The idea behind it was to collaborate to drum up business in the middle of the pandemic lockdown.
Two friends, Maisha Webb and Nicole Best, both Harrisburg-based business owners, came together last year to collaborate on a 3-minute promotional video to highlight their businesses.
Webb, owner of Mean Girl Style Boutique in Steelton, and Best, owner of iRoxy Beauty, an emporium of Black artisan designers, jewelry makers and artists, based at the Fashion Empire boutique, quickly expanded the scope of the idea beyond their respective businesses.
They decided to showcase Black fashion designers, artists and musicians in the Capitol region.
Webb and Best brought together an ensemble of artists, models, musicians and a videographer. But instead of a short promo video, what resulted is the first-ever fashion documentary out of Harrisburg, one that specifically, as its name suggests, highlights “Black Excellence.”
This weekend, as the documentary prepares to premiere, the guiding forces behind it reflect on the convergence of a showcase of Black talent at a time when the national conversation continues to revolve around racial justice and Black empowerment.
“That was one of the main reasons for this,” said Best, whose iRoxy Beauty boutique, located in Colonial Park Mall in Harrisburg, features products crafted and made by Black artisans. The idea for the documentary, in fact, was germinating at a time when Black-owned businesses were being disproportionately adversely hit by the pandemic.
“It was the climate and everything that was happening in our community. There was a lot of hurt going on. A lot of displaced feelings. Sometimes the way we are portrayed and the perception that’s put out doesn’t show us in a positive light as a race, as a people, as a culture. We are so creative and so talented.”
Best and Webb recruited Darius Davis, a Harrisburg videographer fresh into launching his company, Davis Multimedia. Last June, in the middle of the lockdown, they assembled a small crew of talent that featured some of the up-and-coming fashion names in central Pennsylvania. These included, Mean Girl Style Boutique (Webb’s company), Radiantly U, Beni Models Inc., Anthony James, Tia Lynnette Style, Gym Bullyz and Fashion Over Foolishness.
Webb and Best paid no mind to that fact that fashion sense was far from the minds of a workforce restricted to mostly working from home. In fact, the idea that so many people across the Harrisburg region were spending their days in T-shirts and sweatpants helped fuel the project.
“The film is definitely about more than just fashion,” Webb said. “It’s art. Fashion is art. It is such a way to express yourself. People think I’m just throwing on a shirt and jeans but when you step out into the world, the first thing that people see is what you are wearing. That’s a way to express yourself and when you mix in other creatives, art, music…it’s poetry in motion.”
Indeed, as he was working on the short promo ad, Davis realized he had too much of a good thing to restrict it to that time constraint.
As he pored over hours of video footage, Davis, a graduate of William Penn High School, was inspired to propose the documentary instead, one that showcased the potential he knew flourished among Black artists.
“Black culture always seems to be highlighted with so much negativity,” Davis said. “There’s so much positive going on but that never gets publicized. This is going to give us the opportunity to see the unity of people coming together, especially entrepreneurs. It’s a whole mix of a lot of inspiration and creativity.”
The bad news: The “Black Excellence” premier at Soldiers Grove park in Harrisburg is sold out. The good news: The principles behind the project are looking into other possible avenues for exposure, perhaps even a film festival.
Potential has all along been a central guiding idea for Webb, Best and Davis.
“I always feel we come for greatness,” Best said. “But sometimes people get beat down. You place a ceiling on yourself. If you remove that invisible glass ceiling, you start to contribute things that are positive. You start to be proud and start taking up space. The main thing is to show Black excellence and that it’s ok to be yourself and be creative, and show that to the world. We are more than Black Lives Matter. We are more than riots and more than slavery. We are everything included.”