say the least. “We didn’t have a lot of time to go through trial-and-error; we just transitioned to new situation after new situation. It was stressful, but we came out of it on top.”
Brandon Blackwood New York launched in 2015, securing retailers including Shopbop in its first five years. Blackwood credits his outsider’s perspective — he went to school for neuroscience, not fashion — for his strategies that stand out in the crowded market. He’s been hellbent on keeping the price of his handbags in the $100-$400 range. And he’s focused more on earning word-of-mouth marketing through customers than driving awareness through traditional celebs. Even so, Olivia Rodrigo and Kim Kardashian are among big names who have carried his styles.
“My core customers are the ones doing the TikToks and the unboxing videos, and they’re the ones clicking add-to-cart,” he said.
It helps that Brandon Blackwood New York organically aligns with modern consumers’ buying habits. More people are prioritizing supporting emerging designers, especially those aligned with their values, and more fashion shoppers are discovering their next purchases on social platforms.
“Instagram is where we grew up,” said Blackwood, who noted the brand’s ongoing focus on the platform and reliable strategy for sending posts viral. “It’s important to be very current,” by getting in on buzzy conversations, he said. That’s included everything from inter-platform debates about the value of a Birkin to presidential elections. In August, a post featuring Blackwood’s handbags photoshopped onto Drake’s just-released album cover drove 35,000 likes, copycat posts across the industry and press coverage.
Helping to fuel the brand’s social engagement is Blackwood, who said, “I’m always in the comments, responding to the customer.”
From here, Blackwood said he’ll remain focused on keeping up with demand and constantly introducing product newness. What’s more, he’s planning to expand to new markets and product categories including shoes, while “taking it slowly.” This year, he launched sunglasses and a limited-run collection of outerwear.
And don’t expect that 2020 marked his last act of fashion activism. “As a Black person, I always need to be about my community and express that in my art,” he said, adding, ”Though it’s slower than I’d like, the fashion world is changing. And I’m going to be hopeful in saying that, one day, a designer like me won’t be as much of an anomaly.”