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Willi Smith - Pioneers Who Have Shaped America's Fashion Industry

Willi Smith is arguably one of the most successful black designers in fashion history. In his 20-year career, he established a sartorial DNA that impacted the fashion industry for good. Born Willi Donnell Smith in Philadelphia on 29 February 1948, Smith studied fashion illustration at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art from 1962 to 1965 and continued his studies in fashion design at the Parsons School of Design in New York City from 1965 to 1967.

After studying at Parsons New School of Design, Smith worked as a designer at the label Digits Sportswear, where he met Laurie Mallet, a former assistant who became his business partner in 1974. The two created WilliWear, and the brand found instant success. Smith's attitude toward fashion was democratic and his main concern was that his clothes should be comfortable and affordable. His clothing also combined directional design, utilitarian function and they appealed to a broad spectrum of people.


Image: Willi Smith photographed by Jack Mitchell_1984_Courtesy of Getty Images_found on The Guardian

Text: Nylander, L (2020) ‘Willi Smith Is The Streetwear Genius You Need To Know About’ 1 August. Available at:

Fogg, M ‘Willi Smith’. Available at:

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