There's no denying that fashion is a powerful tool. Designers and their clothing collections have the power to shift culture, foster dialogue, and spark inspiration. Right now, fashion's influence matters more than ever. At a time when we're facing racial, economic, and climate reckonings, the industry has a great responsibility to add thoughtful contributions to the world. No one understands this better than Gen Z designers.
Today's young fashion creatives have fresh perspectives, innovative design techniques, and a passion for improving the world through more sustainable and inclusive practices. They've won prestigious awards, presented at fashion weeks across the globe, and built loyal fan bases as teens and 20-somethings. Their work is simultaneously helping shape the present and laying the groundwork for tomorrow's fashion landscape. Ahead, get to know six Gen Z designers pushing fashion forward. You'll want to support, shop with, and follow them all.
Antoine Manning is the 24-year-old visionary behind the handbag brand all over your Instagram, Homage Year. The Bronx-born Atlanta resident's passion for fashion and artistry reignited in 2014 following the tragic death of his father. "Fashion became a source of relief and expression when I needed it the most," he says. "My father's passing, sophomore year of college, and the end of my college tenure greatly awakened my love for design."
Manning created his brand to pay tribute to his father and describes each piece he creates as a salute to people, culture, and the environment. "We're inspired by pioneers, innovators, and revolutionaries of the past and present," he adds. "We're inspired by the world around us while also finding a way to challenge ourselves and how we interact with our surroundings."
Homage Year has gone through several iterations regarding its product assortment. Upon launching in 2015, Manning debuted with a line of statement t-shirts. By 2019, the brand consisted of pieces ranging from hoodies to hats. Today, Homage Year is most known for its coveted OVA Bag. Its social media virality has garnered celebrity fans (like Tierra Whack and Baby Tate) and led to each drop selling out. The proven demand also paved the way for partnerships with Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Black Fashion Fair over the past year.
While the brand's notoriety has rapidly grown, Manning still operates with a "slow and steady" mindset. "Our Gen Z perspective influences our approach by making us slow down," he explains. "We live in a world of instant gratification and a sense of urgency in all that we do. We want to be more focused on easing our way through things. We want to emphasize intent, story-telling, and world-building, creating a genuine attachment between ourselves and our community."
With this in mind, Manning is intentionally focused on maximizing the impact of its latest collection, Passionfruit (which debuted with Nordstrom this summer). Currently, the Homage Year team is working on phase two of the line, consisting of two "mini-mini" bags inspired by bananas and peaches. "Upon completion, we will address what comes after," Manning notes. "Ideally, we will look back on this interview with joy, knowing we did an amazing job with this Passionfruit collection."
Tia Adeola describes herself as "a girl who has always loved clothes." As a child, she recalls making outfits for her dolls out of her mother's traditional Nigerian Ankara fabric. Adeola began to turn her childhood pastime into something bigger when she entered college in 2015. During her first year at The New School, she began creating designs (like her signature backless tops) in her dorm under the brand name, Slashed by Tia.
Upon graduating, Adeola built upon her accumulated traction and entered a new era. She changed the company's name to her own and hosted her first NYFW runway show in February 2020. Though the brand has evolved, Adeola's mission to empower women has remained. "I always like to say Tia Adeola is for the bold, confident woman who isn't afraid to walk into the room and have all eyes on her—because she's best dressed, of course," she says.
Adeola's sophisticated, ethereal designs have captured the attention of some of the most well-known women in Hollywood, such as SZA, Gigi Hadid, Dua Lipa, and Lizzo. Her brand's status as a celebrity favorite is something she's undoubtedly proud of. However, one achievement supersedes the A-list accolades: being featured in CNN Africa. "CNN was running an ad that featured me, and I had friends and family calling my parents about it," Adeola says. "Seeing how excited they were was fulfilling for me."
Adeola's CNN feature came about after she decided to pivot and make face masks during the pandemic. "My role as a designer is to innovate and be of use to my community," she says regarding the decision. "I made fashionable ruffle face masks to help people stay safe and encourage those who want to make a fashion statement still regardless of the constraints."
Having established herself as a responsible tastemaker in fashion, Adeola now hopes to continue imparting her vision and voice to other categories. "[I want to expand] beyond apparel and move into eyewear, footwear, scents, and skincare," she says.
Gigi Caruso began her fashion career at 16, debuting her eponymous swimwear line Gigi C Bikinis in 2017. "As early as I can remember, I have loved being able to express myself through my fashion choices," she shares. "I specifically found swimwear very important as I was raised by the water, doing many watersports from wakeboarding to swimming."
Her first swimwear collection became an instant hit, garnering support from Chrissy Teigen, Eva Longoria, Storm Reid, Irinia Shayk, and Joan Smalls. Caruso was inspired to expand into new categories after the brand's success. She launched athleticwear in 2018 and transitioned the brand name from Gigi C Bikinis to GIGI C. Under the new moniker, she also released loungewear in 2021 (made from recycled cashmere).
While Gen Z is constantly buzzing about the latest TikTok trends, the 22-year-old says fads don't inform her approach to design. "Even though I am a Gen Z, I like to focus on timeless designs that have survived many different trend cycles," she explains. "It’s so easy to get lost in the fashion industry and ever-changing trends, but remaining true to yourself will go a long way."
Caruso built her brand while attending the University of Southern California, graduating in May from the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. "Along with its rewards, being a young entrepreneur comes with its challenges like juggling school, a business, and social life," she notes. Now that she graduated, Caruso is focused on taking her brand to even greater heights. "There is still so much to come in 2022," she says. "My goal is for GIGI C to evolve into a lifestyle brand as there are so many other areas I want to tap into."
A'Kai Littlejohn secured his first fashion internship at the age of nine (yes, you read that right), working at the couture house of Geracci Condello. However, his interest in clothing and design began even earlier. "I knew fashion was my calling in life at a very young age," he says. "My mother worked as an event planner for many years, and in her place of work was a gown shop that I always wandered into. Around the age of six, I fully conceptualized the idea of fashion design being my calling in life; that's when I decided to hand sew a dress for my kindergarten teacher at the end of the year as a gift."
As a teen, Littlejohn continued to make impressive moves. At 13, he became the youngest contestant during Project Runway Junior's second season. Following his appearance on the show, Littlejohn privately showed his first collection during the Spring/Summer 2017 season. His official New York Fashion Week debut came a year later with the release of his Spring/Summer 2018 line. And in 2019, the Ciné Fashion Film Awards honored him with The Emerging Designer Award for his Spring/Summer 2020 Collection.
Over the last several years, the 20-year-old has found his stride as a luxury womenswear designer, creating classic pieces with modern twists. "The most rewarding part about my brand is being able to create beautiful things for beautiful women to wear and make them feel confident in the garments I create," Littlejohn says.
Lately, Littlejohn has been busier than usual. In addition to attending classes at Parsons School of Design, he's been preparing for another New York Fashion Week. On September 10, his brand celebrated its Spring/Summer 2023 collection with its first live runway show in two years.
Imogen Evans started immersing herself in fashion at 15, launching a blog to dip her toes in the industry. "I knew I wanted to start a brand one day, and I was aware that having a pre-existing online following would help me do so," Evans says. In 2018, she finally made her dream come true when she created her womenswear brand Imi Studios at 19.
The Scottish fashion founder places diversity at the heart of everything, specifically focusing on size-inclusivity. "The most rewarding aspect of my job is receiving positive feedback from plus-size women regarding the fit of our pieces," Evans says. "When trying to find a birthday present for one of my family members (who wears a UK 16/US 12), I realized the online shopping experience for anyone over a size UK 14/US 10 is awful. Pieces either aren't stocked or are super loose-fitting with floral prints everywhere. The average UK woman is a size UK 16, so the fact that brands alienate this audience is just so strange to me."
In addition to catering to all body types, Imi Studios prioritizes sustainability. The brand minimizes waste by making most products made to order. The brand's packaging is also compostable, recyclable, or made with recycled materials. "As a member of Gen Z, I'm hyper-aware of my environmental impact, and sustainability is therefore at the forefront of every design decision I make," Evans adds. "We are starting to scale the brand sustainably by outsourcing from an ethical, female-run manufacturing facility in Croatia."
Evans is proud of what Imi Studios has achieved thus far as a slow fashion brand—from presenting at New York Fashion Week to launching a pop-up shop in London. "When I was still living with my parents, I had a huge whiteboard in my room where I wrote a list of goals I wanted to achieve by 2022," she says. "When I visited home for the first time since moving out, I realized I'd achieved all the goals."
What's next for Imi Studios? "I'm going to Scotland next week and updating my whiteboard with new goals," Evans tells us. In the immediate future, she plans to drop a winter collection in December and a few smaller releases before then.
Tyler Lambert was raised in a small town in Wisconsin and cultivated his fashion chops by deconstructing outfits from local thrift stores. To this day, the 25-year-old credits his Midwest upbringing as a source of design inspiration. "I'm a '90s kid with a family that was still stuck in the '80s," Lambert says. "My mom and dad always wore chunky sneakers with tall white socks, carpenter jeans, oversized crewnecks, and flannels. But I'm also inspired by seeing people on the street. I always ask myself, What if we took that and edited it into this?"
Lambert began gaining popularity around 2016 when his clothing caught the attention of celebrities like Kylie Jenner. "I knew [fashion was a part of my calling when] I was at a gas station with a packed car, on the way to move back home after dropping out of college, and saw Kylie [posted on Instagram] while wearing some of my first designs," he explains. "This created a storm of attention I never experienced, and it was the kickstart I needed to focus on a ready-to-wear label."
His brand, Lambert, is home to a wide range of products. There's womenswear clothing and accessories—including crop tops, blazers, sunglasses, and furry bucket hats. But, the Wisconsin native also designs custom-made sleepwear and home goods. Lambert's passion for creating across categories stems from his desire to keep work exciting. "Everything doesn't have to be done in the same traditional way," he says. "Everything does not have to be based on a fashion or sales calendar. Design can simply still be creative. I think the easiest [thing to do] is to have fun and love what you do."