School of Fashion Alumna Receives HFR Icon 360 Award
Since graduating from the Kent State University School of Fashion in 2011, Tiarra Smallwood has had an impressive career in the fashion world. After designing for brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and The Gap, she launched her brand MAX+min in 2019. Smallwood was recently awarded $10,000 from Harlem Fashion Row’s (HFR) Icon 360 Fund to put towards her growing business.
Harlem Front Row Icon 360 chose 27 designers from around the country and awarded them up $100,000 each to put towards their start-up businesses. The donations are provided through a $1 million donation from the CFDA and Vogue initiative, A Common Thread. The fund was created during the pandemic to provide relief for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) fashion designers impacted by the coronavirus. The fund provides designers with capital to grow and scale their businesses.
“It means a lot to be recognized in this design space with so many other talented designers that I admire. I'm blessed to have the support of Harlem's Fashion Row, who does an amazing job of lifting up BIPOC designers while helping to give them a voice and a platform for their businesses,” said Smallwood.
She launched MAX+min as a way to challenge herself with full creative freedom and to have the opportunity to design without limits or constraints. The brand is tailored towards shoppers who have a love for minimal aesthetics with a maximalist touch.
“I’ve been blessed to work for large-scale, well known corporate brands, but I always designed with their business needs and brand handwriting in mind rather than creating design ideas that came naturally to me. It's a great challenge as a designer to be able to think that way, but it's also nice to be 100% free to run wild with your own designs as well,” said Smallwood.
While MAX+min was not immune to the hardships presented by COVID-19, Smallwood says she experienced an increase in support due to the larger focus on Black-owned businesses with help from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) community and allies.
“My business initially slowed down at the start of COVID-19. I think the customers became extremely conscious of the way they were spending their money as there were so many unknowns about what was happening,” expressed Smallwood. “In that same time frame, the tragic loss of George Floyd caused many to start speaking up for Black lives where it was otherwise sadly soundless. When allies and the community came together to lift up BLM and really scream about it, it brought a focus to Black businesses. So, while COVID slowed down sales initially, the support surrounding BLM helped MAX+min to become a brand that more people were promoting and shopping.”
Smallwood looks forward to launching her self-funded business to new heights in 2021. She plans to use the HFR award to expand her product line to go beyond leather goods.
Said Smallwood, “I plan to use the money to start bulking Spring 21 production as well as sourcing and working with new factories to expand MAX+min beyond just leather goods. I'd like to eventually add apparel to the brand to offer a complete collection.”
Image 1: HFR Icon 360 award winner Tiarra Smallwood (Photo courtesy of Tiarra Smallwood).
Image 2: Leather goods from MAX+min's online catalog (Photo courtesy of MAX+min).