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Gullah Gala 2024: Fashion, Music, and Art at the International African American Museum (Photos + Interview)

Founder Devin Smalls speaks at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by the Active Duo.

Charleston’ creatives have made a WILD resurgence post-Covid. From the revival of the festival scene to the rise of independent art and fashion domains, the music, arts and entertainment world has been alive and active.  

Despite the high function and rising support of the city’s creative prowess, it is still a rare occurrence to see events that represent every aspect of Charleston’s artistic diversity AND remain devout to the root of the city’s cultural history. This is fully embodied by The Annual Gullah Gala Fashion and Music event curated by Highest in The Room, a collective of creators led by the vision of Devin Smalls.

This year’s Gullah Gala held May 18 at the International African American Museum was overflowing with high fashion, music, and art — which are the ‘BIG 3’ for making The Gullah Gala a unique take on independent Black entrepreneurship in Charleston.  

Gullah Gala 2024. Photo by Active Duo.

“The IAAM has always been the goal for the Gala,” stated the event’s founder, Devin Smalls. “It represents our history. We plan to have The Gullah Gala at the IAAM moving forward.”

Beyond exhibiting his own fashion brand, Rejuvon, Devin brought designers from Charleston, North Carolina, Georgia, and even a taste of international flavor from Morocco.

The Gullah Gala has entered its third year as a ‘red-carpet’ fashion, entertainment and cultural arts event spotlighting Black entrepreneurs and creatives from all over the WORLD. Though The Gullah Gala brandishes some ‘outer bank’ names from Mississippi to Morocco, the focus remains on the existence of Black fashion, music and arts ROOTED in and thriving throughout our port city. 

Poor Rich Kollective at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Marie Wisner.

Charleston’s very own rendition of the esteemed Met Gala featured music and performances from SunRhé, Poor Rich Kollective and DJ Scrib, with art displays by Cal Art.

All of this served as a backdrop to a diverse lineup of featured models, including Chanel Chavon, Meia The Model and Ngaarrumbiszwe “Rue” Magombedze. The modeling talent brandished local, regional, national and international fashion pieces from multi-ethnic designers such as Steezy by Shanae, Menia Page Couture, Rejuvon and more.

Gullah Gala 2024 fashion show. Photo by Marie Wisner.
Gullah Gala 2024 fashion show. Photo by Moment in Time Kodak.
Audience at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Active Duo.

After speaking with Demetria McNeil, CEO of Poor Rich Kollective and head of choreography for The Gullah Gala, I have one of the strongest feelings of FOMO ever.

“It was way more elevated than the past two years, which we expected because each year we want to get better,” Demetria said. “We were able to have it on the historic grounds and sacred grounds of The IAAM, which was such an honor. You felt the spirit on the grounds and it was just amazing.”

Demetria McNeil dances with PRK at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Marie Wisner.

The Gullah Gala is Charleston’s very own Met Gala which is held annually at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city. The debut of the Gullah Gala was held at Trident Technical College in 2022 and the following year at The Founders Hall. 

This year’s Gullah Gala is the first local event to be hosted at IAAM, which opened its doors to the public June 2023.  

Dancers help SunRhé at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Marie Wisner.

“I have no negative things to say … everything went right even though it was raining,” Demetria said. “It was just a beautiful spiritual experience. DJ Scrib did an amazing job with the flow of the music. The fashion was incredible. The model choices were incredible. The vendors were all incredible. I cannot wait for the annual Gullah Gala that’s going to happen next year and many more years to come.”

‘Regal Soul’. Black excellence. Black youth. Black prestige. Cultural ambiguity. A true homage to the home front. 

Gullah Gala founder builds up his hometown

Gullah Gala Founder Devin Smalls at the 2024 event. Photo by Marie Wisner.

To truly get a grasp on a creation, we must start with the creator and the foundation of Highest in The Room and The Gullah Gala. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Devin Smalls, the entrepreneur, designer and visionary behind it all. 

Devin Smalls was born in Germany and grew up in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. He served in the National Guard and graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts. These roots grew his loyalty to shifting the culture of his hometown. 

“These experiences planted the seed that I can take this education and knowledge and bring that home to help build back home,” he told Extra Chill. 

We began to talk about the importance of expanding the palette of Charleston arts and entertainment by manifesting something ‘for us and by us’ that could parallel the outreach and diversity of The Gullah Gala.

Fashion show at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Marie Wisner.

“We have sacred grounds and the facility to bring art, music, fashion and business to the city with a new mindset,” he said. “We are bringing positive energy and shifting the negative culture that this soil was known for.”

The Black entertainment and arts has experienced a renaissance, he said, and it’s influenced his personal objectives for HITR and future galas.

“I stress that The Gala is more than fashion,” he said. “Fashion is just the umbrella we use to bring individuals together and connect Black professionals in the place where it all started — and not just Black business, arts and entertainment, but building that connection in and outside of our community.”

Demetria McNeil with Devin Smalls at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Marie Wisner.
Browsing the vendor market at the 2024 Gullah Gala. Photo by Moment in Time Kodak.

Black excellence and Black wealth filled the building as the show unfolded seamlessly with each element executed in true regal fashion. It is clear that this was one for the books. A great exhibition of what’s to come for The Gullah Gala, aka “The Black Met Gala,” an artistic experience birthed and bred in the Holy City. 

Cal Art displays his artwork at the Gullah Gala 2024. Photo by Active Duo.