As we bid a heartfelt farewell to some of fashion’s biggest icons, the remnants of their legacies live on through young black creators like Terrance Williams, the founder and creator of Terrance Williams Designs.
Shifter Mag had the pleasure of sitting down with Williams to learn more about his ethically sourced designs, fashion inspirations and brand. The up-and-coming designer gave us all the behind-the-scenes scoop on what working for yourself truly means and why accessible fashion is so important in today’s age. Williams was open, sincere, and nothing short of sweet when describing his experiences as a young, gay, black designer living in Texas—and let me tell you, his story is one for the books!
So, without further ado, Shifter Mag presents Terrance Williams.
SM: Thank you so much for sitting down with Shifter Mag! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your brand?
TW: Of course! I run my small business called Terrance Williams Designs. It is ethically sourced and sustainably produced clothing and accessories. I design and make all of the items and source the fabric through sustainable means and try to make sure that there are no human rights violations—so no sweatshops and no abusive labor. The people who produce the fabric are paid fair wages. It’s always been really important to me. The human advocacy aspect of everything is the main driving factor.
I went to the University of Delaware and I have a degree in Political Science with a concentration in Global Studies and a triple minor. I was going to go to law school because I wanted to do International Law and help refugees and asylum seekers. So, I took the LSAT, got into the Law Summer program and decided not to go because I also really had a passion for fashion design and I wanted to pursue that. After working a bunch of different retail jobs and feeling like working for someone else wasn't for me, I decided to pursue my business full-time.
SM: Where did you start your business? What platform?
TW: I started on Etsy. That went really well and then I outgrew that platform and decided to launch my own website and brand. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania; but in 2019, I packed up my bags, sold most of my stuff, and moved to Texas to start over and pursue my business full-time. I’m self-taught so I learned how to do everything myself. I feel like I fit in better in a bigger city, especially with my personality, my style, and just the way I like to live my life so out and proud — Texas was a better fit.
SM: How has the launching of your brand been like so far?
TW: It’s been amazing! I say it all the time, but I’m so blessed that I get to wake up every day and do what I love and I get to create and give back to the community and inspire other people. It’s come to a point where it’s beyond me and my designs. It really is about the people that I'm making clothing for. I really wanted my line to be accessible. I wanted it to encompass a lot of different people and different aspects. A lot of the stuff is custom-made to the person’s size, it’s size-inclusive and genderless. I wanted people who, like me, didn’t really fit in anywhere, to have a fashion line or piece of clothing that spoke to their identity and who they are.
SM: That’s beautiful. Who would you say inspires you?
TW: Fashion-wise, I have so many. But really André Leon Talley really inspires me. I would see him wear these gorgeous caftan dresses and it was just this black beautiful man wearing these gorgeous garments and I was like that’s what I want to do and wear. He really inspired me to make caftan dresses and branch out into that field. I also love Solange Knowles. Her style is so eclectic and fun! I draw a lot of inspiration from her and her outfits. I also love Zendaya and her stylist Law Roach. I love what they do with vintage pieces.
SM: What does the design process look like for you?
TW: It takes a lot of research beforehand — figuring out trends and looking at what’s going to be in season, looking at colors, prints, what the popular themes are, and what’s happening in pop culture. Then, taking those and sourcing fabric — whether it’s going to fabric stores or online — and asking myself what do I want to make. Do I want it to be headbands? Do I want it to be dusters? Do I want it to be caftan dresses? Sweaters? Then comes the process of sketching everything out, coming up with a timeline, naming the collection and the product development phase occurs. Also, reaching out to my audience, whether it’s on Twitter or Instagram and asking them what type of collection they would like to see.
SM: How important do you think Social Media is for your line of work?
TW: I find it to be really important because I’m an e-commerce business so everything I do is online. So having a really strong social media presence for me has been really important, but it’s also been really difficult, especially on Instagram, because of the evolving landscape of Instagram. I find myself reaching out to other platforms and really relying on stuff that’s native to my website like my email list.
SM: You mentioned your business growing very quickly? How would you define that?
TW: It started on Twitter. I had a few tweets go viral with one of the dusters that I make, then I was featured in three different Buzzfeed articles. Then, an influencer reached out to me because someone had recommended my brand and she wanted to do a black-owned business haul and she bought a few things from me and featured it in one of her videos. She had over a million subscribers and that took me over the edge. Then, NBC had reached out to me and wanted to interview me about my business and that aired. So it happened all around the same time and my business went from doing three to $4,000 a month to doing $23,000 within a week. It was absolutely insane!
SM: What inspired your brand name? Why'd you name it after yourself?
TW: I went back and forth about what I wanted to name my brand and my business and it was such a tough decision because this is what people were going to know me for and what my designs are for. It really came down to a situation that happened where one of the dusters that I had made --with a completely original design, I’ve never seen anyone do it before, I was really one of the first-- was actually stolen. I confronted the person because they started selling it on their Etsy and they said they saw it on Pinterest somewhere. They saw it on my Pinterest because it was my pin that they saw. They had copied the design, the outfit, the poses, they had copied everything. It infuriated me because it was my work and my design; so, going forward I wanted everyone to know that this was my work, this is what I do, I spent so much time and effort pouring my heart and soul into it. I think we routinely see that black and people of color designers are routinely stolen from, so, I thought if I put my name on my brand and made signature pieces, people would know and the ability to steal it would be less.
SM: Is there anything you would like to add to your brand that you haven't done so yet?
TW: There’s so much that I would like to do. I would love to expand into different types of dresses and I would love to make coats. But, again, it’s just me. I think maybe one day when I have a team and can expand to bigger and better things, I would love to do more high-end dresses.
SM: Do you have a favorite piece?
TW: I have this rainbow striped sequined caftan dress that's a favorite. It's been really popular! People have worn it for their wedding reception, going away parties, coming-out parties and to open up their own businesses at their own brick-and-mortar stores. Seeing that being used in so many different ways has been very inspiring.
SM: What do you hope for his time next year?
TW: Honestly, I take it one day at a time, child! I would love to keep on the projection that I’m on and really raise awareness about sustainability and advocacy. I’d like to get more people on board with that and just be a bigger voice in that community because we don’t really have lots of people of color talking about it. It's unfortunate because we are the group of people who are affected the most by climate change, lack of sustainability, lack of resources and we have firsthand experience with it. Our voices are not being heard. So, I would like to break through the wall and be one of the voices and bring my brand along with me.
To see more of Terrance and keep up with his work, you can follow him on Instagram and visit TerranceWillaimsDesigns.com to view his collections!