LaShawn Kenley, the visionary behind Sun Gods, stands as a beacon in the world of slow fashion and event curation. Beyond being a womenswear apparel designer, she orchestrates captivating gatherings that inspire women to embrace their elevated selves. In October 2017, Kenley embarked on the journey of founding Sun Gods, fully aware that navigating the realm of slow fashion wouldn’t be a walk in the park. In a landscape dominated by fast fashion, her commitment to education, ethics, and equality in the fashion industry set her apart.
Six years into this transformative journey, Sun Gods continues to evolve and create ripples in the industry. The brand’s remarkable achievements include features in prestigious publications such as WWD, Washingtonian, Washington Life, and Essence magazine. It has also garnered attention on notable news stations like Fox 5, CNN, and Reuters, underscoring the impact of its unique approach. Notably, Sun Gods’ apparel has found a permanent home at The National Museum of African American History & Culture, cementing its significance in the cultural narrative.
What sets Sun Gods apart goes beyond the accolades and media features. The brand radiates beauty through its exclusive handcrafted designs, captivating the beholder with each carefully curated piece.
Discover how LaShawn Kenley’s passion has shaped Sun Gods into a brand that not only adorns but empowers. For our N’ The Spotlight series we recently had the privilege of engaging in a Q&A session with the designer, delving into the inspirations, challenges, and triumphs that define her journey.
JNL: What sparked your passion for slow fashion and inspired you to create Sun Gods?
LaShawn Kenley: My love for slow fashion occurred during my college days when I desperately wanted unique and different things. I was over the manufactured look of the same thing being worn by everyone. Then I dove deeper into the negative effects fast fashion has on the earth and I was against the practices of that. I always been a fashion forward person and I knew there were ways to incorporate my designs skills, seamstress skills and styling techniques in a way that would create a brand that highlights the Black bohemian in an ethical/sustainable way.
JNL: Fashion is often about self-expression. How does your personal style influence the designs at Sun Gods?
LK: My personal style influences Sun Gods a lot of what I desire to see worn on my body and the body of others are beginning stages of SG collections. I always enjoy seeing the fun, free and regal nature of us brought to the forefront in an exclusive and beautiful way. One that uplifts our culture and shows the diverse essence of who we are. The bohemian aesthetic is a huge part of the foundation of the brand. I always loved how unrestrictive it is… combining that with the fabrics and textiles of black culture allows for beautiful creations to occur for every aspect of our lives.
JNL: After six years, Sun Gods has achieved remarkable recognition. What has been the most rewarding moment in your journey so far?
LK: There’s been so many great achievements along the way but one that forever will stick out to me is when the National Museum of African American History and Culture contacted me to let me know they wanted to permanently acquire two designs to be in the museum. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it.
JNL: Having your apparel acquired by The National Museum of African American History & Culture is a significant achievement. How did it feel to have your creations recognized and preserved in such a prestigious institution?
LK: It felt amazing and unreal all at the same time. How it came about from it being a social justice viral photo to it landing at the museum for permanent acquisition. Just insane and I’m truly honored!
At the start, I thought to myself, “I wish the outfit and mask they got were more extravagant, showcasing my versatility and range. The outfit they acquired was what I wore at the Black Lives Matter protest for George Floyd. A very simple design of a yellow sun dress and cotton face mask. But then I quickly realized it wasn’t about the outfit this day. It’s about the message behind why I wore it. People in the black community are being gunned down wearing every day outfits not just black hoodies. I purposely wore the sundress that day to reflect a typical outfit I would wear on a warm summer day. I wanted to represent me and who I am for these people who are being killed in our community are going out every day just being them and unfortunately having their lives taken… no hoodies required.
JNL: Being featured in WWD, Washingtonian, Washington Life, and Essence is impressive. Can you tell us about the moment you found out Sun Gods was gaining such widespread attention?
LK: Recognition in magazines began increasing around 2018. The business always got coverage from when we first started from local news outlets and magazines. Then year after year it just kept growing from Washington Life to Washingtonian magazine to Essence to Travel Noire. It just kept expanding the more we grew our community through our events! It’s the events that allowed me to see our brand was growing and how that, along with our apparel, captured the media’s attention to cover us. They were intrigued by our departure from the typical fashion brand, noting our more traditional approach to crafting clothing through slow fashion methods. They loved how I designed and had my own internal seamstress team to create our apparel in batches in order to sustain growth and work within ethical practices.
JNL: In the fast-paced world of fashion, what challenges did you face when establishing a brand focused on education, ethics, and equality?
LK: I often still face challenges of working with vendors who have ethical practices when it comes to fabric and textile creation or the selling of clothing. Capitalism is a beast. It can cause many to change the moral code and I refuse to budge. I want modern day slavery to end which essentially is what’s happening when we buy $10 shirts and $50 dresses. Like how are the seamstresses in Africa, India, or China actually properly being paid for their work? How are they living off of this and supporting their families? We never would stand for this here in America.
Look at how we’re polluting the oceans and don’t have proper drinking water because of it. How it affects our air quality and food quality because of poorly kept oceans. It’s just a domino effect and I wanted no parts of it. I care about these things but have noticed many say they do but really don’t. Convenience trumps everything so it’s hard to walk within morally ethical behavior of garment creation and producing clothing when most don’t understand or care to. Educating our consumers and others more about slow fashion really helps to shape the narrative of what’s going on in the fashion industry and how consumers play a huge part of its future.
JNL: If you hosted a fashion show on the moon, what unique elements from Earth would you incorporate into the designs to showcase our planet’s beauty?
LK: My top 3 would be soil, water and plants. I feel like these are foundational components that can birth so many other things. The colors of the dark brown, blue, and green would be gorgeous to pair with one another while showcasing how the earths elements create fashion to begin with when considering the make of our fabrics.
JNL: Beyond fashion, Sun Gods seems to embody a lifestyle. How do you hope your brand inspires women to become their most elevated selves?
LK: The apparel is suppose to evoke a sense of belonging to the different parts of the earth that we extend from. Our fabrics hail from black and brown diaspora countries, offering a chance to reconnect with your culture simply by wearing a piece from our brand. The brand organizes “Sip N Henna” and “Open Jar” women’s gatherings, fostering community building and connection. This helps to share resources, tips, information, and access to advance the community. To promote self-love, self-care, and cultivate healthy relationships, fostering connections not only with ourselves but also with others. It’s important for us to know where we come from, why we think the way we do, and how we can better ourselves. Sun Gods curates opportunities and gatherings for those discussions to happen.
JNL: If you could choose a celebrity to wear your designs on the red carpet, who would it be?
LK: I don’t really seek for a particular celebrity to wear Sun Gods clothing. That world of celebrities is such a weird industry. You admire someone only to later learn they’re demonic so I pretty much stay away.
But hypothetically, I love actresses who show themselves to be dynamic women so Lisa Bonet and Angela Bassett would sit high on that list. Yara Shahidi as well for the younger generations. They’re both so smart, gorgeous, and effortless in everything they wear.
JNL: If you could collaborate with any artist, designer, or creative mind, living or historical, who would it be and why?
If I could choose any designer living or from the past… it would have to be the ultimate designer who has designed us all and created the world of design in general. The one who gave us the inspiration we have to design and what to design. For sure Yahweh is who I would want to sit down with and just be in awe!
JNL: Fashion can be a powerful tool for advocacy. How does Sun Gods contribute to social or environmental causes, and what impact do you hope it has?
LK: Sun Gods has a program called The Sun Gods Cares Act which is where we have all of our community outreach occur there. This includes: clothing drives, volunteer efforts within the community, and events to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle.
We also work with local businesses to help promote their businesses or assist them with small production apparel needs (such as making uniforms for their restaurants or hotel staff) at a reduced price throughout the year, as a way to give back and support. We have various ways that we look to help the community who’s supported us over these past 6 years!
The essence of Sun Gods extends far beyond the realm of fashion; it is a celebration of individuality, creativity, and empowerment. Take a moment to soak up the sun and gain deeper insights into the mind behind Sun Gods by visiting their website: www.sungodsofficial.com.