Colombian VP Marquez using her fashion sense to political advantage

By Irene Escudero

Cali, Colombia, Aug 22 (EFE).- Colombian Vice President Francia Marquez did not arrive at her position of power just to “get comfortable” and what is catching public attention are both her words and deeds but also her fashion sense, with her outfits by young designer Esteban Sinisterra reviving fashion as a political act and statement.

The energetic and vibrant yellows of many of her outfits combined – according to which day it is – with blue and weaving in African fabrics stamped with circular, rectangular and geometrical motifs always stand out among the de rigeur suits and ties of the male officials and staffers around her.

“Many blacks in politics came and settled in, but Francia … came to implement what she believes and she feels that she should have been demonstrating this for a long time,” Sinisterra, the founder of the Esteban Afrika fashion brand, told EFE.

Wearing such designs is a “decolonizing” act, the designer said, a way of “decolonizing those frameworks of how you have to behave and how to be accepted.”

Marquez “views things from her ancestry and shows that you can get into power representing your people,” the “nobodies (like us) who have been historically excluded,” said the young man, smiling all the time.

Sinisterra’s career – and Marquez’s choice of him to design her outfits – is another symbol in and of itself. The 23-year-old was born in Santa Barbara de Iscuande, a municipality in the southern coastal province of Nariño, but at a very young age regional violence forced his family to move to Guapi, a town in the neighboring province of Cauca, also on the Pacific Ocean.

“I arrived in the fashion world seeking … to benefit my family,” he said, and it was in Guapi that he first saw his grandmother and aunt sewing and where he his love for garments “soaked in.”

He was very young, but even so he began dressing the dolls of his little girl cousins. His father never liked that “women’s” world where Sinisterra, as a male, had to do “other kinds of things like sewing,” which was something that girls traditionally did. Today, however, his father is proud of him, although he never says so.

And the young man’s success has been spectacular. At the Petronio Alvarez festival, the biggest cultural exhibition on the Pacific coast that was held last week in Cali, Sinisterra’s kiosk was practically empty after he sold virtually all the garments he had on display and currently he’s looking to set up a physical store where he can fill the many orders for garments that he’s been receiving.

All this is the “fault” of Francia Marquez, who contacted him when she mounted her vice presidential campaign and wanted to empower the image of a black woman and her Afro-Pacific roots, which have become the signature elements of her image.

Esteban Afrika “spun and narrated the territory” that she wanted to show via Sinisterra’s designs, and the company forged an outward image that ensures that when the Colombian VP goes somewhere “without having to open her mouth, she already represents our communities and our struggles,” the designer said.

When Marquez took the oath of office as the country’s first black vice president on August 7, she did so wearing a spectacular blue dress with orange circular designs over a white petticoat and a type of sheer white vest, which is “a tribute to the traditional Pacific (coastal) woman.”

“The vest with white tones represented that peace that she set about weaving starting when she took office, those fabrics of peace and equality within the territory,” said Sinisterra. And each type of fabric that he uses has a significance that reaches far beyond representing the resistance of the country’s black community.

“For example, there are women who use certain kinds of cloth to show that they’re single, that they’re married, that they don’t want a relationship … The same thing goes for the turban (or head wrap), which is also a symbol of resistance within our community of the African diaspora in Colombia’s Pacific region,” he said.

Sinisterra’s brand, Esteban Afrika, will remain a central feature of Marquez’s outfits, although he said he hopes to also provide opportunity for other young designers like him.

“Giving someone the opportunity at this stage in life is like cutting off the possibilities for those bad roads that there are within the environment,” he said, having experienced regional violence firsthand along with dislocation, adding that there are young designers with talent who only need a “little push.”

Thus, Sinisterra’s hope is that Marquez, who has broken through a glass ceiling for excluded communities and violated populations, “becomes a canvas” to which many others can contribute, and on which they can sew and paint.



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