By Maitefa Angaza
Brenda Brunson-Bey, fashion design artist extraordinaire, regularly turns heads in Brooklyn, a place where you can see any variety of fabulous on a given day. But Bey’s brand of fabulous is several steps beyond. A native of Georgia, she’s been in Brooklyn for decades, building a solid business with die-hard clients who take pride and pleasure in supporting her.
Brunson-Bey describes her Tribal Truths Collection as “Africenfused”–centered in African fabrications and silhouettes (the circle, square and triangle) while incorporating European, Asian, Native and other influences. Her client is the culturally and socially conscious woman 18-80 and petite to plus-size. They can go anywhere and turn heads themselves; when your outfit displays innovative genius, you’re seen as a person of confidence and good taste.
While growing up, Brunson-Bey took advantage of the home economics courses requiring students to have basic survival skills, but she already knew more than a bit about sewing. It was passed generously down the family tree and she feels both a creative impetus and spiritual responsibility to carry it on.
“My maternal grandmother used to put little things into the slips she made us, a bead or something, and that was our blessing. I put little talismans on the ends of my clothes. It’s a tribute to Katie Merriweather. On my father’s side, my great-great-grandmother taught all her children to sew. My father, Bill Brunson, Sr., came to New York as a tailor in the ‘40s. She told him, “You all will always probably have to work for some white people, but you won’t have to clean up their house.”
Having been born with a greater number of choices, Brunson-Bey put her combined biology and chemistry degrees from Morris Brown College to use by teaching, working in a lab, etc. She later studied fashion buying, merchandising, advertising and communications at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. She later moved to New York for good as a buyer for Abraham & Strauss, designing on the side, but finding no pleasure in her day job. Browsing the shops nearby on her lunchbreak helped to lift her spirits.
“There was a man that had a cute little shop on Montague St. and I was wearing capes, cause I always liked drama stuff. And he said, ‘Where are you getting all these capes and stuff from?’ And I said, ‘I make them.’ He said, ‘You do?! Well, can you make a dozen for my stores?’ He had two stores, one in The Village and one in Brooklyn. I went home and put in my two weeks resignation and I never looked back.”
For 12 years, Brunson-Bey was a successful vendor at Brooklyn’s trailblazing 4W Circle of Art and Enterprise. In 2003, she opened her Tribal Truths Collection boutique, remaining in business there for 15 years. She now has a showroom studio for clients to visit by appointment, an active Tribal Truths Collection page on Facebook and can also be reached on Instagram at: email@example.com and at 718-638-7624.
Brunson-Bey is proud also of the brainchildren that are her civic and economic contributions. For 19 years, she’s co-produced the Fort Greene Juneteenth Arts Festival and she founded the Diaspora Art Collective, a monthly Brooklyn-based artists’ market nine years ago.
The Tribal Truths Collection continues to thrive because not only are the beautiful pieces one-of a kind, they’re also the lasting kind – durable and too fashion-forward to ever go out of style.
“A friend called me and said, ‘Brenda, your clothes just have staying power!’ I was walking today and saw this young teenager. I said, wait a minute, that looks like some of Brenda’s fabric!’ And she caught up to her and saw that it was mine, because she saw the talisman hanging from the front. She told the girl, ‘That coat is so beautiful! Where’d you get it?!’ And the little girl said, ‘It belonged to my grandmother.’”
Her grandmother, a longtime client of Brunson-Bey’s, had passed away, and to know her granddaughter is wearing that coat touches and galvanizes the artist who made it.