Reny Monk, Tee-ing Up

Photo by Larry Hirshowitz

Designer Reny Monk is out to give new life to the fashion cliché that you are what you wear. Monk’s line, Black Girl Apparel (www.blackgirlapparel.com), is a collection of casual-chic tees, hoodies, yoga pants and underwear emblazoned with ethnic identifiers such as “Black Girl, Nuf Said,” “Black Girl n Lovin’ It” and “Booty Girl.” It’s a tweak on both the T-shirt sloganeering of the ’60s and ’70s and the acute brand consciousness of the hip-hop era that has turned too many people — especially African-Americans — into walking ads for Chanel, Gucci, Timberland or FUBU.

Monk, an effervescent New York native and L.A. transplant, plus ex–Georgetown University law student, says she also wanted to counter the overt labeling of black women in popular culture as bitches and ho’s with something not just empowering but fun and easy: “I wanted to create something kind of low-key but distinct, like the Juicy Couture T’s the girls on Friends used to wear.” She lobbied black network television shows for exposure, and got it — Black Girl Apparel started turning up regularly on series such as Bernie Mac, Girlfriends and My Wife and Kids. Monk also custom-makes the same message for Latina and other girls of color, but black pride is clearly what fuels a business she began with $250 and a determination to inject a bit of social justice into fashion.

“A 16-year-old black girl with dark skin said to me once, ‘Aren’t you afraid of offending somebody, wearing that shirt?’” recalls Monk. “I thought, whoa. We’re in a new millennium, but we have the same old problems of self-hate. That has to change.”


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