Meet Esteban Sinisterra Paz, the Designer Dressing Colombia’s First Black Vice President

Esteban Sinisterra Paz, 23, in his studio in Cali, Colombia. (Charlie Cordero/For The Washington Post)

Esteban Sinisterra Paz was 5 years old when armed men told his family — and everyone else in their small, predominantly Afro-Colombian town of Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé — that they had to leave. Anyone who stayed behind, they warned, would be killed.

Sinisterra, his parents and three sisters jumped into a boat and traveled down the Iscuandé River. It carried them to a safe refuge: The home of his grandmother, a seamstress. The place where, for the first time, he saw the magic of fabric being turned into something more.

He grew up helping his aunt sew dresses, and his grandmother make blankets with the fragments his aunt no longer needed. When he was 14, he started dreaming of founding a fashion line.

Now 23, he’s the personal designer for the woman who will become Colombia’s first Black vice president. Francia Márquez, a housekeeper turned environmental activist and lawyer, will take office alongside President-elect Gustavo Petro in August.

Throughout the campaign and since the election, Márquez has used her growing prominence to mainstream her Afro-Colombian heritage. In this, Sinisterra is her partner. The vice president-elect, working with Sinisterra and fashion consultant Diana Rojas, has drawn notice for the bright colors and intricate patterns that are unusual for the political arena here, where few Black politicians have reached national office and few female politicians wear clothing beyond traditional professional attire.

“Márquez’s wardrobe has been a vehicle for sharing her origin and culture,” said Mona Herbe, a visual artist in Bogotá. “In her speeches, she has mentioned with clarity problems her people have been subjected to, like racism, marginalization, injustice and precariousness. But, with her clothes, she sends messages of the beauty, complexity and richness of her ancestors.”

Márquez, who before the campaign was a jeans-and-shirt kind of person, described a 2019 trip she took to Senegal’s Gorée Island, a port from which enslaved Africans were shipped to the Americas.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Diana Durán

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