Mikaila Brown wants to be the Anthony Bourdain of fashion, exploring all the world's underappreciated shopping havens. "The same way [Bourdain] would say to you in Madrid, This is what they eat, this is why they eat it, this is where you should eat when you go to Madrid, I'd do the same for fashion," explains Brown.
Her first stop? Harlem, USA, where Brown offers two-hour shopping tours four times a week through Airbnb's Experiences. Each costs $35, and includes a brief history of fashion in Harlem, a discussion of the area's major designers, and a visit to four boutiques that Brown handpicks based on the questionnaires that people fill out before the tour. (Tour-goers range from college students to seniors, but most are in their late 20s and 30s and tend to be creatives.)
Although Harlem has seen an influx of fast-fashion chains on 125th Street in recent years, don't expect Brown to make any stops there. She says all of the boutiques on her tour–destinations include Bebenoir and Harlem Haberdashery–cater to people who live in the neighborhood and typically offer limited runs featuring Harlem brands. "I want to give local designers the opportunity to shine," says Brown.
The idea for the tours started three years ago when the 39-year-old Brown, who has a PhD in anthropology and also ran her own fashion line for a while, hatched a plan to launch The Common Thread Project, a company that invites people to "discover culture through fashion."
Using her research chops, Brown decided to take a deep dive into the culture of her own neighborhood first (she lives in Harlem, but grew up in Florida), looking at its history, sociology and politics. When she realized that her fieldwork–including one-on-one interviews with local boutique owners–had led her to discover Harlem's best places to shop, she started offering the fashion tours as part of Airbnb's newly-launched Experiences last October.
And now that her walks of Harlem are off and running, Brown is expanding her offerings with shopping tours of the South Bronx ($25). The jaunts, which start this Friday, will be slightly different from the originals, with an emphasis on graffiti as well as boutiques. She says she'll also be adding in the history of hip hop and its impact on fashion.
Remember Brown's plans to follow in Anthony Bourdain's footsteps, though. If you're hoping to see the fashion expert herself in action either in Harlem or the South Bronx, you should hurry. Brown is keen to hire more people by the end of the summer–the goal being to add more locations around the world. Shopping tours of Oakland, Chicago and Cape Town, anyone?
Photos: The Common Thread Project