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November 08, 2013 11:19 am Photographed by Fiona Melder

Fashion Designer to Watch: Ebony White

By Lisa J. Springsteel

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How did you feel when Rihanna hand-selected you as one of twelve fashion designers competing on her Bravo reality television show, “Styled to Rock?” 

It was amazing and surreal. I couldn’t believe it was happening until I was actually shaking Rihanna’s hand, and even then, I was waiting for someone to wake me up; I think I still am.


You hold degrees in fashion design from both Howard University in Washington, D.C. and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Did your FIT education differ greatly from Howard? 

Yes, they were very different. At Howard I earned a 4-year Bachelors of Fine Arts degree and had a full college experience. I was an athlete; I wrote for the paper; I partied; I hung out with cute boys; I made honor roll; and I graduated cum laude. At the Fashion Institute of Technology, I attended the one-year graduate program. I ate, drank, and breathed fashion nonstop. I did not sleep, I did not party, and I did not do anything except work. I lost friends, I lost weight, and my boyfriend hated me. The only people I saw were other students in my program. It was intense and I loved every minute of it. I learned so much. I loved and benefited from both programs for different reasons. The only thing I would have done differently is to have spent at least one year abroad.


You have over 15 years of fashion design experience from companies such as Catherine Malandrino, Emanuel Ungaro, Calvin Klein and Juicy Couture. As is the dream of most fashion designers, you then launched your own collection. What made you decide to venture out and launch your label at the time you did? 

Working for other companies is essential because you gain experience without having to worry about actually running your own business. A young designer working for other brands is similar to a doctor completing his or her residency before opening a practice or a background singer getting experience before venturing out on their own. I’ve spent the last 15 years paying my dues. Now I am ready for my solo. This is why I did the show “Styled to Rock.” It was a stepping stone for me to start paying my dues in the next realm.


As we all know, inspiration can come from anywhere. What generally influences your collections? 

Most of the time when I’m inspired, I feel like I’m just a vessel and the garments design themselves. Sometimes I wake up at 3 am with some of the best design ideas I’ve ever had and I just can’t explain it. Generally speaking, it comes from within.


What was your greatest challenge when first launching your label? 

The greatest challenge when launching a label is the initial funding. A former boss told me early on that to start a fashion line, you will need an initial investment of $100K to $200K. I thought she was exaggerating, but, as it turns out, she was right. Since the economy tanked, all costs to the fashion designer are due up front. Before, you could get financed by the manufacturer but manufacturers now require payment before production. The designer doesn’t make money on orders until after the product has been delivered, which means the designer is responsible for the cost of creating the garments, without getting paid first. Fabric, trim, materials, patterns, and all the little details add up pretty quickly. Additionally, the less product you produce, the more expensive it is. Ironically, a manufacturer will charge a small emerging designer like myself much more to create garments than they would for a major business like H&M, even though they have much bigger budgets and can afford higher prices. Meeting minimums can make things extremely challenging, and the cost is quite often astronomical.


Speaking of funding, you are involved with a wonderful program called KICKSTARTER, which helps creative people fund their own projects. Describe how the program is helping you raise money to produce your Spring 2014 line that you showed at New York Fashion Week this past September with much praise. Also, describe how people who pledge money can benefit.


Kickstarter is great. It is part of the social phenomenon developed over the last few years called ‘crowdfunding’ which is essentially where folks like you and I can actually help fund new inventive products and business ideas that we love. It can allow the inventors and creators to stay independent by securing their own funding. Contributions start at $1 and go up to however much the contributor is willing to contribute. Individually a $20 or $100 contribution may not do much for a whole business, but collectively it adds up with the idea to reach a goal set by the creator of the project. The project’s creator only receives the funding if he or she reaches the goal. This is great because the creator sets the goal at the minimum amount of funding needed to complete the project and if that minimum amount is not met, the contributors don’t end up wasting their dollars and they don’t get charged anything. Kickstarter must approve the project and has several rules in place to protect the backers. It’s amazing, because you are a part of creating something brand new! You get behind the scenes insight, you can communicate directly with the founder, you can sometimes pre-order the product and you are actually a part of this new venture. This is really neat if it’s something you enjoy or believe in. The absolute best part about it all is that Kickstarter makes the creator come up with rewards for different levels of contributions that are unique and specific to the project; rewards that you can’t just go out and buy in a store. The rewards tend to get more elaborate and crazy exciting the more you contribute! It’s very entertaining, and we spent a lot of time coming up with fun and unique rewards for my campaign. My campaign has been set up to help me get backing for the pre-production of my line, which will allow me to get the collection into stores. We are almost at the halfway mark and have about two weeks to go! Now is the perfect time to get onboard Team Ebony. It’s an exciting time to be a part of something that is fresh and new.


For more information or to contribute to Ebony’s campaign, go to:  


What advice would you give an aspiring fashion designer trying to launch his or her own collection?

The best advice I can give any creative person is to be as much a businessperson as you are an artist.  Be smart about whom you trust, and budget wisely. There are tons of people out there looking to take advantage of artists who only focus on the creative aspect; one of your most important jobs is to look out for you.


What is your design philosophy and signature look? 

I focus on five elements when I design. I call them my five favorite ‘F’ words: Fit, function, fabric, flattery and femininity. Can I add ‘fun’ to that?  My brand is distinctly feminine, forward-thinking fashion for today’s ever-evolving contemporary woman. It focuses on flattering fit, premium materials, combining and contrasting prints, textures and novelty detailing. My signature look is feminine, contemporary cool.


What historical and current fashion designers have had a major influence on you and your craft?  I am inspired by designers whose spirit and energy celebrate being a woman in all her feminine glory. Some of my favorite designers include Diane Von Furstenburg, Georgina Chapman for Marchesa, Dolce & Gabbana, Kiki De Montparnasse, Ingwa Melero and Betsey Johnson.


Your designs have been featured in major publications such as Elle magazine and and are sold in stores across the world. You have also dressed several celebrities. Who have you dressed and how did these collaborations evolve? 

Several celebrities have worn garments that I designed based on their own personal taste and preferences because I did not directly collaborate with them or their stylists.  Some of them include Kimora Lee, Malin Ackerman, Julianne Hough, Holly Madison and Lana Del Ray.  There may be more, but I just haven’t seen them yet!


Philanthropy and the fashion industry go hand-in-hand, as we see with the onset of charities such as “Dress for Success.” You have recently initiated another great charity project “The Joint Dress Initiative” which also works with “Dress a Girl Around the World” charity founded by Rachel Eggum Cinader.  What is the mission of the project?  Please explain its cause.

I discovered the “Dress A Girl Around the World” charity a long time ago when I wanted to give back in a way that was more meaningful to me than money. At the time I wasn’t working, but didn’t want to use that as an excuse for being complacent. I conducted research and discovered this charity, and then reached out to Rachel. She responded enthusiastically. The way the DAGATW charity works is that they offer the public free patterns for little girls’ dresses on their website. These patterns can be downloaded and made out of a pillowcase. The person sends the sewn dresses to DAGATW and DAGATW hand delivers them to poor families in countries around the world who struggle to afford food, clothing and shelter. They also deliver the dresses to homeless and abuse shelters. Each season that I create a collection, I will also design a limited edition little girls dress collection exclusive to DAGATW. I send them the designer patterns, which they make available on their site for a small fee (a donation). The dresses may be sewn by the public and submitted. I also send this pattern to a fashion education organization; right now I am hoping to be working with the United Colors of Fashion (UCOF), another charity that works in guiding and teaching inner city youth interested in the design industry. The patterns are used as an educational project for their sewing classes.  The students make the dresses (under the guidance of experienced fashion professionals) for the charity. The dresses are sold and auctioned off at special events with all of the profits going back to the project. I am thrilled to share that I just signed up as our official fabric sponsor! They will be donating the fabric for the students to make the dresses. It’s all very exciting for me, not only is it the first charity project I’ve ever put together and organized on my own, but it is so near and dear to my heart to be able to do something that can get the fashion world and our youth involved in giving. We welcome anyone who wants to be a part of this project!


What three things can’t you live without?

My running shoes, a pencil, and a notebook.


Describe what the ultimate perfect day would be like for you. 

A 2-hour Thai massage, anything active and exhilarating, doing an activity where I get to enjoy nature and socializing over cocktails with my friends.

Ebony’s website:

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