Style

Brandon Blackwood on His “End Systemic Racism” Bag and Kim Kardashian’s Support

The Black designer talks virality and purpose with Teen Vogue.

Brandon Blackwood has been designing bags for years but it was only this summer that a special design of his started populating everyone's Instagram feeds: A miniature leather purse engraved with “End Systematic Racism." Shortly after the bag went viral, Kim Kardashian posed on Instagram sporting the bag giving it even more attention. But what is this bag all about? 

Earlier this year, when Brandon saw the mass protesting and rampant racial injustice in the US, he felt his approach to fashion needed to change to adapt to the current times. As a Black designer, he felt guilty continuing to post his normal content and creating products to sell. “I was stuck creatively and exhausted by the daily news," Brandon tells Teen Vogue. "I had a pretty solid following and decided I would take this opportunity to make something that could have a direct impact against systemic oppression."

That's how his “End Systematic Racism” mini tote, also dubbed the “ESR tote,” was born. Shortly after its creation, the tiny bag started popping up all over Instagram in posts from influencers and fashion lovers who not only loved its design but also its message. 

Photo: Hsiang-Hsi Lu. Courtesy of Brandon Blackwood.
Photo: Hsiang-Hsi Lu. Courtesy of Brandon Blackwood.

But Brandon had not anticipated the bag would resonate with so many people. The designer says he was, and still is, taken aback by how big of a response the bag got. "I actually launched the bag with a simple photo from my factory and posted it because I’m so impatient," he recalls. "The numbers started happening almost immediately. It was the craziest day. To see your most powerful [and] meaningful piece accepted and celebrated so quickly. I was crying."

Originally, his factory made 509 bags, which the designer felt was "a safe number.” Today, however, he’s sold thousands of bags and has even launched the design in different colorways. Initially, Brandon wanted the tote to be simple, functional, and neutral because the power and detail are in the words. He adds he also chose a neutral color because it gave customers the freedom to customize their totes and add their own flair however they felt fit. Now, the bag also comes in a metallic pink and a snakeskin print, among other unique options.

For Kim Kardashian, the OG neutral look was fine. On October 6, the star posted a photo on Instagram showing off the bag, a move that undoubtedly brought even more eyes on the viral designer. Brandon remembers reaching out to Kim at two in the morning. She responded in less than ten minutes eager to support the cause and the brand. “Having her be onboard with the project meant so much,” Brandon told Teen Vogue. He added how grateful he is for Kim’s commitment to justice reform

 As a Black designer, Brandon knows that fashion and politics go hand in hand. “Systemic oppression is displayed throughout all walks of life, including fashion. Think back to a few years ago when every runway, ad, and commercial was almost completely white," he says. "There are still very few Black/POC creatives taking up important spaces in fashion and this isn’t by coincidence."

He’s right, which is why his bag isn’t just a bag. It sends a message to everyone, not just the fashion industry, that we must put an end to systematic racism. To take the messaging of the bag even further, proceeds of the tote purchases have been going towards the Lawyers Committee For Civil Rights Under Law. “Offering pro-bono legal aid and counsel to POC tackling civil rights cases, I wanted the funds to [directly] fight against systemic racism and oppression. And that’s what this organization does,” Brandon told Teen Vogue about why he chose this organization specifically. 

Now, grateful for his influx of fans and new supporters, Brandon is excited to launch his new collection on October 17. It’s his first collection since he designed the ESR tote and, featuring 14 different styles, it’s also his biggest to date. We can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve and how his brand continues to grow after the viral year he’s had. Down to shop for the cause? Get the Brandon Blackwood ESR tote below:

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