In 1985, Black Design Collective Co-Founder Thomas “TJ” Walker left his home state of Mississippi to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Starting out as a graphic designer, Walker would quickly make a major influence on the industry, one that continues today.
Four years after his departure, Walker co-founded with noted fashion designer Carl Jones the Los Angeles-based urban apparel line Cross Colours — a boldly hued and geometric line of apparel and accessories that not only raised social consciousness with its emphasis on racial unity, but also had a significant influence on the fashion industry, and was highly visible on '80s television shows, in music videos and movies. Created especially for black youth, the clothing line gained popularity not only for its aesthetic appeal, but also its included message: “Clothing Without Prejudice.
During its heyday, Cross Colours was donned by the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Magic Johnson, Jamie Foxx, Snoop Dogg, TLC, Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Dre. The brand was also worn on The Wayans Bros. sitcom and In Living Color, on Eddie Murphy in Boomerang and on Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit.
1990 to 1993 were huge years for Cross Colours.
The brand was building in 1990. There were others involved working for the company like Colette Bailey and Deborah Parker, keen to jump in on something so fresh and new. Colette was keen for the opportunity to work at a black-owned fashion label, even if working conditions weren’t optimal with a leaky roof. The team was a tight-knit crew of 20 and 30 somethings who believed in the Cross Colours philosophy and spent most of their waking hours together – working Saturdays too. The atmosphere was like a fun family, partying and working together around the clock.
Their breakout at the 1991 Las Vegas Magic trade show was one of the biggest clothing label successes of all time. The pair, off the back of all their samples managed to sign around 5 million dollars worth of orders over the course of the show. Their style was so different, so fresh, that everyone wanted to get on board. The orders from the show ended up taking the guys six months to produce, which they did themselves from the company’s downtown loft in LA. The guys also met up with Karl Kani that year, an aspiring streetwear designer and signed him to produce to his own range for the company. The clothes flew off the shelves.
The next year at the 1992 trade show, Cross Colours signed for 40 million dollars worth of orders.
One of their major clients, the Merry-Go-Round clothing chain suddenly went into bankruptcy, which threw out all their previous calculations. Merry-Go-Round sales at the time were making up around 60% of Cross Colours business. The chain had been around since the 70s, so as far as the guys were concerned there was no chance anything would go wrong. They were still getting wooed by JC Penney, but didn’t have the resources to stock the huge nation-wide chain.
With less money coming in and a build-up of excess stock the guys were on the back foot. Staff were being laid off left and right and an inconsistency in the accounting of the security company lead to a scary stand-off between staff and guards. Unfortunately, with the orders stopping, they were forced into liquidation – ending up only just being able to pay out all their contractors. During the hard times the label was forced to sell their trademark to pay off creditors.
After 20 years out of the game, Jones and TJ managed to win back the Cross Colours trademark. It seemed that the duo had unfinished business in the garment industry. In 2014 a limited edition Cross Colours line was produced in collaboration with The Hundreds, a Los Angeles streetwear project. The line was inspired by the resurgence of 90s fashion and culture, a period of time that was heavily influenced by the original brand. Besides this there is definitely still a lot of influences in the streetwear fashion industry that can be attributed to the Cross Colours phenomenon. Bright colours, Contrasting panels, Oversized fits and a lot of early 90s graphic/logo styles.
The clothing line is enjoying a revival. The label received new buzz at the 2018 Grammys when Cardi B and Bruno Mars wore Cross Colours on stage, along with their backup singers and dancers, to perform the “Finesse” remix, and again in that music video.
In September, the clothing line will be featured in “Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century," the first of a five-part exhibition at the California African-American Museum (CAAM) that examines fashion, identity and visual art. According to a museum release, the exhibit will “showcase vintage textiles, media footage and rare ephemera that illustrate how Cross Colours has permeated popular culture and how fashion can be used to tell history anew.” The exhibit will be on display Sept. 25 through March 1, 2020.
“Cross Colours broke a glass ceiling when urban hip-hop apparel wasn’t considered a formidable player in fashion and merchandising,” said Tyree Boyd-Pates, who with Taylor Bythewood-Porter is curating the exhibition that will showcase vintage textiles, media footage, and brand ephemera of logos and concept designs.
Jones and Walker incorporated bright colors and graphic designs that were not only Eighties and Nineties contemporary, but also reflected Afrocentrism in response to the Reagan-era war on drugs, police brutality and substandard educational opportunities. They strategically used product placement, social justice messaging and community outreach to address issues in the headlines. “By serving as an urban outfitter, quite literally, they ended up speaking to a wider audience,” Boyd-Pates said.
“This is the first of many exhibitions for Cross Colours,” Walker told WWD. “This exhibition celebrates the 30th anniversary, and doing the launch exhibition at CAAM speaks to the DNA of the brand, which promotes nonviolence, education and unity. We started back in 1989 as a brand of inclusion and we are the same inclusive brand today.”
Article Credits: MeridianStar, WWD, Plus2Clothing, & The Hollywood Reporter