Growing up as a dark skin girl from Orange County and with the majority of my friends being white, I was never made to feel that I had to understand my blackness or my identity relating to Africa. Finding the roots of my heritage in Africa never became the topic of discussion in my home.
As a child, I entertained myself with the idea that I was an African Princess, where I wrote a movie script in hopes of turning it into a Disney film. I taught myself Swahili in six grade, and I made every art piece in school an image of myself. I remember hearing about my aunts frequent trips to Africa as a luxury of her job. My other aunt, who had married and had children with an African man, left my cousin, about the same age as I, to take on a career in the Embassy of Africa for the next 10 years of her life.
What I broadly understood was that there was and is a difference from being an African-American and being Black. Africans and African Americans could pinpoint their exact roots even with a last name attached, whereas with Black-Americans, we trace back our understanding through the degradation of slavery that has deprived us from so much knowledge in our bloodline.
I’ve been commonly asked if I’m of Somalian, Ethiopian or Eritrean decent, and sadly to say, I can never answer ones question, but now, it has been my dying wish to truly become more in-touch with my background in Africa and the beauty of it.
Recently, I received an invite for the Olori Gallery referred to as Gold Sunday. An African inspired day of shopping and supporting Black owned businesses in the African community, where vendors and brands would allow shoppers to get more in touch with their African roots. Without hesitation, I RSVPED. I decided that if I want to learn and know more about myself and embrace what I’ve rejected for so long, that this would be a humbling start.
The event was nearest to Downtown LA, so I was already prepared for the parking. I couldn’t think of anyone to go with that would actually appreciate this event, nonetheless, what it means to me. So I decided to go by myself in order to experience the day on my own. I’ve been to shopping events plenty of times, but nothing in comparison to amount of substance and meaning behind this. Normally, it’s a superficial night out defining fashion as a way of looking good for the next filtered selfie; whereas with here, it’s to acknowledge a community and bring more education and awareness to trends, that tend to insensitively cross a line of appropriation. Which of course is habitually refuted because no one ever wants to take immediate accountability in being racially offensive.
The invite mentioned that the first 50 guest to arrive, would receive a gift, so, I wanted to make sure that I was the first. When I had arrived, vendors were still setting up. I was thirty minutes early before it had started at one o’clock, so I just became a wall flower until time had passed.
I was able to speak to the beautiful co-owner of the gallery as well as Olori Swim, Dunnie Onasanya, who established this business with her husband, to inspire people in becoming more involved in Black/African owned businesses and brands. Being of Nigerian decent herself, she explained how her gallery brings together the art, tradition and fashion of the many African cultures.
You could feel the essence of culture in the room from some of the different aspects of the 54 countries of Africa. All the traditional designs and garments for modern fashion, offered shoppers an array of styles for men, women and children. Slowly, more vendors started to walk in in order to set up before the crowd arrived while a few other guest followed behind patiently waiting.
As time had passed, a couple with a lot less melanin, had walked in without any regard to the fact that the vendors hadn’t fully set up their stations. While a few of us were still respectfully waiting towards the entrance, we looked at each other as if to say, really? While they adamantly made their way around, I figured they were going on a trip, and needed something fast before they jumped on a plane. One woman started to become antsy, but I had all the time on my hands to just allow the vendors to set up shop. Plus, I was enjoying the music that the Nigerian/Jamaican beauty, DJ Hollywood Chichi, was spinning.
Each vendor that walked in had a smile set on their faces welcoming us as we sat against the wall which made me feel invited. Another representative encouraged us that if we had any questions, then to make ourselves comfortable with asking them. So as awkward as it was, I asked about our free gifts. A girl sitting besides me was happy that I was the first to ask before we made our way over to the vendors. We were both given a gold bag and then gleefully went about our shopping experience.
I noticed a gorgeous tall woman draped in African garments, so obviously the first vendor I stopped at was Wilize, hand made necklaces from the Ivory Coast and Kenya. They were magnificently designed with shells and beads, but the mission behind the brand impressed me far more. The business organizes a fundraiser, geared for women of color, that expands an organic retreat centered in Africa for Black women to experience the African cultural and healing tradition of the land. While the necklaces were stunning, I didn’t feel I could appreciate it as much as I would like to, but I know that with time, my appreciation will change.
Menogu Designs, which was founded by the young vibrant Nigerian owner, Uchechi Emenogus, is a brand that inspires the styles of Africa by bringing forth culture and tradition through African textiles that have a sense of story, purpose and meaning. Her genuine warmth allowed me to become more open with my willingness to understand the cultures of Africa as a whole without giving myself the excuse to consider that just because I’m Black, that I cannot be just as ignorant as the next person.
She really took the time in expressing to me that there are differences in some of the patterns and colors that tell stories from generations of the culture. Right there is where I dove right into the question of culture appropriation and her humble views. Clearly, her brand is open to everyone, but we both agreed fairly that while we both see no immediate issue, it still boils down to the factor of respect and knowledge.
I was so committed to our conversation, that I completely failed to look at her items on the rack near by, but by going onto her website, I know I can make future purchases of items that I definitely liked!
Near by, I noticed a table with books and a tall handsome gentleman speaking with guest. A little different than having clothes and jewelry lined up, I was curious to what he had displayed. The word Blacky is what initially caught my interest and so I asked what his message entailed. Terrence Terrell, the founder of iCrownedMe, and children’s book Blacky that tells the story of him in his teens while dealing with race, and how he managed to turn his past into something inspiring for young children, as well as adults; that there is a brighter future from a darker past. I immediately connected because it’s these stories that you don’t necessarily hear too often. It’s something that I don’t like speaking about, but I confront it. Ironically, while speaking to Terrence, I noticed a beautiful little girl walk by and I recognized her on the spot!
It was little Miss. Kheris Rogers who found recognition from her story of being bullied for her amazing complexion. She had just arrived as one of the vendors, an I had to meet her. After my conversation with Terrence, I made my way over to her table where she was standing with another young woman. She was absolutely adorable and the little sister that I wish I had. I had to interview her to ask her what she thought of her new found social media fame at such a young age. It all started out during a runway show.
Her sister had posted a photo on social media where her story had received over 18,000 re-tweets bringing the awareness of racial bullying that young dark girls, as well as women, tend to face. While it goes unnoticed, her story did not. She soon became the new face of this generation of dark skin beauty and what it truly means to carry pride in ones own skin. From the positive attention she had received, she grew confidence and saw the opportunity in branding herself where she took the positive words of her grandmother,.Flexin In My Complexion. In support, her mother gave her and her sister $100 to start off, which started with just fifteen t-shirts and from there, her slogan went viral. I was incredibly inspired by this little girls journey and outlook on life at such a young age. Even more so, I admired her sister who opened the doors to a topic of conversation all throughout the internet.
Taylor, who is twelve years older than her younger sister, posted the photo during the Wendy Rockwell Robinson show that received a surprisingly positive response. Her goal was to spread the positive side of her sisters beauty in order to empower other people of their melanin. She saw the bullying her sister had endured not only through racism, but also through colorism, which is what I could relate to.
I decided that at a young age, Kheris is extremely knowledgeable about her awareness in how she could expand her insight onto others simply by creating a business, so I decided to support her brand by purchasing one of her t-shirts, which I wear with pride.
Each booth continued to amaze me and I found far more appreciation for Black owned businesses that stayed grounded to their roots in Africa. The next vendor I hopped over to see was Okeze Bracelets, A Nigerian based company that created a foundation in financial support for Nigerian small owned businesses and merchants that rely on tourist in their country. Through the purchases of these bracelets here in the United States, and proper business strategy, a portion of the profits allows for those businesses in Nigeria to flourish.
The hand crafted pieces are suitable for any fashionable person, as I could even see these being sold in bigger department stores such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdales or Macy’s. Even Top Shop or Urban Outfitters could leverage their financial end goal in order to achieve their ultimate desire. While continuing to encourage sales from the consumers in this country, they still keep a strong relationship in Lagos, Nigeria in order to keep their dreams alive.
Last but not least, I stopped off at the booth of Chandell who is the founder and designer of Exquisite Woman. She was one of the gorgeous young women who carried the biggest and brightest smiles on her face when she first walked into the venue. As a business owner for just a little over a year, she wanted to express herself through the love and appreciation of her body and the skin that she’s in. While setting an example for body image, she’s broadened her line also supporting the plus size woman. “You feel how you look” she humbly stated. As I looked through her selection of pieces, I noted that her choice in style is definitely something I would find on Melrose at a few of my favorite stores.
Being that her clothing line is only available online, I suggested that she possibly expand her business to those stores. An aggressive way to put herself on the map and make herself be further known to consumers who have a love for their skin.
As the event went on, I was ready to taste all the delicious Nigerian dishes that had been brought in. I love getting to know culture through food. There was enough for everyone in the venue and for me to have a third helping. Even the grease had a punch of flavor. A few of us made our way back towards the entrance where I was able to build conversations with other shoppers. It was nice and comforting knowing that there was still a general acceptance even though I couldn’t relate on the same level.
I ended up having a really good time than I had expected and I left feeling even more empowered. I definitely am going to make an effort in incorporating more clothing styles from Africa that still fits my personal fashion sense.
Other vendors to check out were:
Thank you to Dunnie and all the vendors in expanding my knowledge and ways I can wear my African pride. Now if I can get a jump start on the DNA test, I’ll be good to go