On a Sunday afternoon in May, while Antoine Manning was sitting in church, one TikTok post flooded his phone with hundreds of notifications. He was startled and confused.
“I started seeing a lot of followers on the Homage Year page and I was like, ‘Where are these people coming from? What’s going on?’” the 22-year-old designer said. “Then, someone sent me a TikTok, and I’m like, ‘Oh this makes sense.’ That was the moment I was like, ‘OK, this is really cool. We have something going on, so let’s keep pushing.’”
The Bronx-bred Atlanta resident is the creative director and founder of Homage Year, a unisex fashion brand “charged with sociopolitical intention.” From a TikTok showcasing Black-owned designer bags to landing features in Complex, WWD, Essence and other outlets, Homage Year is clearly onto something. With just 12,200 Instagram followers, Manning and his signature vegan leather bag have already attracted the likes of style innovators, such as rapper Tierra Whack, and he’s just getting started.
Manning idealized the brand in 2014 after his father’s tragic murder, but his journey in fashion began in 2015 at age 16. Before his father’s death, Manning said he wasn’t creatively in tune with himself. He envisioned being a tennis or basketball player, a teacher, or having some other traditional, secure career. Traversing grief and loss, he began asking questions of himself and reconnected with his inner child.
“Trauma takes you to a place where you’re back to literally Ground Zero,” Manning said. “It took me to the same place where it’s like, ‘What do I even really like to do? What is my purpose?’ It makes you really question everything.”
He recalled how he and his brother drew comic books as kids and soon rekindled his passion for creativity and art.
“After [my father] passed away, it made me really question how short life is, how unpredictable life is, how one day you could be here and one day you can’t,” Manning said. “That led me to basically realize I don’t want to live a life where I’m subject to anybody else, where I can’t do what I want to do, or where I’m living a life that’s unhappy.”
That epiphany compelled Manning to create a brand reflective of lessons from his father and ultimately, to memorialize and immortalize his legacy. Enter the first iteration of Homage Year, beginning with statement tees in 2015 and morphing into a line replete with scarves, hoodies, hats and more by 2019.
Homage Year’s motto is “good quality, bad company,” originating from the brand’s inaugural T-shirt. The T-shirt depicts a simple illustration: a face surrounded by two hands, one on the right offering a cigarette and the other on the left lighting it.
“That T-shirt was about peer pressure and having bad company around you,” Manning said. “One of our missions is to give you sociopolitically charged pieces, and that’s good quality. To an extent, I don’t even consider us a company because in my mind, companies serve themselves first, then the consumer second.”
Manning is the sole lead behind the scenes, packaging boxes, responding to emails and collaborating with a small three-person team on visual creative campaigns.
On a banner running across the website are dates, most of which commemorate deceased loved ones while others honor Manning’s personal milestones. For example, 9/5/15 was the date Homage Year’s first T-shirt was produced.
“The more that I’ve grown as a person, the more losses you sustain,” Manning said. “Those dates mean something, like a reminder to fuel me and to continue to push on their legacy and immortalize them as well.”
After a fashion internship at an atelier, Manning took the leap and began creating the Homage Year Ova Manifestation Bag collection. There are eight bags in various colors, with each summoning a different motif, such as tranquility, growth, solidarity and control.
At a $275 price point, every bag features a curved handle, adjustable detachable strap and multiple pockets. The three mini Ova bags retail at $150 (though they are sold out at the moment). Manning colloquially refers to the line as “the egg bags” because of their unique shape.
“It was about finding meaning out of something that we created out of nothing, and that in itself is almost indicative of an egg and of rebirth,” Manning said. “Considering the times that we were in, which is COVID, the goal was to create something and bring something forward … like ushering in a new world.”
The designer wanted to “transcend the commercial plane of consumerism and fast fashion,” and give people an avenue to get what they need — be it control, passion, vitality or other emotions manifested through Homage Year bags. Manning said the names stemmed from attributes he desired in his personal life. First, he began with growth and tranquility, then he decided to share that with others.
“I don’t care to make anything that doesn’t matter. If the Ova bag was just ‘the pink bubblegum bag’ and a really nice product, I would just have it sitting here in my house,” Manning said. “But it’s more just about us taking our mission so seriously that if it doesn’t have any meaning, then we’d rather shelf it.”
Manning hopes to elevate Homage Year to a high fashion brand. His aspiration is to build something beyond style and something bigger than himself, merging mission-oriented apparel and curating experiences that speak to what’s going on in the culture and world at large.
“What I’m working [on] now is to create more like ready-to-wear pieces and fashion shows that are encapsulating our experience as Black people,” said Manning. “We’re working on everything. We’re working towards becoming a cultural icon and a staple for a generation, like how Margiela was for his and even how McQueen was for his. The goal is to transcend our individuality and all the things that separate us, but to look at the things that bring us together instead.”
Apart from Margiela and McQueen, Manning draws inspiration from pioneers in the Black fashion community and the industry at large, such as Antoine Gregory of Black Fashion Fair, Brandon Blackwood, fellow Jamaican American Edvin Thompson and Telfar Clemens.
Clemens is the architect behind the cult-favorite Telfar Shopping Bag, aka the “Bushwick Birkin.” The brand’s motto is “NOT FOR YOU — FOR EVERYONE.” As Homage Year ascends to popularity, some have dubbed it “the next Telfar.”
While Manning is appreciative of the intention behind the comments, he said the comparisons propagate a “crabs in a barrel” mentality. He disagrees with the idea that there can only be one Black designer bag at the top. For him, it comes down to respect.
“When we look at painters, we’ve got Basquiat, who is like the godfather to a certain set of Black painters. If you look at Black accessories and Black apparel designers, Mr. Clemens is on the top; he’s the godfather of that. I’m never gonna say, compare, or big up Homage to the point where it’s like, ‘We’re better than them.’ That’s not the case.”
At the 2021 CFDA Awards, Clemens, who is Liberian American, took home the award for American Accessories Designer of the Year. Edvin Thompson earned the title of American Emerging Designer of the Year. As a Black first-generation American and male designer, Manning said that their wins served as a testament to him that anything is possible.
“Now, it’s like I see that they’ve done it, then I know, for a fact, I can do it too,” Manning said. “All the people who I see that literally look like me who are doing great things, who are continually pushing trends, who are translating what it means to be Black and our power are ultimately the ones who I look towards in fashion.”
For Homage Year’s latest Ova bag campaign, Black women were Manning’s muse. The designer said it was a chance to show where the brand stands; considering the impact of Black women on the culture, it was a no-brainer, he said. Inspired by Mother Nature and “the egg,” Manning wanted to pay homage to Black women and give them “their space to shine” and “be glorious in their image.”
“Who created all these things? Who birthed us? Who are we without Black women?” asked Manning. “Black women are Mother Nature. It’s just showing the different principles or different goddesses and what they would look like if they were modernized, so the intuitive princess, the princess of control, the protection goddess.”
In centering others, Manning wants people to see the brand as bigger than himself. To see people receive Homage Year so well means everything to him, considering the journey that has brought him to this point.
“I just hope people get that things are bigger than me as an individual or who I am or you are. It’s more about ‘we,’” Manning said. “Beyond ready-to-wear, we’re working to cultivate and create a community.”