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Celebrating Black History Month Through Fashion

Umoja’s 23rd Annual Impact Fashion Show

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See images from the Impact Fashion Show, from preparation to models on the runway, in the slideshow above. Photos by Grace Ko

Electronic pop music blared from speakers and red and blue flashing lights illuminated the GSU’s Metcalf Ballroom recently as models wearing the latest fashions confidently strutted along a runway.

The event, on February 26, was the Umoja Black Student Union’s annual Impact Fashion Show, which brings together local designers, performers, and student models to celebrate Black History Month. Now in its 23rd year, it has become the biggest collegiate fashion show in Boston, with approximately 700 people attending this year.

Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili, was founded in 1967 to “highlight black culture on campus,” says organization president Farrah Belizaire (SAR’11), but now “the purpose has shifted to getting people together and to feeling a sense of home.”

The theme of the runway show was Fashion Is Black, and while the aim was to showcase the work of local minority designers, organizers stress that the annual event is open to anyone.

“It’s not just a black fashion show,” says program coordinator and professional event planner Chifon Marie Reeder. “It’s for people from all races and cultures.”

This year’s show was streamlined to place the emphasis squarely on the influence black culture has had on fashion. “The show had become so large in the past that it overshadowed Black History Month,” says Umoja public relations chair Jennifer Eliezer (CGS’11).

Five local designers were featured this year: Joe Malaika, who showed his designs of brightly colored sweaters; Dujour Vintage, whose retro fashions recalled the 1940s and ’50s; Perpetual Anastasia, whose bronze jewelry was showcased; Sparklle T., with tropically inspired clothing and swimwear; and Urban Fresh, whose glam designs showed a military influence. Reeder says she wanted to choose newer designers to give them “a chance to show their stuff.”

Between the runway scenes, student groups and other local performers entertained the packed crowd. The show began with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem, a song with a deep association to the civil rights movement. BU’s step team XCeption and hip-hop and reggae dance crew Soulstice, regular performers at the fashion show, again wowed the audience with their footwork. Additional entertainment was provided by singer Lisa Bello, the rap trio Urban Nerdz, the band Elevation Theory, and a poetry reading. Audience members were also invited to the stage for a Teach Me How to Dougie dance contest. The finale was preceded by a remix of old-school hip-hop songs from DJ Playtime that had people dancing in the aisles.

With all the entertainment elements, Reeder says, “it’s not your typical fashion show in our culture. I wanted people to come and learn a little bit and see fashion in a way that isn’t your typical Calvin Klein.”

The show takes months of preparation. Organizers must first search for new designers and then book a venue. Designers work closely with Umoja to ensure that their fashions reflect the show’s theme. This year, a casting call for models (most are BU students) was posted in November and designers chose the men and women based on their look and their walk.

“It’s my first event, but I heard about it on campus, and I was impressed with last year’s show,” says Hazel Lopez (CAS’13), one of the models.

Planning for this year’s show was more chaotic than usual because the Umoja board had to replace the coordinator at the last minute. Reeder had worked on previous shows and stepped up to pull the show off in just a matter of weeks.

“She knows what she’s doing, she knows how to delegate tasks, and she’s really dedicated,” Eliezer says.

For her part, Reeder says, she wanted this year’s show to be “as positive an experience as possible” for the models. “I try and make sure everyone has a good amount of scenes.”

“It’s a well-put-together show,” says Amanda Ramirez (CGS’11), another of this year’s models. “It all revolves around Black History Month and gives a sense of community at BU.”

More information about Umoja can be found here.

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