We had the good fortune of connecting with Joanna de’Shay and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joanna, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
As the Black Russian Label CEO and a Professor at ASU in the School of Arts teaching fashion, I tell my mentees and students always to be your genuine, authentic self! Keeping that mantra in mind is how I came up with the idea for my clothing label and built a brand that pays homage to my ancestry and beautifully combines my two distinct ethnic backgrounds. I was born in Accra, Ghana, on the Western Coast of Africa and raised in Monrovia, Liberia, also on the Western coast of Africa. My father is Nigerian, and my mother is Russian, so I couldn’t think of another genuine and authentic name for the brand but what I was; a black Russian. I grew up very heavily influenced by the exotic people, cultures, and textures of my majestic homeland and use that as my inspiration for the pieces within my collections. I created the label as a way to empower women in the Fashion Industry to dress the way they feel and honor their bodies just as it was, hourglass and all.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Fashion is a tough business and is even tougher when you are not in a Fashioncentric market with access to funding, manufacturing, resources, events, and even collaborations. Black Russian Label experiments with unique fabrics, a vibrant color palette, bold lines, and edgier embellishments. At the center of all of my designs is a strong focus on fit. The clothes are made for real-size women and accentuate a womanʼs natural body shape while remaining polished and breathable. I am excited that I created a brand for women in the industry that are largely ignored and I was able to grow it slowly and organically, but believe me, it was not always easy. One of my greatest lessons is to trust in your Vision and not get deterred from the larger goal even when it seems that things are not working out or going your way. Be patient and give yourself the time and grace to be able to learn what you don’t know and apply what you do know. Another lesson is always to be working on your business in small and big ways. Often times we don’t like to do tedious things like research or serving on a business group or even volunteering for events. All are part of learning about your business and industry but you must do something every day with a focus on your business. With every challenge came an opportunity to learn something and the only way to overcome that knowledge gap is to do the work and research, learn and apply what you have learned. Black Russian Label is an innovative clothing brand for the global, chic woman who is unapologetic, bold, and empowered by her individual style.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend was visiting for a week, we would have to take a culinary tour of the City to check out some of the restaurants in the area. It would start with an outdoor breakfast stop at the Farm at South Mountain and then walking through the beautiful property to check out their shops and buy some local artisan items. A hike would be in order up one of the many South Mountain trails to work off all of the food we would be consuming that week. Now if this was a visit from my best friend who lives in New York, she would want some Mexican food as she states “no really good Mexican food in NYC”. Our week would have to include lunch or dinner at Los dos Molinos, one of the oldest (and hottest tasting) Mexican restaurants in the area. We are foodies that are not impressed with fancy restaurants and expensive decor, as most true foodies know it’s all about the food. Shopping would be on the list at Chandler Fashion Center and maybe sneaking in a Facial and massage at Aji Spa at Wild Horse pass, one of my favorite spas in the Valley. Somewhere in there would be Indian food at Taj Mahal in Scottsdale or Thai food at Chanpen Thai Cuisine in South Mountain. Our last night would end with the perfect cocktail at the swanky new Boom Boom room on 16th and McDowell, adorned outside with this amazing mural or JayZ and Beyonce on the brick wall. It would all be laughter, food, fun and a time to reconnect.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are many people who hold up my part of the Sky and I am grateful for their time, mentorship, sponsorship, and sometimes just cheers and words of encouragement. I am a strong advocate for Social Justice and left my 15+ year career in Corporate America to explore my love for Fashion and also fulfill my passion for Community Service. I do this by consulting and one of the best organizations I work with that is fighting for Social justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is Diversity Leadership Alliance. DLA is the premiere Education training organization in Arizona dedicated to eradicating racism, bias, and prejudice. DLA continues to serve as a pivotal resource for sustainable changes in the community. DLA’s goal is to create an inclusive community where each person is equally respected and empowered. I am also an Educator, serving as Faculty at Arizona State University teaching in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ Fashion Program. During my time at ASU, I have embarked on a journey to create a new Fashion class in 2021 to help enrich the program. The class is called Inclusion and Diversity in the Fashion Industry and is designed to foster an inclusive fashion environment where all voices and narratives are not only heard but honored, creating space for true collaboration where the Fashion Industry can be reflective of the diverse people it serves.
ASDDESIGN and Photography News Channel 3 Sweet Culture Photography