When looking at fashion emerging from Latin-America today, traditional
African prints, with vivid reds, magentas, emeralds and blue may not spring
to mind straight away. But it is these contrasting and bold colours that
are at the center of Lia Samantha Lozano Rendón collections, a rising
singer/designer whose designs are increasingly in demand and worn by women
ranging from Miss Universe 2014, Paulina Vega, to tv presenters and office
workers.

When asked why her designs revolve around Africa colours and patterns, the
answer is more complex than previously thought: “I created my own fashion
label to better understand myself, my cultural roots and my own heritage, I
am not just Colombian, I have roots in Africa as well and see fashion as a
medium to better learn about the richness of my history.” Born
and raised in Bogota, Lia Samantha identifies herself and her designs as
Afro-Colombian, which is a statement in itself as she hails from a country
where the lines between ethnicity and race tend to be blurred.

Lia Samantha: ‘I see fashion as a medium to better learn about the
richness of my history’

According to the most recent national census, 85.9 percent of the Colombian
population identify as “without ethnicity”, 10.6 percent as Afro-Colombian
and only 3.4 percent as indigenous, suggesting that the majority of
Colombians do not identify with concepts such as race and ethnicity,
but merely apply it to others. Growing up in a city where
the predominant population is white, Lia experience from a young age
onwards. “Up until recently, you could turn on a television in Colombia and
not see a single person of colour present – not even in the soap opera’s,
or in the news or the daily shows – they were simply not present. So I
thought to myself, okay I am Colombian but I feel completely ignored by the
media and telecommunications, people of colour are simply not visible.”

It was father, who hails from Chocó, a region known for its large, mixed
population, who gave her tools she needed to express herself and connect
with her roots. “It is thanks to my father that I grew up listening to a
lot of ‘black’ music, which led to my discovery of our heritage and roots.
Music has been the tool which led to the discovery of other artistic
experiments, such as fashion design.” Studying Fashion Design at the
National United Corporation of Higher Education in Colombia, she launched
her independent label in 2010, spreading her time between designing,
presenting and touring with her band Voodoo SoulJah. “In fact, the first
time I came into contact with African fabrics was when I was in Toronto,
Canada, travelling with my band,” she explains. “It was incredible, I found
this African-Canadian community, with local stands and I bought all of
these fabrics, it was so drawn to them.”

Lia’s designs: ‘a reinterpretation of African dress, with
a modern twist’

“I am greatly inspired by the more traditional style of African dress, how
tribal women dress and adorn themselves. I would say my designs are a
reinterpretation of these traditions, but with a modern twist. I take these
traditional fabrics and use them to create contemporary and modern garments
for all.” A fan of designers such as Stella Jean, Ozwald Boateng and Mimi
Plange, she aims to take her designs to the next level as they have.
“What’s funny though, is that before I began designing I knew nothing about
Mimi Plange, or Stella Jean. But unconsciously I have been doing something
similar, in my own way, from Colombia. I was simply inspired by African
culture from a young age and when I discovered these other designers, it
was like wow, there are other African-descended designers who have the same
feelings and thoughts as I do.”

Her desire to keep the dialogue between her African roots and fashion today
whilst trying to initiate change in her home country is also evident in her
choice of models. Whilst the majority of fashion designers tend to favour
skinny, pale-skinned models, Lia Samantha prefers to promote inclusion.
“When I went to ColombiaModa last year, (where she debuted her second
collection to standing ovation) I was looking for black girls, with
natural afros as well as blondes with blue eyes and latina girls with
indigenous features.”

‘As racism is rife in Colombia, I believe that I can use my fashion to
start a change’

“As racism is rife in Colombia, I believe that I can use my fashion to
start a change. I refuse to exclude anyone, especially as someone who is
from Afro-Colombian descent and uses African fabrics, I refuse to dictate
who wears and does not wear my designs or sell my clothes solely to African
women. I want my designs to be available to everyone. I have witnessed
myself that all women look beautiful in my designs, from Miss Universe
2014, to the every day woman. I don’t care if they are white, black, blue,
purple, green, blue all of them look like queens in African fabrics.”

However, there are more reasons why Samantha embraces vibrant colours and
patterns in her designs apart from cultural significance. “Another reason I
love using color is that our ancestors did seek out elegance by wearing
black,” she points out. “There is nothing elegant about hiding yourself
under a black mantel – for indigenous and African tribes a true sense of
elegance is found in the wearing of colors, showing your own colours and
seducing those around you with colours, just like the natural world around
us. To me, there is nothing more elegant than the male peacock showing off
his tail feathers of color in all his glory. Nothing more, elegant that a
flower blossoming in the morning sun, presenting the full array of its
colored beauty. In short, I am trying to change the we have of fashion now, which has
been the same for a long time.”
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