Now hear this: Carmen Webber and Carmia Marshall, the beauties beauties behind the Sistahs of Harlem clothing line, want it made clear that they have not abandoned the beloved community that fuels their creativity. Sure, their current studio/showroom boasts a Tribeca address, but the decision to head downtown was pragmatic, not pretentious. “The gentrification (of Harlem) is a wonderful thing,” says Webber, a former model turned designer from North Carolina. “But it pushed a small company like ours out.” So, until they’re able to attain the capital (preferably through investors) to return, they continue to produce the edgy clothing that stylish celebrities like Alicia Keys, Iman, Eve and Erykah Badu clamor for. Or more specifically, assures Webber, “We’re still representing the true essence of Harlem.”
A large part of that essence, says Marshall, is the stimulating cultural synthesis that exists there. “I’ve always known about Harlem,” says Flint, Michigan, native who got her fashion start working as a wardrobe stylist for film and television. “It’s a microcosm of so many different things: nationalities, personalities, and careers. It’s a melting pot, and why not mirror that in fashion?”
Sistahs of Harlem reflects Harlem’s many facets through an eclectic mix of high fashion and sportswear that they call ”street couture.” Says Webber, “Urban style has come to mean hip-hop, baggy tops epieces like the deconstructed pinstripe Zora Neale Hurston Suit or the Lena Horne t-shirt with slit know sleeves, they pay tribute to legendary Harlem. Their Rasta Punk collection, a variety of sexy reconstructed t-shirts, dresses, and hot pants emblazoned with Jamaican themes, is a sartorial big-up to the colorful Caribbean vibe now evident uptown. And Sistahs of Harlem’s desire to inform is just as strong as their passion for fashion. Last fall, their flight-themed Sistahood of Wings collection celebrated pioneering female aviators of color like Bessie Coleman and Katherine Chenung.
For Spring and summer 2006, the Sistahs have created Cosmopolitan Goddess, a cool eceletic line of Eastern-inspired tops, skirts, dresses and pants that are sure to put stylish divas in touch with their higher fashion selves. They’ve also debuted a lower-priced line of funky t-shirts and separates under the Angels of Harlem label. And, for the record, the Sistahs plan to come back to Harlem this March by opening a private showroom uptown.