TORONTO — A longtime member of the fashion industry is launching an interactive index of black Canadian designers.
Shoe designer George Sully says he wants Black Designers of Canada to celebrate artists who are too often omitted or ignored, noting he knows what it's like to be discriminated against because of the colour of his skin.
A co-founder of several brands including Sully Wong and House of Hayla, Sully asked people to submit their favourite black designers on social media last week amid growing calls to support businesses run by black entrepreneurs.
Sully pointed to protests over racial inequality that are unfolding across North America, shedding new light on systemic racism and the limitations it imposes on black people.
"I've had to grind for everything that I've gotten, and I've always looked for and only looked for equal footing, equal share," says Sully, whose designs with Sully Wong are carried nationally by outlets including Hudson's Bay and The Shoe Company.
"I don't think any black designer and/or black-owned business is asking for more. (We're) just asking to be seen and to be celebrated."
Sully says it's especially hard for black designers to make inroads in the fashion industry, where he says he's repeatedly faced hurdles seeking bank loans, grants and media attention that don't seem to affect white colleagues.
He recalls being told he couldn't meet with a business contact because the fashion season had ended but then learned his white colleague had a meeting regardless.
"It's more frightening than somebody calling me the N-word to my face because I can't see who is doing it, but I feel it," says Sully, whose Sully Wong work includes providing footwear for the Starfleet characters in the TV series "Star Trek: Discovery."
"It can't be that I've done these really great things and nobody knows about them."
A statement says the goal of Black Designers of Canada is to "make it next to impossible for the industry to make excuses rooted in ignorance to justify exclusion."
He says it'll take time to assemble the website, but he expects it will include information about individual designers and links to their e-commerce sites.
Sully adds that he's heartened by seismic cultural shifts in recent days that suggest people are ready to talk meaningfully about racial inequality.
"White people in Canada have finally said, 'You know what, I see this and I'm not going to stand for this,'" says Sully.
"It's uncomfortable and it sucks to hear but ... if you don't know there's a problem then you don't need to solve it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press