Iconic Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter's Next Great Chapter is Leading the Youth

We chatted with Ruth and her mentee Langston Howard earlier this week

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It's the name of the game that once you've broken ground and created a legendary career for yourself that you then use your resources to lend a hand down to the younger generation that you've helped break down doors for. Legendary costume designer Ruth E. Carter has truly done it all. An Academy Award winner that has worked on many groundbreaking projects including Spike Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing, Gina Prince-Bythewood's Love & Basketball, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther and its sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and plenty more (we'd be here all day if we were to individually list all of her credits). Carter's career spans slightly over four decades, beginning at the Boys & Girls Club in Springfield, Massachusetts where she learned the art of reading and designing patterns.

That's right ladies and gentlemen, Ruth E. Carter is indeed a Boys & Girls Club alumni, and it's where she returned this past Tuesday to lend her expertise on a virtual panel that discussed the importance of championing multicultural artists. Chips Ahoy! Partnered with Carter, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the High Museum to unveil Happy by Design, a virtual AR experience created to inspire the next generation of multicultural artists and provide a national platform to highlight the works of up-and-coming multicultural artists.

We caught up with Carter and her new mentee Langston Howard after the panel.

RELATED: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a Celebration of Afro-Futurism

Chips Ahoy Happy by Design Event 3
Chips Ahoy

Carter was joined by Langston Howard, a talented teen designer who's a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan. The 14-year-old also has a worthy resume as his club's entrepreneurship program has helped him launch his own motivational clothing brand, "The Top." This in turn has connected him with many Black mentors in the fashion industry, with his designs being given a shoutout by Big Sean and shown in this year's New York Fashion Week. "Langston is a young man who's very clear about his path and is already winning," Carter tells ONE37pm. "To walk into the Boys & Girls Club offices and meet someone who's already done 7th Avenue, Fashion Avenue in New York, and has been supported by the fashion community—I'm happy to participate in his development with Chips Ahoy and Boys & Girls Club!"

Langston was the man of the hour once again, so I asked how this latest accomplishment feels to him. "It really means everything, and it's crazy how I keep getting these types of opportunities," he says. "To come to Atlanta, where I've never been, and meet Mrs. Carter who's done outstanding work that you can only dream of has been amazing."

This is the creative journey of an artist. Twenty years from now, you may see the whole collection of Langston's work. He's already on the journey.

- Ruth E. Carter

At this point, I'm feeling kind of lucky myself. It's not often that you get to have somebody like Carter and a burgeoning young designer with a bright future ahead of him on the same call. So while I have him, I ask Langston when his love of fashion and design started. He tells me it's come through what he describes as being phases. "I started off with Superheroes, and then after that I went into to being involved in the arts and basketball, which I'm still involved with to this day. I remember I did a painting at my school's talent show, and that's what started off my journey."

That journey then evolved into Langston making chains and different types of clothes and apparel before the Boys & Girls Club opened up more high fashion and art opportunities for him. One of Langston's influences is, of course, Ruth E. Carter. One can only imagine what it feels like knowing you've paved the way for those to follow in your foot steps. "This is what I'm talking about," Carter tells me adding: "This is the creative journey of an artist. Twenty years from now, you may see the whole collection of Langston's work. He's already on the journey—he's been on the journey for a long time and he's only 14."

I always look to infuse culture into my work. I can go into any culture anywhere in the world and find something inspiring to say about them.

- Ruth E. Carter

You see, it's the people around Langston that inspire his creativity, as everybody in his family is a creative. His mother is a fashionista, his little sister is a creative as well, and so is his grandfather who once made a Jesus Cross out of wood. Langston himself has made loads of chains, a license plate, and even a football helmet, taking inspiration from the world around him.

As for what inspires and fuels Carter, she is simply inspired by people. "I'm inspired by people and their individual expression, how they express themselves through their clothes, and why they do the things they do," she elaborates. "I'm inspired by the socioeconomics of each city, country, and anywhere I go. I always aim to understand the struggle and the triumph of the community. I always look to infuse culture into my work. I can go into any culture anywhere in the world and find something inspiring to say about them through Afro-future, technology, bringing in the ancient tribes of Africa, or bringing in the indigenous tribes of Mesoamerica—it's a wonderful synergy."

It's hard not to be inspired by the things that inspire Carter and Langston. My next question to the designer? What she sees when she looks into the face of somebody like Langston, a youngster who's using the path and lessons she's set to build his own career. "I see promise. As I said earlier, he's been working with his family and I'm encouraged by that. I tell him to archive everything that he does and touches because one day he'll be the next Jay-Z and the next Spike Lee, and we'll be displaying his art and work through his journey. It may not end in fashion, it could be everything. It started as everything. We'll see his work in every museum across the world because he is inspired and supported by his Boys & Girls Club."

When Langston isn't being an artist, he's a baller. The point guard plays AAU, and is currently on his junior varsity team. When I point out how basketball in particular and the arts are beginning to intersect more and more, Carter then tells me that she plans on connecting Langston to NBA big wigs so he can get experience with designing something for them.

My last question to both is what the next five to ten years hold for each of them. Langston starts: "You can expect me to start more than one company," he says, confidently adding: "I'm going to finish high school, go to college, and continue to get opportunities like this while truly enjoying my life. You'll hear about me!" As for Carter? "I have an exhibition of my work that travels around the country. In the next five to ten years I hope to take it international, and we're creating more of an experience with it. I'm also working on a YouTube channel that will be a platform for me to express to young creatives what it means to follow your dreams, paths, communities, and be inspired by it."

The immersive AR experience features artwork from eight aspiring multicultural artists, including teens from Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Anyone nationwide can view, interact, and learn about the teens’ artwork virtually,  anytime, anywhere. And every time their art is viewed through this virtual experience, Chips Ahoy! donates $1 to fund arts programming. 

You can continue to keep up with all things Ruth E. Carter via her official Instagram.

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