When it comes to fashion and style, Undra Celeste Duncan learned from the best: the women who raised her. Duncan, a child of immigrants who migrated to New York City from Guyana, recalls how her mother and aunts left an impact on her fashion psyche so strong that it influenced her own career as a designer.
“I would watch my mom and aunts transform from bank tellers and home health aides into Diana Ross and Donna Summers every weekend to go out,” Duncan tells MadameNoire. “I watched them use clothes as armor in the world, as a tool to self-empower. As I became an adult and started working in corporate fashion I wanted to have that same feeling but in a bit more of a polished and professional way and that’s why I started Undra Celeste New York. “
Undra Celeste is geared toward multicultural women who infuse their personalities and culture into every aspect of their lives, particularly how they dress. Duncan spent years learning the ropes of fashion on various sides of the business by working in corporate design, product development, and more before launching Undra Celeste New York in 2014. Other notable career accomplishments include being featured on OWN, a mentorship by Tory Burch, and co-designing the first-ever Lebron James x Nike x Harlem’s Fashion Row basketball shoes for women by women.
“The collaboration with Harlem’s Fashion Row and Nike to co-design the first-ever women’s LeBron James sneaker taught me how important it is for designers and creatives to have community,” says Duncan. “The relationship I formed with the other designers is invaluable. We now have a tight-knit community of designers that we are able to share our experiences, victories, and setbacks. I didn’t realize how important true collaboration was up until this point.”
Duncan has also learned a lot about the difficult task of raising capital as a Black woman entrepreneur — a task she managed to pull off but doesn’t take lightly. She has some practical advice for designers looking to blaze a similar trail.
“Raising funds is very difficult. I can’t really say that I have mastered it to the point to give advice but I would say that staying ready is important. When you receive the opportunity for an investor to want to learn more about your business with the hopes of providing funding, you should be ready,” says Duncan. “That means everything from having financials together, a professional website, and great visual assets. In addition, you should be able to speak to why the world needs your business and brand. What space are you filling? Investors love to hear the story behind the brand and the overall why!”
Duncan is still learning how to navigate life as a businesswoman in Covid, which has been brutal to a lot of businesses. However, pivoting to selling masks and ramping up online sales strategy have kept her business afloat. Undra Duncan is on the path of becoming a fashion icon, and she’s focused on the prize.
“I want my legacy to be that I built a successful brand for women of color. That I realized that women of color have a different experience in the workplace and that they express their ideas, personality, and culture through clothes. I want to be known as the premier workwear brand for this sector.”