Note from BW of Brazil: There is a common belief that says that people get extremely creative when they lack financial resources. Sometimes this creativity leads to illegal activities and sometimes it leads to so incredible movements, inventions, creations and ideologies. The young ladies we present in today’s piece are certainly showing what one can do when they can delve into their creative sides and express themselves. Brazil is an incredibly unequal country in which extreme poverty and vast wealth can often only be separated by a street or avenue. And although the population generally follows the ideology that affords a certain level of respect or disrespect according to one’s possessions and status, increasingly, Brazil’s poor and middle class black population are pushing for more acceptance and recognition of not only their very existence and humanity, but the fact that they have aspirations to do things and achieve goals even if they’ve never had the same opportunities afforded to those who were born into more well-off families.
Today’s technology, particularly the internet, have given these voices that have been stifled for so long the ability to bring exposure to their dreams, works and creations that was not possible just little more than a decade ago. In poorer neighborhoods, one can find a plethora of talented people in all sorts of fields who can provoke changes in these areas of society. Some dream of being the next futebol superstar like a Neymar. Some want to be and become doctors. Some have a talent for designing clothes or at least creating new styles upon older ones. And as the mainstream media is often not interested in these stories as they don’t come from the more privileged classes, it’s wonderful to see these stories coming out via small, independent media, of which blogs like this one are a part of. Today we introduce you to Tracie and Tasha Okereke, the latest inhabitants of the ‘hood who are making a name for themselves.
Dubai born tattoo artist Grace Neutral was impressed enough to feature the twins in a short documentary piece for i-D videos. Besides the twins, the above video also talks to Nayara Justino, whose career we’ve followed since she won the right to be Globo TV’s Globeleza girl for Carnaval before being stripped of her title, basically, for having skin deemed “too dark” by Brazilian society. The video also touches on a number of other issues that are regular features on this blog such as the natural hair movement, the lack of black dolls in Brazil’s toy stores, a beauty standard that pushes Afro-Brazilian women to straighten their hair, “becoming black”, the necessity of Brazil’s school system to discuss race/racism and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture, the racist idea that if a person of African descent is attractive, they can be seen as negro/negra (black) but rather ‘morena’ or ‘mulata’ and the rise of Afro-Brazilian fashion designers. Today’s story also presents yet another connection to Nigeria, which we’ve seen in a few previous posts in recent weeks (see here and here). Hope you enjoy!
Tasha and Tracie Okereke are the voice of the ‘meninas pretas pobres da favela’: the poor black girls from the ‘hood
By Taís Toti and Gabriel Monteiro
October 17, 2016
From the column ‘HISTÓRIAS DE VIDAS QUE INSPIRAM’ (LIFE STORIES THAT INSPIRE)
It’s impossible not to be enchanted by Tracie and Tasha Okereke. The irmãs gêmeas (twin sisters) born under the sign of gêmeos (Gemini, meaning twins) are beautiful, stylish, and known as the favela’s ‘it girls’ for creating incredible looks with custom clothing and from thrift store. It wasn’t enough being a fashion inspiration, the 21-year-old girls want to build an empire with empoderamento feminina (female empowerment). With the Expensive $hit movement (1), which came to life through a blog and parties sometimes thrown downtown, but especially in the São Paulo quebradas (ghettos), they promote “a auto-estima da mulher jovem, preta e favelada” (the self-esteem of the young, black woman from the favela). “We want to make people aware that they can do everything, that if they feel powerful, then they would see how much power they have,” says Tracie.
Expensive $hit, they say, came out of necessity. With no money to buy new clothes, they customized the ones they received or bought in thrift stores. Besides, they didn’t find in the store magazines tips to care for cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair) or stories about blacks that were a reference in the world of music and fashion. “All the posts are our doubts too, we read things and didn’t think the stories were for us,” says Tasha. The idea is to communicate with girls who are like them, so the fashion editorials have a maximum of two or three pieces that are not from the thrift store, but most cost a maximum of 20 reais (about US$6.50). Next month, they debut a brand of clothing, with remodeled pieces and some creations of their own.
“We do the editorials to show them that you can buy expensive clothes, but that does not define you, you’re not going to be any less tight if you don’t have it,” says Tasha. The main motto is “foda-se as etiquetas” (fuck the labels), but “the visual part is important, but it’s not everything”. Because of this, so much space on the blog is dedicated to telling the story of black icons, which were left aside by the racist society. “We want a next generation more imposing and proud and intelligent, because this generation knows nothing of itself, of history itself,” says Tracie.
This whole process of exploring beauty and black history contributes to readers gaining self-esteem. “To have self-esteem we have to be proud, to be proud we need to know where we came from,” Tasha explains. “We came to create representativeness, but not only visual representativeness.”
Being icons of beauty and culture for young blacks from São Paulo and the country, they transmit a lot of self-confidence. But it was not always like that. “Actually, we’ve always been extremely self-respecting and very shy. We had a complex that we were very thin, that we had very large feet, with our hair too,” says Tasha. She says she never thought cabelo crespo was ugly, nor was she ashamed to wear it, but the lack of representativeness was so great that when she saw beautiful, well kept hair, she thought it was another hair type and not hers. “It’s the same thing I hear every day from the girls here in my quebrada: ‘Wow, your hair is so beautiful, mine is not like that.’ Of course, it’s because you’ve never seen it.” Even though they have a very common hair type among Brazilian women, they still have to face the curious looks of people, whether in the quebrada or the subway.
The parties promoted by the Okereke twins also work, almost indirectly, on representation. “We want to bring affordable music and also the visual parade, because a lot of empowered, incredible girls with big hair come, and that changes many things in the quebrada, because it gives self-esteem to the girls.” For them, the young people on the periphery don’t feel comfortable when they leave the quebrada itself, but they want not only to decentralize the rolês (hang outs) but also to promote the movement of these girls throughout the city.
“It usually takes me two hours to get from my house to downtown. Why can’t anyone turn around to come to a party where I live?,” Tracie asks, taking the time to explain the whole concept of their parties that present a funk, rap and afrobeat flavor.
Their taste for music comes from the cradle. “My father is a DJ, he likes hip-hop, old school music, disco…he’s very musical and this music is predominantly black,” says Tasha. Daughters of a white Brazilian mother and a Nigerian father, they consider themselves igbos. “I’ve always liked African music, with an African feel, it’s bringing us a little bit closer to our ancestry.”
At the time of the writing of this post, the twins were preparing to go to the famed SPFW (São Paulo Fashion Week) that they had previously only watched on TV for the first time.
Tracey, who works every day in the production of the Coca-Cola booth, uploading posts to the brand’s social networks, says that until then, she had only seen fashion week on TV. She was able to watch some parades, like Ratier’s, between one performance and another, and only regretted the speed of each show. Among the highlights, the two go directly to Monday, the day in which rapper Emicida performed with his brother, partner Fióti, and presented his new fashion line LAB, which entered the line-up of the event with the co-signature of the stylist João Pimenta and a casting composed of mostly black people.
“It’s a milestone, in fact,” they say. And Tracey continues: “We are in Brazil, where the majority of the population is black. Streetwear is a fashion that, as the name says, came from the street. Who created streetwear was the street, and our fashion didn’t reach high fashion. Or rather, the references even arrived, but in the hands of those who never went on the street. It’s good for us to take up the space that is ours, you know. In high fashion too. “
They recall that LAB began selling CD’s and making T-shirts, usually for those who lived in the extreme of the North Zone, and that things took such proportions that independent fashion had to strengthen itself. They see that this is much more valued these days, even though there’s still a ways to go to address some issues, such as the castings of the parades. In a week made up mostly of white people, among models, stylists and guests, the twins say the brands still have a challenge. “Nowadays we are much more questioning and if I do not see myself represented I just don’t buy. It has improved, but there is a lot to change. “
LAB not only represented in the selection of models, but also presented on the catwalk a collection with the weight of African and Eastern references tied in a very urban look. Among the highlights, the T-shirts and regattas with the “I Love Quebrada” print soon fell into the taste of those who attended the parade, but also opened a gap among journalists for a discussion about who could or should not use the item. “People don’t see a problem with wearing a print with Brooklin (upper crust São Paulo neighborhood) written on it, right? Why can’t we write Imirim, Boi Malhado (neighborhoods)?”, they ask. They explain that the issue here is much more linked in the pride of who is from the quebrada wanting to talk about where they came from, let alone on influencers who never got close to the periphery and will use the item for reasons of hype.
“Many of the rap fans have also questioned the value of the pieces, but people kill themselves to buy a Supreme item, for example,” Tasha points out. Adepts of see now, buy now, some items of the label can already be ordered with prices starting at R$60. “People need to know about a whole social aspect behind independent work,” they argue. “There are a lot of cheap clothes and even expensive ones that have slave labor. They need to pay the manpower behind it all.”
About their upcoming wishes, they say that, for now, they want to win the Melissa project and exhibit at the brand’s gallery, to further activate the blog and to continue with all the parties. In a more distant future, they guarantee that we can wait, because they want “everything” really. But, mainly, to change a little the experience of girls and boys who, like them, live in the periphery but are passionate about fashion.
- As the girls’ father is Nigerian and a DJ, one can assume that the title of the movement, ‘Expensive $hit’ was probably influenced by the famous album by Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, whose music has gained quite a following among black Brazilians in recent years.