Clothes are a visual language, a type of storytelling that uses style, color and fabric instead of words. Imara Muraty and Ruby N. Lewis, along with local designers, models and volunteers, will share a story of empowerment during Saturday’s inaugural Black History Month Fashion Show at The Lord’s Gym in Vancouver. The show is combined with a display of influential Black designers from the 1860s to today.
“I wanted to have a fashion show in order to introduce to people the African Americans who were impactful in the fashion industry, going all the way back to 1860,” said Lewis, owner of Unlimited Creative Corporations, which is hosting the show under the auspices of its advocacy arm, Please Don’t Die Black Men.
Two notable Black fashion designers highlighted in the show are Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, who lived in the White House and designed dresses for Mary Todd Lincoln, and Zelda Wynn Valdes, who operated a design and dressmaking studio on Broadway in New York City and outfitted such famous figures as Dorothy Dandridge, Gladys Knight, Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker, Mae West, Ella Fitzgerald and Eartha Kitt.
The show is intended to be more than educational, said Muraty, marketing manager for Please Don’t Die Black Men. Muraty conceived the event as an occasion to shine a spotlight on Black-owned businesses and local artisans. All the outfits being modeled on Saturday are available to buy or rent, Lewis said, so they’re meant to not only look great on the runway but also for real-world wear.
“When we’re doing a fashion show and when we’re dressing people up, we want them to have movement of their clothes. We want them to show off their curves,” said Lewis, who also serves as secretary of the Vancouver NAACP branch. “We just want them to be comfortable in their clothes as a Black person.”
If you go
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; fashion show starts at noon.
Where: The Lord’s Gym, 2410 Grand Blvd., Vancouver.
Tickets: $20 general admission, $40 VIP. Tickets can be purchased online until 4 a.m. Saturday; no tickets will be sold at the door. Tickets include a catered lunch.
Information: eventbrite.com/e/pddbm-fashion-show-tickets-411726473967, facebook.com/unlmtdcrtvecorp, facebook.com/PDDBM/
Other Black History Month events
• Vancouver NAACP, Clark College and Clark County Historical Museum present “Black History Highlights of Southwest Washington,” a panel exhibit created by the historian and artist Claudia Starr Carter, who died April 8, 2022. This exhibit celebrates the vital contributions and stories of Southwest Washington’s Black community. In addition to the original panels, the expanded exhibit highlights objects from the museum and NAACP archives as well as pieces by Carter. The exhibit will be on display in Clark College’s Gaiser Hall during the month of February. Admission is free.
• The local branch of iUrban Teen is hosting events in honor of Black History Month 2-4 p.m. Saturday, as well as Feb. 18 and 25 at the iUrban offices, 808 Harney St. in downtown Vancouver. Events are free and refreshments will be served; registration is required at eventbrite.com/e/black-history-month-and-honoring-our-talents-tickets-526762078557.
Feb. 11: Poetry and spoken word with Latoya Hampton.
Feb. 18: Black health and wellness, with Black physicians connecting attendees to quality care, discussing the best ways to advocate for themselves and their families.
Feb. 25: Art Noir, a gallery showing highlighting the creative collections of local Black artists.
Muraty emphasized, however, that the ensembles on display can be worn by anyone. The show features 28 models of different races, ages, genders and sizes, ranging from age 2 to 58 with a full spectrum of body shapes. The clothes, which feature colors and fabrics inspired by African motifs, will be shown in several categories, such as party, athletic and casual wear. Profits from sales will go directly to the four Portland-area designers whose clothes will be featured in the show: Dora Darlington, Allie Callow-Spencer, Angela Aragon and Cherechi Brenneke.
Muraty and Lewis hope the show will encourage Black people who have been singled out because of their appearance. Lewis described her daughter’s frustrating experiences at school, where her peers and teachers kept touching her hair, even after being asked repeatedly to stop. Lewis also recounted her challenges in the Northwest’s predominantly white workplaces where her Black characteristics were subtly or overtly denigrated.
“As a Black woman — as a big Black woman, especially — coming from the East Coast, I was pressured when I applied for jobs to have straight hair. I was pressured to look a certain way,” said Lewis, who taught a class about microaggression through Clark College and now offers courses through her company at officialuccp.com/classes-and-trainings.
Muraty, a commercial driver who has also endured on-the-job discrimination, saw the need for an event that specifically celebrated Black culture and Black features. She also wanted to do something to call attention to the historically significant contributions of Black people in a field that’s perceived as uniformly white. She believes that Vancouver needs more such events.
“We need to bring awareness that is OK to be African American and not be all one culture,” Muraty said. “We don’t have to be the same. We can embrace cultural differences.”
In addition to the runway fashion show, the event will include live music and entertainment, local vendors from Black-owned businesses, a silent auction and raffles. The vendor market will be open from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by the fashion show. The event concludes with a meal at 2 p.m. of yellow rice, salad, beans, plantains, vegetable samosas and chicken.