August 17, 2022

Cali, Colombia – At a major fashion event in the coastal city of Buenaventura this year, a pair of towering models walked the runway in a red mini dress with an open seashell-inspired fluted top and a blue and gold dress. Modern queen.

The models were in black and the fabrics were imported from Africa – unusual for a major fashion show in Colombia. But what distinguishes them most is the designer himself: Esteban Sinistra Paza A 23-year-old college student with no formal design training and is at the center of the explosion of Afro-Colombian fashion.

He said that “the decolonization of man” is the goal of his work, along with showing the world a panoramic view of the “elegance of identity”.

Sinistera is the man behind the wardrobe of Francia Marquez, the environmental activist and lawyer who on Sunday will become Colombia’s first black vice president.

In a country where race and class often determine a person’s status, Ms. Marques, 40, has made a remarkable leap from extreme poverty to the presidential palace, emerging as the voice of millions of poor, black and indigenous Colombians.

Within months, not only had racism and class upended the national dialogue, but it had also revolutionized the country’s political aesthetic, rejecting starched shirts and suits in favor of a distinctly Afro-Colombian look that you call a form. from rebellion.

natural hair. Bold prints. Dresses that accentuate her curves.

But Ms. Marques and Mr. Sinistera are just the most visible ambassadors of the Afro-Colombian aesthetic boom that its supporters say is part of a larger movement demanding greater respect for millions of black Colombians.

in a nation where 40 percent Of families living on less than $100 a month – a percentage that grew during the pandemic – Afro-Colombians are among the poorest of the groups, with areas they control, including the Pacific Coast, some of the areas most neglected by generations of politicians.

Officially, black colombians constitute Between 6 to 9 percent Of the population. But many say this is a smaller number than perpetuates the lack of recognition.

“Colonialism tried to wipe out blacks,” he said. Leah Samantha Lozano41, who started out as her hip-hop and reggae band, Voodoo Souljahshas been in African fabrics for more than a decade, making it a pioneer in the movement.

In 2014, she became the first black woman to perform on the runway at Columbiamoda, the largest fashion event in the country.

Today, politically oriented Afro-descendent brands have proliferated online and in stores throughout Cali, a major center of Afro-Colombian culture, where black celebrities, models, politicians and activists increasingly use clothing as a political tool. The Petronio Alvarez Festival, an annual celebration of Afro-Colombian culture that attracts hundreds of thousands of people to Cali, has emerged as the movement’s fashion week.

Miss Lozano sells a bright, hip-hop-inspired line in a major shopping center in the capital, Bogota.

“A big part of the plan was to make us feel ashamed of who we are, of our colours, of our culture, of our traits,” she continued. “To wear this every day, not as ‘fashion’, not as special occasion wear, but as a way of life, and as something you want to communicate every day – yes, it is political. And yes, it is a symbol of resistance.”

Among the movement’s signatures are brightly patterned fabrics called wax, which is very popular across West, East and Central Africa and is known for telling stories and sending messages through its images and designs. (Prints can celebrate everything from popular culture to religion and politics, including tubes of lipstick and the faces of religious figures or portraits of politicians and celebrities.)

Afro-Colombian aesthetics often refer to nature—Mr. Sinistera wears a dress with wing-like sleeves inspired by the famous Colombian butterflies—and can incorporate embroidered jewelry and bags woven by artists from Colombia’s many indigenous communities.

Movement leaders include not only Ms. Marques, but also Emilia Enida Valencia Maureen, 62, a mentor to Mr. Sinistera who started in 2004 Weaving Hope, a multi-day celebration of black hair in Cali.

The Colombian clothing design moment is years, many say, centuries, in the making, drawing on activity in Latin America, Africa and the United States; The loose street style of hip-hop and the sparkling stellar vibes of Afrofuturism; Colombian market women’s turbans; mermaid silhouettes in Senegal and Nigeria; And even the influence of Michelle Obama, who was famous for using clothing to make political statements.

The aesthetic is also spacious and smooth, including everyday wear – like the brand’s tunic Baobab by Consuelo Cruz Arboleda — and artistic performances such as Mr. Sinistera’s Royal Imperialism, a strapless bodycon dress he said epitomized the grandeur of the modern cultural empire built by the descendants of Africa in the Colombian Pacific.

“We are changing the image we have of power,” he said. Edna Liliana Valencia36, is a famous Afro-Colombian journalist, poet and activist.

Mr. Sinistra is among the newest stars of this movement. Born into a poor family in the small town of Santa Barbara de Escande, near the Pacific Ocean, gunmen forced his family to flee when he was five years old, among the millions of Colombians who fell victim to the country’s decades-long internal conflict.

In the neighboring town of Guapi, and later in the coastal town of Buenaventura, Mr. Sinistera learned sewing from his aunt and grandmother, whom he called “neighborhood designers”.

“Esteban African,” he said of his clothing line, “began for the necessity of bringing money home.”

Mr. Sinistra wanted to study fashion, but his father thought it was only for girls, so he entered university as a student in social work.

But he began building a name by designing increasingly complex pieces for a growing list of clients, finding inspiration online and selling his work on Instagram and Facebook. Then, in 2019, Ms. Marquez called. She was referred to him by a mutual friend and needed an outfit.

Mr. Sinistra is in the seventh of eight semesters at the university. When he’s not in class, he sews cum’s clothes in a small windowless room Apartment in Cali. His friend, Andres Mina, 27, is a former nurse who changed his career to become the Managing Director of Esteban African.

Among the brand’s most popular items are a pair of earrings. One of them contains a map of Colombia, engraved with 32 provinces. The second looks like two golden orbs meant to evoke the mining pools that Mrs. Marques used as a child miner in the Cauca Mountains, near the Pacific coast, long before she became a household name.

Mrs. Marquez once slept on the dirt floor next to her siblings. She later worked as a housemaid to support her children, went to law school and eventually won the Nobel Environmental Prize.

In an interview, she described Mr. Sinistra’s work as an important part of her political identity. “It shows young people that they can succeed, using their talents, they can move forward,” she said.

Mr. Sinistra has never been to Africa. He said the visit is his dream, along with studying fashion in Paris and “building a school where Pacific children can have alternatives”. only for girls.”

Today, he said, his father is proud of his work.

Recently faced by the media and customer requests, he is managing his newfound fame by working around the clock.

One July day, barefoot and sweaty, he laid a pair of fabrics on the floor, cut them by hand, and then sewed them together with a new Jinthex sewing machine he had bought with his now-improving salary. He was making another dress for the Lady Marquis.

On Election Day in June, dress it in kente, a Ghanaian print whose interlaced stripes evoke the weaving of baskets, to symbolize vote-gathering.

The dress was embellished with ruffles at the front, representing the rivers in Mrs. Marques’s home region, and the tunic over her shoulders, all white, symbolized peace, he said, “in this country torn apart by political positions.”

He made three outfits for Inauguration Day. “Whichever you choose is fine with me,” he said.

As he ironed the newly sewn piece, he said he was both excited and concerned about Mrs. Marquis’ rise to power.

In the past few months, he has come to feel that he is part of her political project, and she has made enormous promises to transform the country after decades of injustice.

“The responsibility will grow,” he said.

“My responsibility, Francia’s, is to support this process so that people – our people – do not feel betrayed.”

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