BARRIO – 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.
“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.”
Sinisterra says Márquez has received donations of fabric but has paid for every finished piece. He won’t reveal how much. “She is my sister. We decided to support her political aspiration,” Sinisterra said. “It’s something that goes beyond economic issues. We have to stick up for each other.”
The work has gained attention for Sinisterra’s business. He says he’s been contacted by other politicians, artists and scholars. He didn’t give details.
He has been invited to the inauguration Aug. 7.
“The day she will take office I’d like to see Francia making all the people that are behind her, and have invested time and effort in this collective, beautiful and meaningful project, feel proud,” he said. “I hope she makes all the children who sometimes believe Black people have no opportunity to hold such positions, proud.”