Note from BW of Brazil: Carol Barreto has been building a name for herself for some time in the fashion industry. The native of Santo Amaro, Bahia, has been able to merge into a single path her two passions: fashion and academic research. She is part of a growing number of black Brazilians who are making bringing an Afro-Brazilian flair and making their presence felt in the area of fashion design. Currently a faculty member of the Department of Philosophy and Human Sciences at the Federal University of Bahia, Barreto was Brazil’s only representative and first black stylist invited to participate in the Black Fashion Week in Paris, where she featured her Vozes: Moda e Ancestralidades (Voices: Fashion and Ancestralities) collection. But the fashion industry, like so many genres of Brazilian society, is not necessary the place that is very welcoming to the Afro-Brazilians and the black aesthetic. Speaking on this in 2015, Barreto spoke on what can be defined as “Bahian Apartheid” and said that when she decided to redesign her brand commercially, she:
“…decided to adapt to some limitations. I realized that negotiating with some established standards could give me more visibility as there are few black creators with national prominence who take on a discourse against the racist practice in the world of fashion. To construct a globalized image still today is to photograph a model as blond as possible, even being in Salvador, a city with great black majority.”
Finding her niche in such a Eurocentric industry, she would come to realize that she could:
“contribute to forming new representation policies for future generations. That is why I started working mostly with black Soteropolitan (natives of Salvador, Bahia) models. I see how they collect exclusionary stories because they are not in certain standards. With my work, I want to show how many girls are beautiful and good professionals.”
Below, Barreto shares her thoughts on the topic.
Fashion and Racism
By Carol Barreto
How can I work with fashion in the context of race relations in Brazil? Thinking from an intersectional perspective, being a woman, a black woman and a northeastern woman – among many other social markers of difference – how can I at least contribute to confronting the matrices that produce inequality, acting in a field of creation seen as futile, unnecessary and superfluous?
These are the questions that come to me from various fields with which I dialogue and that stimulate me to produce starting from the reflection on the relation between image and self-esteem in the processes of self-recognition. I have experienced how fashion and all the limitations that this model imposes, can contribute to creating new conditions for the formation of a different grammar to conceptualize, reflect and inform of the black existence as a political existence.
If the images that surround us exhibit racism as a defining aspect of the acceptable standards of humanity, goodness and beauty, it is through it that I think of the importance of the strategies of deconstruction and reconstruction of the image of black people in Brazil, especially of black women. This possibility is based on a critical reading of the forms of production of knowledge, art and politics that are offered to us, perceiving how they are capable of reinforcing branquitude (whiteness) as a model and practice that has been established since colonization.
The American feminist bell hooks makes this provocation in the text Alisando nossos cabelos (straightening our hair): “it is our bodies that are often denied, despised, humiliated and mutilated in an ideology that alienates. Celebrating our bodies, we participate in a liberating struggle that frees the mind and the heart.” Like this author, many black Brazilian intellectuals have put forth the body, appearance, arts and aesthetics as a field of dispute that cannot be underestimated.
From my individual and professional trajectory to confrontations in the practical field of fashion, I see the invisibility strategies that the racist structure of Brazilian society continues to produce materialize. As a creator of authorial fashion, I am inspired to continue working in a limited and exclusive universe, for the possibility of expressing through fashion, interpretations about negritude (blackness) and brasilidade (Brazilianness) from the perspective of my belonging, materializing and constructing through the visuality of the clothes, of the scenic spectacles which contextualize them, of respectable creative and productive processes, the challenge of expressing the cultural references that help me to recognize and celebrate my ancestry as a person coming from the Bahian Recôncavo and to recognize other subordinated cultural voices.
Becoming aware of my subjective and professional hybridity, I began to understand how these fields of action as a fashion and academic designer are inseparable, increasingly perceiving how challenging and necessary it is to verify how few black women there are in Brazil that, besides acting in the practical field of fashion – occupy the spaces of protagonism as creators – to the same extent that they do academically and so I continue working to break the rule that places us as objects of study for the supposition of the impossibility of our autonomy.
Black woman, feminist and as Authorial Fashion Designer elaborates fashion products and images from reflections on ethnic-racial relations and gender. Adjunct Professor of the Bachelor’s program in Gender and Diversity Studies – FFCH – UFBA and PhD student in the Multidisciplinary Program of Post-Graduation in Culture and Society – IHAC – UFBA, researching the relationship between Fashion and Political Activism.