What Is Nordstrom’s ‘Black_Space’? Nordstrom’s New Program Brings Together Black Creatives and Creators

Shirley P. Olin

The hope behind the New Concepts series at Nordstrom has always been “that our customers can find something new,” says Sam Lobban, the retailer’s SVP of designer and New Concepts. And that idea of discovery plays a central role in the twelfth edition of the program, titled “Black_Space,” in which five Black creatives—Harris Elliott, Beth Birkett, Matthew Henson, Marcus Paul, and Azza Yousif—worked to create an extensive shop-in-shop full of items from Black creators. Of the 28 brands included, 25 are new to Nordstrom.

“The curators selected brands that they loved and felt were a representation of Black fashion and Black creativity,” says Lobban. “We worked closely with each of them to develop their product assortment, while letting them take the reins to authentically convey their point of view and introduce brands and merchandise that celebrate Black fashion and beauty.”

With that in mind, Esquire spoke with four of the curators involved with the project about why they wanted to be involved, and how they hope it helps shift the future of fashion. Here’s what they had to say.

Harris Elliott

harris elliott


Why did you want to be involved in this project?

It was an opportunity to tell authentic stories through a Black lens and the chance to shine a light on some newer brands like Wanda Lephoto from Johannesburg and Exhibit 69 from London that would otherwise never get this type of platform.

How do you hope it helps shape the fashion industry moving forward?

I believe many brands are fearful about truly engaging with Black culture, because an unbiased and nuanced context of Black experiences are not taught or widely shared in education or the media. Black culture needs to be reflected without bias. Brands will often tokenize Black references in order to appear culturally relevant. I hope that Concept 012: Black_Space encourages those in the fashion industry to begin to address racial imbalance and celebrate Black narratives as they have now seen that this project is powerful, relevant, and engages with wide audience demographics.

Beth Birkett

beth birkett


Why did you want to be involved with this project.

The opportunity to be part of Concept 012:Black_Space was a great way for me to introduce Bephies Beauty Supply and collaborate with all Black and Brown brands by women and people typically not in these spaces who are extremely talented. Melody Ehsani from Los Angeles, L’Enchanteur from New York City, Studio One Eighty Nine made in Ghana, NorBlack NorWhite from India, Sativa Wellness and Jersey Shore from New Jersey, Ceylon and LIHA based out of London, and Neverending Balloon out of Los Angeles. A lot of the products from Bephies Beauty Supply have an image of a Black girl on them, which is really powerful being in Nordstrom. We don’t ever see ourselves. Black women are some of the most undervalued women in the world, so to be able to have the opportunity to change that image is the whole reason why I’m doing this.

How do you hope it helps shape the fashion industry moving forward?

I hope people get the opportunity to see some amazing new and exciting brands, from Marcus Paul’s collaboration with Haffmans & Neumeister to Le Tings and Bephies Beauty Supply. You won’t be disappointed.

Matthew Henson

matthew henson


Why did you want to be involved in this project?

Sam Lobban has been someone that I have known and respected for more years than I care to share, and when he reached out to me about this partnership, I immediately started thinking of brands and designers to spotlight and include. I wanted to be involved because the industry is tough, biased, and we are living through a pandemic. Supporting emerging designers and small businesses is crucial during this time.

How do you hope it helps shape the fashion industry moving forward?

This project focusing on Black creatives, creators, designers, in and of itself is helping to shape and recreate the narrative of exclusion that fashion has carried since its beginnings.

Marcus Paul

marcus paul


Why did you want to be involved in this project?

I became part of this project because previously there hasn’t been an initiative like this at Nordstrom. They provided a platform to foster collaboration, which led to a sharing of perspective and narrative. In addition, it is an opportunity for me to assist Black designers and creatives who are looking to partner or start their own business in the fashion industry.

How do you hope it helps shape the fashion industry moving forward?

I hope fashion industry leaders will take a look at Black visionaries that can take on C-suite positions in every aspect of fashion and partner with Black-owned companies, in order to mainstream more creative stories.

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