Byron and Dexter Peart, the masterminds behind WANT Les Essentiels, and the recently launched GOODEE, are no strangers to facing adversity in an industry saturated with deeply limiting principles. S/ recently spoke with the Peart brothers about how the colour of their skin created barriers to succeeding in a predominantly Caucasian creative sphere, and how their steadfast approach guided them to maneuver and overcome challenges while also championing diversity in the arts.
As leaders in the fashion space, did you face racism and microaggressions as you were building your brand WANT Les Essentiels, and now GOODEE?
“Yes, of course. Unfortunately, when we were building our last company 10 years ago, there were just a handful of recognized Black-owned brands and designers. Fashion media and buyers did not (and largely continue not to) see the creativity or style of our designs in the same pedigree of that of White designers. It was only the most exceptional or brand-savvy creatives that were able to push through.”
How did you overcome obstacles of being Black entrepreneurs in a space that has a long way to go in being inclusive?
“We would often have to make sure to get our own unique stories out as we could not always depend on retailers to do so. Our approach was to partner closely with a PR firm that could turn our visibility into a strong asset and point of differentiation. We had something to say and share and had to continually make sure to show our relevance in the fashion arena.”
We live in divisive times and 2020 has been a challenging year. How are you both leading and navigating these challenges?
“For us, these past weeks have been nothing short of an emotional whirlwind coupled in equal parts by numbness, anger, energy, and optimism. But together, we’ve somehow managed to find solace in our shared belief that love, respect, empathy, and unrelenting hard work will be our way to help make the impossible possible.”
What are some steps leaders in fashion and media can take to address systemic racism within their own companies and brands?
“Hire and promote people of colour to significant roles in your team, organization, or supply chain. People of colour are under-recognized for their intellect, talent, hard work, and loyalty. There is no greater motivator for a disadvantaged individual than to be given an opportunity to be recognized and succeed.”
How will you use your platform to raise awareness and keep the momentum going?
“GOODEE was born more than two years ago with the precise mission to promote and build new distribution opportunities for an array of diverse makers, products, and stories. While we see many businesses desperately trying to adapt to the moment, we will continue to highlight conscious makers, talented creatives, and thought leaders who share our mission to design a kinder, smarter, and more beautiful world.”
Are there any writers and scholars you suggest for those yearning to become allies of the movement and understand the Black experience?
“We believe that the greatest deficiency in today’s society is our ability to empathize with others—to truly try to understand what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes. We always recommend listening, learning, and discovering the stories—of plight, struggle and success—of others, especially those less fortunate and more disadvantaged than ourselves.
“There are so many wonderful books written by Black writers and scholars that we would recommend as essential reading for all people looking to better understand the Black experience and how our rich stories are a true reflection of society at large. Our quick starter list would include works by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Colson Whitehead, and Zadie Smith (…to name just a few).”
Feature image photographed by Richard Lam.