Live6 Alliance tells the story of a pioneering black-owned women’s clothing store

When people hear the phrase “Detroit style,” Cartier furs and eyewear, alligators, three-piece suits, or maybe even trendy Detroit VS Everybody clothing might come to mind.

None of this represents the fashionable black women who cemented the city’s position as a stylish city decades ago. Samuel and Florine Hawkins, owners of the first black-owned women’s clothing store in Detroit, played a significant role in that legacy as founders of Hawkins Apparel, which operated at 7624 West McNichols from 1967 to 2003.

Today, Neighborhood HomeBase, the headquarters and community center of Alliance Live6, a leading economic development organization serving businesses and residents of the iconic Livernois-Six Mile community, is housed at this address. To celebrate the past while looking to the future, the Alliance, in partnership with Detroit Collaborative Design Centerpresents an exhibition: The Hawkins Family Legacy, which is open to the public until October 21, 2022.

“Hawkins Apparel was the first African-American owned clothing store in Michigan and there it really established a tradition of black entrepreneurship that we will continue into the future,” says Dr. Geneva J. Williams, executive director of Live6. Alliance. One of Live6’s primary goals is to support and encourage the start-up and growth of minority-owned businesses as key elements in the economic recovery of McNichols and Livernois, the former site of Detroit’s famed neighborhood. fashion avenue.

The Kresge Foundation has supported Live6 since its inception in 2015 and joins the National Endowment for the Arts in sponsoring the exhibition.

The Hawkins family started out selling clothes out of the trunk of their car, and in 1947 they opened their first store on Warren Avenue at a time when department stores like Hudson’s and Jacobson’s didn’t hire black women or s aimed at this clientele. A later Hawkins store on Detroit’s Dexter Avenue was destroyed during the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, and the McNichols store opened the following year.

Karen Moore, a Detroit native who worked as a Hawkins store clerk in 1969 while still a student at Mumford High School, is working on a book highlighting the Hawkins and other lesser-known black historical figures. she hopes to self-publish soon. Along with members of the Hawkins family, she loaned personal items from her closet to display in the exhibit, which includes archival images, newspaper articles and informative texts chronicling Hawkins Apparel’s journey through Detroit. and her role in the emergence of black women in business and society.

“Back then, people dressed in hats, gloves, the nine yards. This store provided clothing and accessories. And if you went to a really big social gathering like a party favor ball or something, they kept track of who bought what and wouldn’t allow another person in that circle of friends to buy the same dress . Now, you know, those other stores didn’t care, all they wanted was to make a sale. Well, Hawkins knew they were getting more business by respecting the ability for the woman to look her best without going to an event where five people were wearing the same dress,” Moore explains.

In addition to everything from appropriate business fashion to dress for special occasions, Hawkins Apparel provided instruction in business behavior and social etiquette and how to succeed in the business world of this period.

Hawkins Apparel provided clothing from size 4 to size 24 because Florine Hawkins understood that the average woman was not a sample size; even though most of the clothes came from New York, they had to suit Detroit women, both in size and style.

“She was a church woman, a business woman, a praying woman, but she wasn’t necessarily what you would think of as a fashion person,” says Julie Hawkins, granddaughter of Florine and Samuel Hawkins. Nonetheless, she was part of important social circles, including the Women’s House League, the Booker T. Washington Trade Association and the NAACP, according to Julie Hawkins, whose parents, William and Loretta Hawkins, bought the store from her grandparents in 1979 and kept it running. until 2003.

Live6 Alliance has operated out of the old Hawkins building since 2019, when Kresge-funded renovations were completed. The Alliance recently purchased the building from art dealer-developer George N’namdi with support from the University of Detroit Mercy, the original co-founder of the Alliance along with Kresge.

Starting later this year, the retail space adjoining Neighborhood HomeBase will open as a Live6 Alliance incubator to support local small business owners looking to transition from a home-based business to a physical location. , with a focus on Black women-owned businesses to continue Hawkins Apparel’s legacy.

“We wanted to bring entrepreneurs from the marketplace to the mainstream. Businesses here will grow out of here into their own space over time. We’ll help them do this not only by providing space, but also by providing essential training in financial literacy, marketing, e-commerce, podcasting, and more. We’ll give them all the tools they need to be successful,” says Williams.

Live6 Alliance originally planned to seek a National Historic Marker for the space, but this designation only applies to spaces that have not been modified or upgraded in recent years. Committed to honoring the address’s legacy, Williams says they are working with the Detroit City Council to designate the building as a local historic landmark.

The Hawkins Apparel exhibit, sponsored by Kresge and the National Endowment for the Arts, is offered in partnership with Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Detroit Fashion Community and Design Core Detroit, which highlighted the exhibition as part of its Detroit Month of Design in September.

“I grew up in Detroit, I still live in Detroit, I had never heard of the Hawkins family, but thanks to Detroit Design Month, I’m learning,” said Kiana Wenzel, co-executive director by Design Core Detroit. Historic preservation is part of the design, she explained, and Hawkins’ story isn’t in the history books yet.

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