As streetwear continues to gain more exposure, the irony of the movement continues to ride along with it. Its origins run deep in the lives of black and brown people — even more so black and brown women — and yet, its gatekeepers don’t represent that. Visual representation matters, and when a movement like streetwear still rarely features a Latina on a national campaign, I can’t help but wonder who really gets to create the narrative and if there is space for Latina women in the world they helped create.
Like Black American women, Latinas are responsible for the birth of many notable fashion trends. For example nameplate jewelry originated as trend that was once labeled ‘ghetto’ or ‘tacky’’ and has since been normalized and replicated in runway shows and on clothing racks.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Latinas in the industry who continue to break the rules and pave the way for more women of color to live their truth: Evelynn Escobar, streetwear enthusiast, Gaby Serrano, NYC Nike on Air winner, Gigi Fernandez, celebrity stylist, and Coco & Breezy, two sisters doing it big in the accessories space.
How did you get introduced to streetwear/sneaker culture?
Gigi: Growing up in NYC and hip hop are the two things that introduced me to streetwear and sneaker culture. I also had a lot of older cousins who were very into streetwear. I very vividly remember my dad driving all across Manhattan looking for Air Jordan 1s for me because I refused to go to school without them.
Gaby: I first was introduced into sneaker culture through basketball, as an athlete wearing the same sneakers as my favorite basketball players I felt like anything was possible. Sneaker culture and streetwear culture go hand and hand so I was introduced to both simultaneously growing up in New York.
Evelynn: I’m from Northern Virginia and growing up my brother and I were heavily influenced by Pharrell. He essentially opened my eyes to the culture.
Coco & Breezy: Growing up, our parents couldn’t afford to buy us multiple pairs of shoes for school. They always got us one to two pairs that had to last us for the whole school year. We were dedicated to keeping our sneakers clean and cleaning them everyday with a toothbrush and dishwashing liquid. We would switch up our shoelaces to match our airbrushed outfits. I got my first pair of Jordans in middle school when I made a trade with the new girl in school.
In Latin culture, physical appearance is something that women begin to obsess over at a young age, down to what they wear. Latinas are encouraged to dress more “feminine” (tight clothing, heels, etc). How did your environment motivate you to go against this idea when it came to expressing yourself through fashion?
Gaby: I grew up surrounded by Latin women who dressed very feminine, my grandma even made dresses from scratch for them. I also grew up looking up to my big brother and wanting to be just like him. The Latin culture does encourage women to dress more feminine, but I feel they are also very accepting of women who want to express themselves through fashion differently. I noticed based on my personal experience that by wearing sneakers or clothes that isn’t as feminine I have helped my Hispanic family be more accepting and even go out and try new ways to express themselves through fashion as well.
Coco & Breezy: Our mother would always tell us to not walk out of the house without earrings. That is probably why we are so obsessed with accessories now. We had it better than a lot of other Latina families, because our mom gave us a lot of creative freedom when it came to self-expression through our clothing choices. Our mom grew up in a traditional and strict Puerto Rican household. It was taboo to have short hair, so she had hair past her waist for a long time. She would also never leave the house without heels and makeup. Our mom thought it was important to give us the freedom that she didn’t have growing up. We were around other Latina friends who were pushed to always wear heels and dresses when it was time to “dress up” and didn’t have a lot of freedom. Their parents had one idea of how femininity should be presented, and our parents helped us develop a more flexible one that fits our own multifaceted identities.
Gigi: Luckily I didn’t really experience this too much because my parents moved from Dominican Republic to Harlem when they were still in their teens. Because of this, they were a lot more “Americanized” and hip, especially being in Harlem where it’s such a melting pot and streetwear was a part of everyday life. When I was in middle school/high school searching around the city for the latest sneaker drops that came out my father would be right there encouraging me. He was a sneakerhead himself. However I do see from other family members of mine when I’m wearing sneakers or anything not “feminine” they will make comments and ask why do I like dressing like a “tomboy” and I’m the furthest thing from one.
Evelynn: In a sense I feel like my personal style in some ways was an act of rebellion to this stereotypical hyper-sexual, feminine look. When I was able to have a conscious opinion around style choices I always defaulted to comfort first because ultimately that was what made me feel best.
What are some of your thoughts on cultural appropriation?
Coco & Breezy: This is a subject that we talk about all of the time. I don’t think it’s fair when big fashion houses take from other cultures without any knowledge of a cultural practice and don’t give the people they copy the opportunity to be apart of it or benefit from it. Some fashion houses put hairstyles or religious garments on the runway as trends while people get discriminated for the same garments and styles in their everyday lives and workplaces. At the same time, there has to be some room for inspiration and experimentation, which we attempt to do thoughtfully as designers and artists with a complex view of the cultural contexts we engage and reference.
Gigi: All I can say is give credit, where credit is due.
Gaby: As a minority in the America we live in now, cultural appropriation is a big topic. I designed a sneaker based on NYC and made it a point to highlight the different skin complexions of all the people who live here because my hope is that we learn to move forward with love and acceptance of everyone regardless of their ethnicity. Of course in a perfect world that would be great but there are marginalized groups who have felt the negative aspects of cultural appropriation and rightfully so have been offended and hurt by this. I am guilty of wanting to keep certain aspects of my culture to myself and not have to share it with the world but I also think if people would take the time to understand the history and actually want to learn about each other’s cultures, with respect and care, without appropriating it with clothes or hairstyles that may offend that culture, then we could grow as a society.
Evelynn: I think cultural appropriation should be way easier to understand than it is. If you are borrowing something from a culture and are taking it as your own than it is appropriation period. Latin culture like Black culture and so on is constantly being used as a point of inspiration for trends etc. Nowadays all you see is gold hoops, “saint” necklaces, rings etc. as popular and trendy. The same things that were once used against us to talk down to us are now being mass marketed as cool and hip to everyone.
“In a sense I feel like my personal style in some ways was an act of rebellion to this stereotypical hyper-sexual, feminine look”
Where do you see Latina women within the streetwear space in the next five years?
Evelynn: I think Latinas will be at the forefront of the streetwear space alongside our other sisters of color. We’ve helped set the trends that are popular now and we will continue to pave the way for the future.
Gigi: I really believe Latina women are slept on heavily in the fashion industry. We are mostly looked at as sex symbols and not much else. I do believe that women like myself and articles such as this, can really start to shine a light on the Latina women that are in this streetwear world and there will be a lot of growth in the next five years.
Gaby: I see Latina women front and center in the streetwear space within five years. Currently there are not many women of color or Latin women in streetwear that are well known but thankfully clothing brands and sneaker companies are starting to reach out to these women. We are the women that push the culture forward so we should be the at the center of the streetwear space and we will get there!
Coco & Breezy: I see it growing tremendously and see more Latina women being involved in the streetwear space. The new and young generation of Latina women are more open minded when it comes to exploring style and streetwear, and have come up in rich fashion and music cultures across the world. Connecting via the internet has been a strong force for experimentation and stylistic meritocracy. As we know well you can make a splash with an audience on a look you built yourself — you don’t necessarily need to grow up with a certain pedigree and financial resources.