Photography by Dustin Doskocil
Seven professional leaders tell us how they pick their favorites.
Back in 2019 YS featured our DiverCity cover series, a stunning selection of black and white portraits that highlighted some of the incredible residents who live here. The origins for that series came from what we thought was an innocuous Facebook post calling for recommendations for featuring minority owned leaders, influencers, and businesses. That post spawned several ignorant comments and pushback against the need to feature diversity in our communities. Instead of giving in, we doubled down and highlighted 11 amazing people (including the governor). Each month featured another stunning portrait of the beauty that is founded in acceptance rather than ignorance.
The inspiration for this year’s fashion shoot actually came from one of the participants — Katrina Miller. While at an event, she suggested to our publisher that we put together a photoshoot featuring some of the inspiring voices in diverse communities. That thought quickly beat out our previous idea, so we shifted gears and put together a memorable day for everyone involved — in less than three weeks too.
Fashion can mean so much, especially when it comes to crafting your identity in a somewhat racially homogenous place such as Boulder. Choices can be limited with local Black designers few and far between. The pressure to conform to the casual outdoorsy chic that Boulder is known for is real. Boulder was once rated worst-dressed, but best looking naked by GQ. Asserting your own identity and choosing to present yourself with a meaningful fashion choice can say so much more than words.
Miller shared her thoughts with me: “I’m at home within myself and feel so much more beautiful when I am wearing my African pieces. There’s so much pride in that for me, especially knowing my story of how, when I came to Boulder, I thought that I had to wear Birkenstocks and ditch my makeup. It was really an amazing moment for me.”
Embracing that freedom of expression through fashion can be liberating. Miller expanded how it allowed her “to really connect with myself and love myself. Instead of walking into a room, kind of holding my head down, ‘I just want to blend in and have nobody notice me,’ now I walk into a room with my head held high exactly as I want to be seen.”
Local designer Lita Thompson brings influences from abroad and wants to share her designs with everyone. “It’s not just that African fabric represents Black [fashion] or the African diaspora, it’s a good way for other people to express themselves and the cultures that they appreciate without it coming across as cultural appropriation. That’s why I like to design [headpieces] because it’s a smaller piece that takes just a tiny piece of that broader cloak and gives them that little bit of self expression. It’s something that you don’t always see.”
Just as important is choosing where to buy your clothes and accessories. Supporting local businesses that help communities thrive is essential to Miller. She shared her favorite spot, HOPE’s Storehouse, with YS. “As you walk into Hope’s, you will see something you don’t expect — a free food pantry. This is when you realize they are more than just into selling secondhand items. HOPE’s Storehouse cares about the community. They also provide emergency supplies to single mothers and families in need.”
It’s not just local action. Just like fashion knows no borders, neither does HOPE’s. “Another thing you will notice when you walk in is a plethora of handmade beaded jewelry from Uganda. The funds from HOPE’s goes to help primary schools in Uganda and to help build international clinics and homes across the globe. They recently sent a shipment of donations to Haiti after the earthquake,” Miller shared.
Each participant was also asked to reflect on the outfit they chose for the photoshoot and what their fashion choices mean to them.
Dr. Reiland Rabaka
PROFESSOR AND DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AFRICAN & AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER
I am really into Afro-futurist fashion, clothes that hint at the past, present, and future of continental and diasporic African couture. I like contemporary fabrics from all over the African continent and from throughout the African diaspora. The majority of my suits are tailored in Tanzania, even though the fabrics may come from elsewhere in the African world.
ATTORNEY, BOULDER CITY COUNCIL, COLORADO STATE REPRESENTATIVE
I love this dress. It’s unique. I worked in Africa in 2016 doing development work. When I was leaving, my co-workers put money together and took me to a tailor and had this dress made for me as a departing gift. So I am proud and grateful every time I put on this dress. It’s also very beautiful, and the cape is a bonus, shall we say, superhero-like vibe. Between the history and the style, I can’t help but to feel confident when wearing this dress.
Dr. Patrick Kalenzi
AUTHOR, PUBLIC SPEAKER, OWNER OF ROCK CREEK VETERINARY HOSPITAL
My medical scrubs represent my career as a professional veterinarian. My dress pants and shoes, white shirt and a tie, represent entrepreneurship and leadership in a multicultural area and being able to adjust to the society that I live in now.
OWNER OF BLACKAT VIDEO PRODUCTIONS LLC, FILMMAKER/ PRODUCER, DIRECTOR OF VIDEOGRAPHY AT RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATER, MOM
I describe my style today as eccentric elegance. There’s an emphasis on femininity and strength because fashion reflects our values. The dress I’m wearing in the shoot was handpicked by the [HOPE’s] manager. She knows I had this shoot and put this dress aside for me. That’s the kind of relationship they have with many in the community. The jewelry I am wearing is by Alchemy Stitches. Making pro Black fashion choices in this area is hard because there isn’t much supply here. Her designs give us an opportunity to shop local and reflect the love and connection with our African heritage and Blackness, creating this alignment with the natural rhythm of our lives. We can create an expression of self that is truly beautiful and attractive.
CHEMIST AND CREATOR OF ALCHEMY STITCHES
The fabric for the pants was an interesting print I found that gives me this tribal sense. That’s very different from a lot of the clothing that I find here. You find a lot of things that are tribal from the Asian regions, and I wanted something that was a little bit different — that was Asian inspired — but maybe more African or Black fashion. As far as the top goes, it gave me an island feel. I was thinking of Jamaican and Caribbean vibes, that’s the direction I went with. I try to reach back to my African heritage by wearing the head wrap the way that I did. I really love to represent myself by wearing head wraps and head scarves and things like that. I visited Africa and that was one of the big things that I took away as far as fashion was that you could just wrap your hair, and it looks great.
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND EQUITY, CEO OF VOICE OUR POWER, LONGMONT CITY COUNCIL
It was actually really difficult for me to think about what to wear. I think I was overthinking it. I’m a casual person. When I was in the dressing room I was like, you know, what represents me is just keeping it real. I’m a very casual person. I don’t even know how to be glamorous. I wore a pair of jeans, but what I really wanted to wear were leggings. I like to be ready to go anytime, ready to run at any time. Of course if it’s a gala or something like that, that’s different, but honestly every day, leggings are my thing. If I could wear them to city council meetings I would. I wore a fedora hat, and I said, ‘I’m gonna try to dress it up,’ and it’s still kind of casual. I’m not one that fits in a box. Every day for me is pretty casual. For me to represent myself and the work that I do in the community, it’s showing up as who I am and being comfortable.
AEROSPACE ENGINEER, MANAGEMENT, SVVSD SCHOOL BOARD
Purple, gold, and yellow — those colors together. I chose that to show strength and regalness. Purple represents rose royalty. I believe everybody that I met [at the photoshoot] represents a position of royalty, particularly in their area of influence. It was to show the growth … royalty and growth. The red blouse with a skirt that had the woman with shades on — it had some writing on it — for me, that represented fun, and it also represents personality. Most people think of engineers as these quirky, weird, kind of goofy types. I want to stress that that is not the norm. That is not what everybody is. It’s okay if that’s what you want to be, but engineers can have style. I want to take away the stereotype that you can’t be beautiful, you can’t be sexy, if you are in a STEM field. I wanted to show that I also can be sexy, I can be fun, I can be stylish.