OK, so 2021 may not have made the type of grand and glorious entrance we were all longing for—in fact, far from it. But aside from welcoming a new administration (prayers up) with an inspiring and highly meme-able inauguration, there was at least one other bright spot to hit the timeline this January: Pantora Bridal founder and designer Andrea Pitter strutted into Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City (where countless brides aspire to Say Yes to Dress) to announce that the famed retailer will now carry her designs in its covetable assortment of gowns.
“SCREAMS!!!” she captioned a post on Instagram. “Kleinfeld Bridal has welcomed all of [Pantora Bridal’s] #blackgirlmagic! You can now shop a selection of Pantora Bridal gowns at the largest bridal store in [the] country.”
The placement would be a dream for any bridal designer—and a largely impossible one for too many Black designers. But for Pitter it’s the icing on an already well-tiered brand she’s built from a 400-square-foot boutique to an approximately 3,000-square-foot space in Brooklyn, with an additional four retailers carrying her brand—and of course, now Kleinfeld. As Pitter tells The Knot’s Senior Fashion and Beauty Editor Shelley Brown for the magazine’s Spring 2021 issue (on which she’s also the cover star), “it wasn’t that easy” to be taken seriously in the predominantly white world of weddings.
“A lot of retailers were playing the comparison game like, ‘Oh, you’re the Black Vera Wang,’” she recalls of her early days going to bridal market events. “And I was like, ‘I’m just Andrea. We don’t have to turn me into someone else so it’s more palatable for you.’” The experience—and expense—would eventually compel Pitter to forge her own path; one largely built on the word of mouth of thrilled Black brides who weren’t finding themselves represented elsewhere.
“We’re very willing to accept money from Black women, but we’re not willing to accept the thoughts of Black women,” says Pitter. “Representation is important because I need to be able to see myself when I’m shopping, and I need to know that my voice is heard. I need to know that my money is going to a place that represents my values. Black women do, in fact, get married, despite what the media tells you. Black love is very prevalent, despite what the media tells you. So we need to show as much Black love, Black body acceptance and Black joy as possible,” she continues. “A lot of people think that Black families are not whole, and it’s not true. It’s just not true. So when we don’t show Black love and Black families, it ties back to that stereotype that we’ve been trying to break for centuries.”
Pitter’s deep respect for her heritage and clientele is evident in the details. For instance, her designs not only recognize our often curvier or simply fuller body types, but our desire to celebrate them, no matter the shape. “[W]e’re talking about real women who may not look like a video vixen or a model,” she says. “But they are women who love their bodies and are not trying to hide them.” Likewise, Pantora is one of the rare bridal brands to offer a full tonal range of the “illusion” mesh that features heavily throughout bridal design but has historically ignored darker skin tones.
“I think that Black women have such big spending power. The fact that we aren’t acknowledging them in fashion does not make any sense,” Pitter explains to The Knot, later adding: “Black women built my business, and I am not going to be quiet about it. I’m going to sing their praises because Pantora wouldn’t exist without them and their continued support. I’m emotional about this. It’s emotional for me because my business is about good intentions. We are rooted in good intentions—we are representing the underrepresented.”
Of course, it’s not lost on Pitter that after two decades of her own brand being marginalized, underrepresented and primarily recognized on ‘Black Designers’ lists, after the events of 2020, suddenly Black creativity is en vogue. “[I]f we are talented, and you truly want to give us the recognition, then it should come at any point in time, not just when you want to specifically acknowledge Black talent,” she argues. “And that’s been one of the hardest things because I think I’m talented overall, not just a talented Black person.”
Pitter’s suggestion for substantive change is simple: “The first order of business is to go hire some Black people—and not in a performative way,” she says, noting that while Black models are indeed lovely, they don’t equate to much-needed Black influence. To that end, The Knot Worldwide is trying to do its part, announcing the launch of a fellowship program as well as “marketplace diversity filters,” according to a report on Monday from Women’s Wear Daily (WWD). Seeking to address a pre-COVID disparity in which only an estimated 29 percent of Black-owned and 50 percent of Latinx-owned small businesses are approved for business loans from large banks, as compared to 60 percent of white-owned small businesses (h/t the Brookings Institute), the wedding platform is launching “Fellowship for Change,” explained as followed by WWD:
Thirty fellows will be chosen for the company’s eight-month “Fellowship for Change” program, which will offer mentoring, networking, career advancement opportunities and advertising on The Knot and WeddingWire for underrepresented wedding professionals in the early stages of their careers. Debuting next month, the program is being created by WeddingPro, The Knot Worldwide’s business-to-business brand that connects small businesses with engaged couples. Candidates must be in their first five years of business, and identify as Black, African American, Latinx, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ, female or veterans.
As for those aforementioned filters, as of February, “underrepresented wedding professionals” will be able to self-identify within The Knot Marketplace and WeddingWire vendor directory, which will now include storefront badges and diversity filters for discerning (read: woke) shoppers. “Shoppers will be able to browse for Asian-owned, Black-owned, Hispanic or Latinx-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Native American-owned, veteran-owned and female-owned,” reports WWD.
While it may not solve fashion’s longstanding marginalization problem in which underrepresented designers are often siloed in place of being celebrated, it’s a definitive step that at least in part addresses some of Pitter’s concerns about representation. “Historically, the wedding industry and the fashion industry are white, male-owned and -operated, but geared towards women,” she says. “I just think that it’s time to listen to the people who are dropping the coin. And I’m so happy that people are waking up and Black women are demanding better.”
The Knot’s Spring 2021 issue starring Pantora Bridal’s Andrea Pitter is available now.