This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by LIM students with winners of the Accessories Council's 2021 Design Excellence Awards (DEA). Students are enrolled in the College's Introduction to the Fashion Business classes.
The Accessories Council annually announces awards for design excellence to celebrate the success of accessory products. Saga Furs selects one of the Design Excellence Awards each year for the best accessory using Blackglama fur. This year, six designers created products with sustainable and certified Blackglama fur from the finest fur farms in Wisconsin and Utah. Romeo Hunte was chosen as the 2021 winner for his Blackglama utility vest, tote, and suitcase collection.
Our interview started and we first asked Romeo what his inspiration was for the Blackglama pieces. Mr. Hunte shared that for the award-winning Saga Furs designs he had to think outside of the box. “I wanted to create items related to travel but that were also swaggy.” Thus, the innovative suitcase that transitions to a scooter was born. We learned that Romeo Hunte gets creative and innovative ideas from so many sources. He often walks the streets of New York for inspiration, and talks with friends and clients, as he values their opinions. “A lot of inspiration comes from my clients, I listen to them closely.”
Since his childhood, Hunte describes how he’s always been inspired and surrounded by fashion. We asked him about the role his family had on his interest and in fashion and he responded by describing how he grew up around his grandmother who was constantly making dresses for the girls in his family. This fed Hunte's constant curiosity and fascination with fashion. At a young age, Hunte would take some of his mother’s vintage pieces and deconstruct and upcycle them, unaware that what he was doing would later bring him success.
Romeo Hunte first started in the industry working part-time as a stylist and a personal shopper. “When it came down to it I didn’t have the resources or the funds to start my company so I wanted to get my feet wet and learn more about the industry.” He added, “I studied at FIT and juggled part-time styling work. Then I jumped into luxury retail as a personal shopper. That's where and when I was able to cultivate a luxury audience.” Through his previous experience, Hunte explained to us how he was eventually able to save up enough money to launch his company in 2014.
When designing the Blackglama suitcase, Romeo's target customers were frequent travelers, as well as his NBA and VIP clients who like having fun when it comes to fashion. Because the pandemic restricted travel for so many, Hunte wanted to make travel luxurious. He wanted to create items “that had a balance between classic and practical, while still being swaggy... and outside the box. Not too serious, but very cool.”
Through talking with Romeo, we learned he values quality materials, which was apparent with his use of Blackglama fur, a high-quality mink that is a product of sustainable farm policies and practices.
Charlie Ross, the head of sustainability at Saga Furs shares what makes Saga Furs such a sustainable company. “As a global brand, we have the responsibility to be transparent. In order to give confidence to the designers using Saga Furs, we must certify our supply chain and our farms with independent inspections.” We also learned that Saga Furs uses a technology called “RFID” chips which allow customers to see where their fur products come from. These RFID chips were featured in Romeo’s recent designs. “I think we are able to combine sustainability and technology with inspirational fashion.” Charles adds, perfectly highlighting the equal importance of both stylish and ethical fashion.
Having worked so hard designing and creating these fur accessories, we couldn’t imagine the joy Romeo felt when the award winners were announced.
“It started with a phone call,” recalled Hunte, who had been selected to participate in the Accessories Council Design Excellence Awards. Hunte mentions the fact that Saga Furs has always been super supportive of his ideas. He had to complete his design and find the right manufacturers who could pull his vision together within the production time frame. The development process, Romeo explained, always begins with a vision, which he sketches. Once he had his designs on paper, Hunte and Ross discussed how to properly execute the styles with genuine Saga Fur. To describe this process, Hunte touched on the most challenging design of the collection: the suitcase/scooter. “That piece was really the headache. It wasn't easy finding the right people who could execute my initial vision with a high-end finish.”
The production/ design process of products always comes with rewards, but also unforeseen challenges. According to Donald Charles, the ability to adapt is imperative. In his role as vice-president of Romeo Hunte, Mr. Charles must think ahead and plan for the future while finding immediate solutions that will benefit the company in the long term. From deadlines to the creative process, he admits that planning a collection always comes with stress from all angles. "However," added Charlie Ross, "it's always worth it in the end. And there’s always a solution to everything.”
When asked for advice to those like us who are just starting in fashion, Romeo Hunte, Donald Charles, and Charlie Ross collectively agreed that confidence is key when it comes to finding solutions and working successfully in the industry. “Don’t settle for whatever is in front of you, always dream big,” Hunte advises us. Ross also advised, “Don’t be afraid of interning because when you have the opportunity to intern, you get to see everything...you really get the understanding of this industry, and that really helps you develop a network.”
By the end of our interview, all the excitement we had before the interview stayed with us afterward. From our interview with Romeo Hunte, Charlie Ross, and Donald Charles, we were able to learn so much about fashion, fur, and the design process behind Romeo’s Hunte award-winning design. That day, we had left our interview with more knowledge than ever and are determined to work hard and achieve the level of success that Romeo Hunte has achieved.