CALI, Colombia — At a premier fashion event in the coastal city of Buenaventura this year, a pair of towering models strutted down the boardwalk, one in a red minidress with a fluted top inspired by an open seashell and the other wearing a blue-and-gold gown fit for a modern queen.
The models were Black and the fabrics imported from Africa — unusual for a major fashion show in Colombia. But what most distinguished them was the designer himself: Esteban Sinisterra Paz, a 23-year-old university student with no formal design training who is at the center of an Afro-Colombian fashion explosion.
“Decolonization of the human being,” is the aim of his work, he said, along with showing the world an expansive view of “the elegance of identity.”
Mr. Sinisterra is the man behind the wardrobe of Francia Márquez, an environmental activist and lawyer who on Sunday will become Colombia’s first Black vice president.
In a nation where race and class often define a person’s status, Ms. Márquez, 40, has made a remarkable leap from profound poverty to the presidential palace, emerging as the voice of millions of poor, Black and Indigenous Colombians.
In a matter of months, she has not only pushed racism and classism to the center of the national conversation, she has also revolutionized the country’s political aesthetic, rejecting starched shirts and suits in favor of a distinctly Afro-Colombian look that she calls a form of rebellion.
Natural hair. Bold prints. Dresses that highlight her curves.
But Ms. Márquez and Mr. Sinisterra are just the most visible ambassadors of an Afro-Colombian aesthetic boom that proponents say is part of a larger movement demanding greater respect for millions of Black Colombians.
In a nation where 40 percent of households live on less than $100 a month —