Trust Black women. She will rise. Statehood for D.C. Changemakers.
These are some of the powerful collections you will see from the lifestyle brand District of Clothing. Founder Dionna Dorsey Calloway is a passionate business owner encouraging positive change and self-love through impactful, confident clothing. Her love of fashion blossomed as a young girl seeing Audrey Hepburn on the silver screen and was cultivated while attending fashion design school in Milan, where she further developed her creativity and entrepreneurial talent. We connected with Dorsey to dive into the vision driving her brand’s mission and growth.
District Fray: What sparked the idea for District of Clothing?
Dionna Dorsey Calloway: I am a full-time entrepreneur, and in 2014, I had my prime client go on a spending freeze. I knew I needed to do something to create an alternate stream of income to help out with the tough months. I was very inspired by my community of dreamers and doers. That’s what created the initial design, which led to District of Clothing.
When did District of Clothing fully form as a brand?
It’s shocking to think of it as a whole brand because I refer to District of Clothing as a she. She’s very much her own entity. It was just a matter of creating with purpose and intention and building community around those creations — knowing they weren’t just designs. It was a lifestyle. It was a mentality of creating goals and dreams, and making [them] tangible on apparel.
When did you become interested in fashion?
I was seven or eight years old. My mom was doing my hair, and we were watching great movies she would always put on to [catch] my attention. I saw Audrey Hepburn on the screen for the first time, and I remember [jumping] up and [saying], “Mommy, who’s that?” The next iteration of that was seeing my mom, my grandmother [and] my aunts loving their style and wanting to emulate that. It was either me playing dress up or, as I got older, taking my mom’s clothes and changing at school, [so] I could wear something she probably would not have wanted me to wear in middle [and] high school.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue fashion professionally?
I was always pushed to go to law school, do something in a legal field [or] be the first Black woman president of the United States. I was a junior in college studying for the LSAT on my bed, and at the time, CNN had a weekend show: “CNN Style.” They were talking about the top 10 designers of the decade. I knew everything about [each designer]. I laid on my bed, looked at my LSAT book and burst into tears. That’s when I knew — I couldn’t go to law school.
How would you describe the vibe and vision of District of Clothing?
District of Clothing is apparel for everyone. We want to create and share a lifestyle brand that encourages action, encourages progression, supports self-love and can be used as a tool to help people continue moving forward. Our apparel is for the changemakers making change. Our apparel is for all the people who wake up with a desire to move forward. Our apparel won’t change the world, but the people wearing it [will]. I think the vibe is high-vibration, self-love, acceptance of everyone and progression. We want to be reflective of the people who are wearing the apparel. Our community is unbelievable in the things they are doing on a day-to-day basis, and it is often seen when they choose to wear District of Clothing to vote, march in protests [or] pick up their children from school. I still get incredibly choked up when I see people not only purchasing District of Clothing with their hard-earned money — especially during these last two challenging years for society as a whole — but also when I see people choosing to wear District of Clothing on days when people are making change. It fills me up and makes me feel like I’m bursting. It’s such an honor.
Do you feel this clothing brand fills an important niche in D.C.?
I think so, and I hope that it’s not just in Washington, D.C. I hope that young Black women can look at District of Clothing and see this is a Black woman-owned business and [say], “Hey, if she can do it, I can do it, too.” I hope people see folks wearing a variety of our items and know they are loved and supported. There’s pride within D.C., and we’re sharing that pride outside of the city as well.
What has your experience been like navigating the fashion industry as a Black woman?
There are hundreds of different types of adversity I’ve overcome, but I think the easiest way is really just to show and share that no matter what, I’m continuing. I sign my signature in my emails, “Always keep going.” For humans, it is important we continue moving forward. We always get stuck. Sometimes, you have to move backward before you can move forward.
How has your identity shaped your entrepreneurial journey?
I identify as a Black Christian woman. I am a Dorsey. I’m now married, so I’m also a Calloway. I am a woman of faith, and I use my faith every day to help me continue moving forward through adversity.
What’s your process for identifying partners who align with your brand?
It is really important that we align with likeminded people who are interested in progression; who, at the top and bottom of their core, believe in equity for all people. It is important we are constantly aligning ourselves and our partners with folks who believe in voting rights for everyone. There has to be a base of well-intentioned equity.
What drives your social media strategy?
We were using District of Clothing’s platform as a way to reach people with real messages, to help them keep themselves and their loved ones and community safe. And then as things [continued] moving forward with the pandemic, it was also a way to create a break from the sadness, chaos and fear. And that’s still where we are: using District of Clothing’s social media platforms as a way to inform, unite communities, [and] give people something to laugh about [and] connect with. [It’s] also a way to inform them about some of the events happening in our society.
Are there any projects on the horizon you’re especially excited about?
We have our fall and holiday collection coming [out in] mid-to-late August — that’s really exciting. And I am working on two partnerships I hope to be able to share by September.
How do you think leaders in the fashion industry can continue to be activists in society and support self-love?
The number one thing we can do is to stop appropriating various cultures. Number two, we can pay anyone and everyone who’s a part of the industry. They all should be paid living wages. We should continue to have conversations about how fashion is used to unite, how it’s used to build community, and how it’s not being used to separate and tear people down. We’re all beautiful, and we should be using fashion as a way to share information to unite [and] uplift communities — especially financially — [and] as a way to share one’s thoughts.
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