Welcome to My Story, our weekly series championing creatives of colour and their paths to success.
Meet Danielle Williams-Eke, the Los Angeles-based design director of luxury e-tailer 11 Honoré’s private label line. Since its launch in 2017, 11 Honoré has become a go-to destination for elevated, size-inclusive offerings that cater to those who are a size 12 and upwards, and carries an impressive roster of high-end designer labels like Brandon Maxwell and Altuzurra. Danielle joined the shopping platform a year ago to lead and launch the company’s very own in-house label, and for the past decade, the designer has specialized in designing extended sizes and pioneering patterns, fits and silhouettes for the plus consumer. Here, Danielle talks about design principles, career lessons and working in light of the current health pandemic and racial unrest.
On her design philosophy:
“I always like things to be wearable and functional, but I do like to add that fashion element and some sex appeal. It’s about showing the beauty of a woman.”
On her idea of power dressing:
“Anything with a blazer gives me that power feeling.”
On the hardest lesson she’s come to learn as a designer:
“There comes a point where you have to be flexible. As a fashion designer, you’re an artist: You’re an emotional being and you get connected and tied to your work. But then there’s the business side where you have merchants and CEOs to report to and financial plans you have to meet. There has to be a willingness to move or use data. There has to be room to receive feedback and apply it in a way that your vision is still reflected but it’s also good for business.”
On what still still needs to change in the fashion industry for it to become even more inclusive and diverse:
“When thinking about inclusivity, I think it’s easy for brands to just focus on one thing: Like a brand going up to a size 24. But I think you can’t just be inclusive in size and shape and not be inclusive in race. There’s more to be done in terms of making everyone feel included. Your collection, your marketing – whatever it might be – should reflect your consumer base, and your consumer should really be everyone.”
On the best customer feedback she can receive:
“When people compliment the fit because fit has always been such a struggle for me personally. I’ve been plus-size for a long time and have tried on different plus-size brands from the US to Europe, and the one thing that always disappoints me – and I know it disappoints others, too – is the fit. Something that’s sized as an 18 could fit like a 14, or pieces are big and oversized for no reason because there’s this mentality that that’s the only way plus-size women want to dress.
Fit was really important to us as we built the 11 Honoré collection. We had a plus-size fit model – which a lot of brands still don’t do – and we make sure to try things on a range of women with different body types, shapes and heights because, again, there’s this common mindset that with plus-size, every women is an hourglass shape and that’s not the case. So we tried things on different women to really nail down and drill in on what the best fit for this brand could be. From our first collection right down to our last, I want to be consistent. I want customers to be able to rely on our fit and keep coming back.”
On designing and charging forward during a global health pandemic:
“It’s been difficult. Part of designing is gaining inspiration and one of the ways I go about gaining that is through travel, but obviously that’s not something we’re really able to do right now. So I’ve been pushed to look for inspiration in other places. What I had to do is go back and realize that your focus should always been on the customer. Travel is nice – all those other inspirational things are nice – but, at the end of the day, you need to know who you’re designing for and meet them where they are. What became important was understanding that the world has changed – that lifestyles have changed – and if you want to be a ‘lifestyle’ brand, you have to understand what women are going through at this very moment: They’re at home, they’re working from home, they’re both working and mothering from home. There’s this whole other complexity in terms of the roles of women right now. Fashion may seem small in that perspective but, for us, it’s about how can we serve her. It’s about how can we make her day at home a little easier. I believe looking and feeling good can make your day a little easier. I’ve been drilling in on that inspiration more. Like with our fall/holiday collection, we took a casual approach to it with a focus on more cozy and warm-handed things: casual utilitarian pants, jumpsuits, sweater dresses.”
On the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and what she’s learned about herself:
“We debuted 11 Honoré’s first private-label collection in June right on the heels of the uprising of the protests, and I remember during that time feeling very excited to launch but also feeling like this is so small compared to what we were going through as a nation. It took some time and reflection, but I learned that the timing was right. It became a moment for me, as a Black woman, to say, ‘I’m here’ – knowing that this type of opportunity to run and lead a design team at a brand like 11 Honoré doesn’t come often. That there aren’t a lot of people who look like you who get this type of opportunity. Prior to my role here, I never described myself as a ‘Black designer’. It wasn’t something I was focused on. I was just a designer doing what I love. But now, I understand the importance of acknowledging that identity because you’re an example and a reflection of what can happen. Like, I personally didn’t know of many Black American fashion designers when I was coming up. There was basically Tracy Reese and that was it. So I think it’s important for me to be an example to help move other women of colour – other creatives of colour – along. The movement has definitely created a space for me to acknowledge all of that.”
On her long-term vision for 11 Honoré’s private line:
“I think it’s important for women to have a place where they feel seen and heard for all of the different clothing pieces in their lives, whether we’re dressing someone for the red carpet or making comfortable loungewear for her to sit and work from home. To me, really becoming that brand where we have everything she’ll need is the ultimate goal. I want to be the go-to brand for the plus-size woman who’s looking for more.”
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