Undra Celeste Duncan is the founder and creative director of Undra Celeste New York; a modern workwear brand for multicultural women. Upon earning a business degree from Howard University, she moved to LA where she studied fashion designing, and later to New York to pursue a career in fashion. She worked for big brands such as Calvin Klein and American Eagle Outfitters before launching her own label in 2014. Undra’s collections have been shown on many runways across the country, including New York Fashion Week and Essence Fashion House in New Orleans.
Undra is the daughter of Guyanese parents who migrated to Brooklyn, New York. She developed an interest in fashion from an early age from watching her mother “transform” from her work attire into a glamorous wardrobe on the weekends. “She has the ability to get dressed regardless. No matter what’s going on in the world or in her life,” Undra said of her mother. “It inspires me because I know there are women who are like that — who always want to look their best because it’s a direct link to how they feel.” Earlier this year, Undra she was one of three designers who were selected to compete in the new design challenge “Banking On Style” sponsored by Chase, Land’s End, and Essence. Though she did not win that competition, Undra found the experience to be invaluable, as it created a lot of exposure for her brand. She has also been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) for an episode of The Know.
Hard work recently “paid” off for the talented designer when she was named one of 27 New York-based fashion designers who benefited from a $1 million grant through the Harlem’s Fashion Row Icon 360 Fund. Undra was awarded $50,000 to help grow her business.
“When I first learned about the grant award, I was in tears and speechless. I’ve worked so hard these last 5 years to build a brand that not only my customers would love, but one that my peers in the fashion industry would recognize and respect. Although I’m not where I want to be as yet, getting this grant proves that I am on the right track.”
One of the highlights of Undra’s fashion career s is being chosen, along with 2 other female designers, to work on Lebron James’s signature Nike shoe in late 2018. The opportunity garnered extensive recognition for the designer and her brand. She also shared with Essence that she walked away from the experience with a clearer outlook on what new, young designers should be aware of when working with larger brands—knowing 110% what you as a designer want out of the partnership. The three designers included Undra, Fe Noel, and Kimberly Goldson created Lebron’s 16th signature shoe — the first LeBron James sneaker that’s designed by a complete team of women on the collaborator and Nike sides.
Undra credits her Guyanese heritage and the Caribbean Culture for her design inspirations. “I know geographically, Guyana isn’t in the Caribbeans, but due to colonization, they do have Caribbean heritage. I see how Caribbean women carry themselves—they don’t let the world beat them down. That strength that is part of that Caribbean culture—that vibrancy, that very high personality. I feel like that’s definitely part of who I design for, and it’s infused in all of my collections.”
“My customer loves color and I love color. I think I do it well, but in a really elevated way. Bold prints were another thing. I design elevated workwear—fun, bold, modern, but still unique and professional.”
Undra wants every woman who comes in contact with her brand to feel confident, self assured, elevated. “I feel like that’s what workwear should be. We try to sell confidence. I want you to feel like you can show up to work and just kill it because you feel good in your clothes.”