Meet the Founders of the UK’s Black Excellence Prize—And Its First Winner Joy Julius

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In this tumultuous year for fashion graduates, Joy Julius just made history in the UK. The Nigerian-Swiss Kingston University designer is the first winner of the Black Excellence Prize, the first specific honorific for a Black graduate to have been instituted in London’s Graduate Fashion Week’s 30 year history.

The inaugural award is the first public result of the fast-moving Black-led university teacher network Fashion Academics Creating Equality (FACE), which came together last summer. Fired both by the eruption against systemic racism and the long-suppressed issues of discrimination that they experienced and witnessed within education, the educators spelled out their main aims boldly and plainly on their website: “The goal of FACE is to embed culture and diverse perspectives into the curriculum. FACE demands acknowledgement of the contribution of Black culture and creativity to history, society, and fashion.”

To Joy Julius, the effect of just hearing about the Black Excellence Prize felt life-changing. “I was happy, because there were only three people of color in our year at Uni. We were doing very cultural things with our collections, and mine was so personal and traditional to my experience,” she said. “And I realized, wow, this is a great opportunity for us, because the judges are going to understand.”

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Edging out almost 100 other applicants from all over the country, Julius was awarded for her accomplished non-gendered collection, which became powered with meaning in the dark days of 2020. “It was my response to the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria,” she explained. “It was a hard time, because there were people protesting in the streets, and my brothers and sisters were there. They weren’t demonstrating, but they were scared—and I felt I was just here at Uni, posting about it, talking about it. My thoughts were there constantly, and at the same time I was making my collection. So I thought, what is the outlet for me in all of this?”

Last October, social media drove awareness and solidarity when the Nigerian Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) fired on peaceful, unarmed citizen protestors at Lekki toll gate in Lagos. “What got my attention was a photograph of a lady—I don’t know if she’s been identified—who was wearing a long, drapey, blue hijab dress in the forefront of the protests,” says Julius. “She was wearing really traditional clothing. I just imagined what I could to gear her up to protect her against the police. Because they were not protected. They were just being shot at.I was feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t want a violent response. That came through the collection and my photoshoot, with models holding flowers as a weapon.”

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