COVID Claims a Black Female-Owned Brand: Carly Cushnie Announces the End of Her Eponymous Label

Maiysha Kai
·3 min read
Carly Cushnie, center, prepares models backstage at the Cushnie show during NY Fashion Week on February 8, 2019, in New York City.
Carly Cushnie, center, prepares models backstage at the Cushnie show during NY Fashion Week on February 8, 2019, in New York City.

It’s already a well-documented fact that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has disproportionately affected Black communities in almost every way imaginable—including Black-owned businesses, 41 percent of which have closed permanently since the initial lockdown in April, compared to only 17 percent of white businesses. On Thursday, one of the few luxury labels helmed by a Black woman became part of that number, as designer Carly Cushnie announced the shutdown of her eponymous label, Cushnie, via an interview with the New York Times.

“The brand was just not going to be able to recover,” Cushnie told the paper. “It just wasn’t possible, with the lost revenue, to try and generate enough sales to keep the business going.”

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In an open letter announcing the closure (effective Thursday), Ms. Cushnie wrote that “the effects of Covid-19 have hurt my business beyond repair.”

But she also referred to the difficulties she had faced as a Black woman in fashion, “having to fight much harder than my male peers to be afforded the same opportunities.”

“One of the great ironies of the fashion industry is that while it caters to and profits from women, it has never felt like an industry that supports them,” wrote Ms. Cushnie, who was born in London of Jamaican descent. “This is especially true for women of color.”

Originally launched in 2008 as Cushnie et Ochs, Cushnie had already survived a major pivot when longtime creative partner and design school classmate Michelle Ochs departed the label in 2018, along with the company’s chief executive. Taking over both roles at the label, Cushnie pressed on with the line’s sensual yet strong silhouettes, much beloved by fashion lovers including Beyoncé, Michelle Obama Halle Berry, and Rihanna. Rebranded simply as Cushnie, the label and designer continued to garner accolades as a solo act, joining the Board of Directors of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and launching an accessible capsule collection at Target this May, just a month after she gave birth to her second child while in quarantine.

Nevertheless, coupled with the immense obstacle of the coronavirus outbreak, Cushnie’s company also became the respondent in a June lawsuit filed by former partner Ochs, claiming a settlement was still owed from her divestiture. In August, the label, which had not responded to the suit, was ordered to pay its co-founder more than $380,000.

And even as renewed interest in Black causes, brands and businesses surged along with calls for racial justice and equity, Cushnie, a 2020 Glow Up 50 honoree, tells the Times it simply came too late.

Before deciding to close her company, Ms. Cushnie tried to raise capital, she said, and the increased attention on Black-owned businesses this summer helped drum up interest. But investors were still cautious, telling her they wanted to wait until after the election or the new year.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have that sort of time,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the attention could have come earlier.”

As a result, she explained on Instagram Thursday morning, “while my brand has persevered through unending headwinds, the effects of COVID-19 have hurt my business beyond repair, and it is with great sadness that I share Cushnie will be closing its doors,” she wrote.

The closing of Cushnie is a crushing blow to the designer’s loyal clients and other Black women in the industry as well, as we remain underrepresented at almost level, despite seeing the clear commodification of our influence. Acknowledging this, Cushnie assured us her creative impact is far from over.

“While this past year has been challenging, it has allowed me the time to reflect, reset and realign my goals and my passion for design has never been stronger,” she wrote. “I recognize the power of my presence and will continue to fight for the causes and values I believe in, and will always continue to create.”