I want to be like Rayne Stewart when I grow up. Rayne is one of the many Americans suffering from Vitiligo, a non-curable condition causing discoloration and the loss of pigment in skin cells. Vitiligo affects nearly 50 million humans worldwide, and as many as 5 million citizens of the United States. It can be associated with other side effects such as psychological stress and hair discoloration.
Rayne was only 8 years old when she was diagnosed. In addition to the stress of the loss of her favorite aunt to ALS, and grandfather to cancer, Rayne suffered emotionally with fears and feelings of inadequacy, and being bullied in school. After moving to Loch Raven, Baltimore, Maryland at the start of 7th grade, and with the help of a close family friend, Rayne decided she was done trying to fit into the mold, and began embracing her Vitiligo. “I started looking at it as something that makes me unique,” she said.
Now only 14 years young, Rayne is a vitiligo warrior and using her voice to change the way children (and adults) who suffer from the condition view themselves. “I don’t mind the questions, and I understand the stares, because I know being different is not a bad thing,” she explained. Rayne has graced numerous schools, conventions, panels and communities with her rendition of self-acceptance. She even went on to write a children’s book called, Perfectly Different, which explains Rayne’s journey with vitiligo.
Rayne realized she wanted to write a book after seeing her cousin release a book series a few years ago. It took her 1 year but she wrote it, in it’s entirety, by herself; and, has sold over 300 books so far! Rayne admits she still suffers from body acceptance in some ways, but overall is thrilled with the progress she’s made and feedback she gets from people, especially children, who have read the book.
With current dreams of Broadway stardom, and one day meeting Ellen, Rayne continues to use her voice to empower others. The ninth grader is even considering a new book about transitioning from middle school to high school. Rayne’s story is different, and her influence is powerful. Her courage to share her story at such a young age is it only selfless, but also empowering. Because of this young queen, more people are learning to love the beauty in being perfectly different. Ya girl is HERE.FOR.IT!
Fashion shows don’t happen often in Pittsburgh, especially black fashion shows, especially black fashion shows with French names. It’s just not Pittsburgh’s “thing,” if you will. However, last Saturday was the premiere of Reves et Cauchemar, or for the sake of this blogger and the French language, Dreams and Nightmares: A Fashion Production. Jeremey Johnson of JKansepts and Reesha Jackson of RLJDesigns teamed up to bring what I would describe as, the show that could take the city form Pittsburgh, home of the Stillers, to Pittsburgh, that city with the New York mixed with Atlanta, vibe.
Producers Jeremy Johnson and Reesha Jackson
“My goal was providing a platform for guests to experience a fusion of art and fashion,” says Reesha. “I wanted this to be more than just a show, but an experience including shopping, a live artist, and networking opportunities.”
That’s exactly what the duo produced, an experience. Yes, it was that real. No, I’m not exaggerating. The show consisted of 2 runways, sold out VIP and standing room, a red carpet, an in house pop up shop called the Fashion Village, and 8 incredible designers. Among the showcased designers were Destination Royalty, Zaughn Collection, Ooh Baby, Groov Gang, Shop Sittoy, E Adonis, Cherish by Cherie, and of course, JKancepts opened and closed the show. Not only was the show itself amazing, but with the incorporated ballet dancing, flute performance, dancing, live art painting, and nods to Jordan Peele’s US, it truly lived up to its name as fashion production.
Now, I know folks are here for the photos, so let’s just get to it, shall we?
JKancepts by Jeremy Johnson
Destination: Royalty by Asia Monique
Cherish by Cherie
Ari wearing a deep V, high double slit, yellow print romper from Kingz & Queenz Boutique
I thoroughly enjoyed the show and can’t wait to see how Pittsburgh continues to incorporate more cultural events amid the clash of our traditional steel. I would like to see more plus options in the future, but some the designs that were showcased in straight sizes are also available in plus, so I appreciate that. I got my romper and necklace from Kingz & Queenz Boutique. My shoes are from Ashley Stewart.
Catharyn Burton is a Pittsburgh treasure. Her knack for creative expression and director skills combined with her perspective of the industry as a woman of color, makes for a series of truly unique experiences from fashion shows to photo exhibits. Catharyn, or Cat as she prefers, uses her talents to curate, recruit for, and direct creative projects that go against the grain in an industry that thrives on being in trend.
Originally from Erie, PA she made her way to Pittsburgh after acquiring a degree in integrated marketing from Slippery Rock University. While at SRU, Cat was involved with many of the multicultural organizations, and helped them create a variety of successful events.
As a model and WOC, she’s experienced first hand the lack of diversity in the industry and how it’s affected her career. “My biggest struggle has been hair stylists not knowing how to “handle” my hair. I have gone to multiple sets for either print or runway where a majority of the models are assigned to get their hair done and the stylist is told to just leave mine as is.”
Experiences like these prompted Cat to create space to highlight concepts and ideas from other creatives whose perspectives are often overlooked.
Styled by Example and Reclaimed Roles
Cat’s most recent projects are a fashion show which debuted back in March called Styled by Example, and a photo exhibit collaborated with several creatives in Pittsburgh, including MUA Martayla (@martymoment), stylist Alia (@aliassemakula), and photographer Joe Lowrey (@joelowreyphoto), called Reclaimed Roles.
“Styled by Example was created to celebrate Women’s History Month. I originally created it as an event at Slippery Rock University and wanted to showcase it to a larger audience,” Cat explains. The show highlighted women’s fashion trends from the 1920’s through today and each decade had its own stylist. Each stylist was able to curate their section, by choosing the music represented from their specified decade and creating a title for their section. Cat says she has already started planning for a bigger and better 2020 show as she hopes to, “progress Styled by Example into a brand that develops creative concepts and events.”
Reclaimed Roles: Kill Bill (left) and The Sound of Music (right) photographed by Joe Lowrey
Reclaimed Roles is Cat’s most recent project and is a series of photos recreated from popular movies with one key difference.
“I had originally reached out to Joe about doing a shoot recreating Alice in Wonderland at Randyland,” Cat explains. “That being the original shoot concept, I chose to work with a group of models that I already knew, and all were women of color. From the success of that shoot Joe and I decided to start doing more shoots recreating movie concepts with minorities portraying the traditionally white roles.”
The goal of the exhibit was to highlight the lack of minority representation in the media industry. Aside from the already mentioned, Cat and Joe recreated scenes from A Christmas Carol, Kill Bill, The Matrix, The Sound of Music, and The Blues Brothers. The inspiration for the movies they chose came from movies Cat grew up on.
All in all, Cat is shaking up the industry with no intent to stop. She wants to change the narrative of the industry to be more inclusive all around. “I would love to get to a point where models with natural hair can walk on to any set and stylists have the knowledge and comfort level to just do their hair.” Her advice to others with the same mission is to collaborate. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in order to collaborate. There are a lot more people out their willing to help each other grow than I think people realize.”
Shateesha Murphy is changing the plus size game in Pittsburgh. Her plus size brand, Voluptuous Lady Boutique, is already a hot commodity among plus people in Pittsburgh due to the exclusive and unique styles offered, but now she’s ready to turn it up a few notches. Last Saturday, VLB held the third annual all plus size fashion show and experience, Curvy and Bold at The Hill House Center Kauffman Auditorium. As her name and boutique continue to grow, she wants people to know, this isn’t just a brand, it’s a movement. I had the privilege of sitting down and learn more about Shateesha, and everything she’s been working on.
Shateesha Murphy is a Pittsburgh native, mother of 2, entrepreneur, and lover of plus size fashion. She recalls always loving fashion but not always having cute clothes due to the lack of style typically offered for plus-size. Now in business for 5 years, she explains her sons are what keep her motivated to be the best mother, woman, and example she can be. Though it’s not always easy, Shateesha stays motivated by inspiring her sons and her clients to be their best.
Ari: You are one of the hottest plus brands in Pittsburgh! What first inspired you to launch VLB?
Shateesha: Wow thank you so much! I appreciate that because I’ve come along way.Voluptuous lady was inspired by both my love of fashion, and frustration with the lack of options available to plus-size, or as I like to be referred to as queen-size women like myself, in the fashion industry. Growing up I can remember having such a hard time finding clothes that weren’t like, moo-moos and frumpy with flowers. I vowed that one day I would have my own version of beautiful fashions for all my queen-size beauties to shop!
Ari: What are some of the struggles you’ve faced as a WOC business owner?
Shateesha: To be honest , I haven’t had many as of yet. If had to say one thing, it would be the lack of funding and obtaining capital, especially when I first launched back in 2014. Since then, I’ve been blessed to be connected to some really dope entrepreneurs that have continuously dropped jewels on how to expand my brand and find funding resources.
Shateesha in a custom gown by Destination: Royalty
Ari: What motivates you to keep going everyday + where do you draw inspiration from?
Shateesha: My two little boys keep me motivated. Being able to show them the best, positive example of a woman and a mother is a really important to me. I’m also motivated by the fact that I’m inspring others. On hard day, or days when I want to fold, I go back and read messages from people telling me how I helped them and inspired them. It really gives me a sense of purpose because I truly believe that the Most High blesses us so that can be a blessing to others.
Curvy and Bold.
Three years ago, Shateesha decided to take VLB to the next level and teamed up with local modeling agency, Pretty N Plus, as well as RLJDesigns, to bring Pittsburgh her first all plus fashion show experience. This year, the show was nothing short of spectacular, and I had the pleasure of not only getting the inside scoop and attending, but also scoring a front row seat to all the action on and off stage!
Body paint set
Ari: So let’s talk Curvy + Bold! What is it, what inspired it, and what is your ultimate goal with this fashion experience?
Shateesha: Curvy & Bold my baby! It is an all curvy aka queen-size fashion experience. I teamed up with Pretty N Plus modeling agency, and RLJDesigns to bring this vision to life of putting queen-size woman on the platform they deserve! Our ultimate goal is to bring woman of all sizes out to show that style has no size and its totally ok to be comfortable in your own skin. Be true to you!
Lady in Red Set by Voluptuous Lady Boutique
And that’s exactly what she did, y’all!
Set by CayJor Boutique
The show was filled with beautiful, plus women who RIPPED the runway! The clothing was beautiful and unique. The atmosphere was was elegant yet fun, and the show was a whole vibe. It felt so magical to be up close and personal to something that has the potential to change the plus, fashion culture in Pittsburgh.
Carnival set by Pretty N Plus
Ari: What’s next for you and VLB?
Shateesha: Right now, I would say just continue to ride this wave, and expand my reach. Voluptuous Lady is so much more than just clothing, she is turning into a movement of empowerment and encouragement to be exactly who you were created to be, we all are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Looks by RLJDesigns
Ari: Give us one piece of advice for women who are shy or may need a little help feeling confident about their bodies?
Shateesha: Man get out here and rock that shit!! Embrace it! We all only get one body, so love it, and cherish it. Your body is gold baby and so are you!
Last week, the hidden racists of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette decided to peak out from the shadows, and illustrate the blatant ignorance that allows white supremacy to prevail. The editorial board, including executive and editorial director, Keith Burris, graced us with a tablespoon of audacity and a pinch of cultural delusion as the paper released an editorial damning the multi-billionaire philanthropist, Robert F. Smith for paying off the school loans acquired by the graduating class of 2019 from the HBCU, Morehouse College.
Normally, I just argue with the editors in my head while reading, but this time the illusion was too great to endure. The editors boldly proclaimed the lack of civic duty Mr. Smith taught the students by relieving them of an estimated $10 million in student loan debt collectively. The blatant undermining, implicit micro-aggressions, and theme of, “paying what you owe” is not only extremely hypocritical, but also racist AF.
Robert F. Smith is a businessman, investor, and a REAL billionaire. With a net-worth of nearly $4.4 billion, he has proved his capabilities and skilled business practices. In fact, according to this country, this man is beyond qualified to run the country based on his credentials, which far exceed the joke in office, who the editorial board appears to support. By referring to Mr. Smith’s success as, “a bit of luck,” Keith and the clan indicate a form of favor or courtesy, rather than sense and ability. One could even interpret it to mean Mr. Smith never paid what he owed and therefore has no right to relieve other Black folks of their financial burdens. I mean, that’s what luck is, right? With the assumption that not one person on the editorial board ever crossed paths with Mr. Smith, I’m intrigued how they came to this conclusion. Even if that were the case, isn’t it still more difficult to get lucky than to be born with privilege?
Beyond the, this-negro-is-already-doing-too-good-for-himself-and-has-the-nerve-to-help-other-negroes approach, Keith ‘n’ dem saw fit to question Mr. Smith’s “impulse” decision (as if he didn’t have this planned prior to his commencement speech) amid condescending dog whistle jargon that at best is racially micro aggressive, but probably ranks closer to the worst side of the spectrum of fucking racist.
Keith and the homies go on to indicate Black folks have poor work and financial values, a lack of understanding in how higher education works, and need to be guided toward, “more affordable options like community college, state universities or technical schools.”
Here’s the thing folks, everything Keith and the crew produced on that editorial was done out of the typical white-American attitude of ignorance and entitlement. The basis of the article is racism. The attitude that made this seem like a good point was a racist one. White folks have been buying their way into prestigious schools for years. White folks have been building businesses and leaving them to their children for decades. White folks have been passing down family slave money and building empires from other people’s, Black people’s, hard work for centuries! Now suddenly a Black self-starting billionaire does something to help 400 Black men level the playing field and decrease America’s student loan debt ratio, and he’s wrong?!
It is these reactions and ideals that fester in America and more closely, our city of Pittsburgh, resulting in crooked police and justice systems, racially motivated mass shootings, division and separation, and a fed-up Black people. Real shit, how you gonna be mad at somebody for giving away HIS money? How does that elicit such a strong response, especially in light of the recent (and white) college scandals reported? Why are we not afforded the same chance to pay our children’s future educational institutions, even with dignity, so they too, can get the education and lives they deserve?
Last week I got the chance to meet up with Latrice Phoenix, a business minded mommy from Pittsburgh who owns not one, not two, but three businesses BY HERSELF. In addition to her photography business, Latrice Phoenix Photography, and her non-profit, Melanin Mommies Pgh, Latrice’s newest endeavor is called Melanin Theory Apparel, which happens to be a pro-black fashion line designed to uplift and empower black folk through our biggest and brightest superpower, melanin. Naturally, when I found out about this dope brand, I had to learn more. I was able to catch up with Latrice and get the inside scoop on Melanin Theory Apparel and the direction she plans to take it.
Ari: So, for those that don’t know, yes, you founded and own Melanin Theory but this endeavor is not second, but third to your photography business, Latrice Phoenix Photography, and your non-profit, Melanin Mommies Pgh. What inspired you to not only launch a third business, but also to create and supply pro-black fashion in Pittsburgh?
Latrice: Melanin Theory has always been an idea of mine. I first designed the shirts a few years ago and went to my graphic designer with the idea. Unfortunately, I just had too much going on at the time to really launch the line, and it’s still not perfect. I eventually would like to add more apparel and accessories.
Ari: As a rising entrepreneur, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced with not only running multiple business, but also with being a double minority business owner?
Latrice: Financial support is always a struggle. I am juggling so many endeavors and I am a one woman show. Melanin Theory is fairly new, so it’s not perfect; I’m not perfect, but every day I strive to get better and put more into the brand.
Latrice in Melanin Theory Apparel
Ari: What motivates you to keep going every day? What is your “why?”
Latrice: My daughter is my why. I want her to always see her mom working and striving to accomplish her dreams. I want her to see me building towards wealth and financial freedom. Being an entrepreneur is hard, but I show her that it’s an option. When I was growing up I didn’t have anyone showing me other options. I knew going to school and going to college– even with that I’m the first in my family to graduate high school and college.
Latrice and her “why” in Melanin Theory Apparel
Ari: What can customers expect to see from Melanin Theory in the coming months?
Latrice: Great question. Customers can expect to see more apparel for kids. I’ll also be scouting for brand ambassadors and doing local photo shoots.
Ari: How would you explain your personal style?
Latrice: Honestly, at 29 I’m just coming into my “personal style”. I’ve done a lot of trial and error over the years trying to find my “style.” I’ve even hired a stylist a few times. I mostly wear what I’m comfortable with, I dress by my mood. If I’m feeling flirty and sexy I’ll look that way, if I’m feeling afro-centric I’ll look that way as well. Then sometimes, I want to look completely different and cater to my alter egos.
Ari in Melanin Theory Apparel
Ari: What is your overall goal with Melanin Theory Apparel? What is MTA’s legacy?
Latrice: My goal with Melanin Theory is to create apparel centered around the actual theory of the power in Melanin skin. Melanin Theory is an Afrocentric claim that the higher level of melanin in the skin the higher intellectual and physical ability ultimately creating supernatural powers. That is such a powerful theory and I want young black people to wear something that represents that–our magic.
Ari: What advice would you share with young WOC starting their own small business?
Latrice: Take the leap. Do it whatever it is. Just do it. Fight for your dreams and keep fighting. Yes, it’s hard, but no one said it would be easy so why not now?
Special Thanks to Latrice Phoenix and Melanin TheoryApparel. Be sure to check out the Melanin Theory Apparel website here and keep up on social media through Facebook and Instagram as well.
Loving Your Reflection is a performance agency that hosts several body positive shows and events throughout Pittsburgh. This year, founder of Loving Your Reflection, Danielle Jackson Thorn, hosted an impeccable fashion show and performance called Loving the Skin You’re In, and it was filled with body love, shameless sexual expression, and the triumph that comes with finally loving and accepting the skin you’re in.
“The mission of Loving Your Reflection is to create a safe space for individuals to explore the relationships they have with their bodies and encourage them to change their inner narrative and learn to love the skin they’re in,” said Danielle. The show consisted of several different acts including performance art, belly dancing, spoken word, and of course, a fashion show. Danielle went on to say, “This event was necessary to bring together communities that may not have the chance to work together otherwise and highlight body diversity.” I had the privilege of taking part in this beautiful experience and not only got to meet some of the models and performers, but also got to observe backstage life, and walk in the show for one of my favorite brands, Fat Mermaids.
The air of a backstage right before and during the show is unlike any other. Yes, there are several performance people frantically running around and trying to contour the shit out of their faces, but more than that it is a community; a likeminded group of individuals, working collectively, and enhancing the experience of the show and ultimately the perspective of the community. It’s similar to the magic you feel while dancing and singing to your favorite song in the mirror, but this time there’s a bunch of people dancing and singing with you and hyping you up! Honestly, it’s just one of those invigorating environments that will have you feeling anxious, fearless, nervous, brave, and empowered. Of course now I’m obsessed with recreating that atmosphere everywhere I go because it was such a good vibe.
Ok, let’s talk outfit details. For the VIP meet and greet reception, we were required to wear black and change into runway attire once we were backstage before and during the show. I wore a fun and flirty off the shoulder LDB from Forever 21+. I paired it with yellow ruffle 2-inch heels and minimal jewelry.
As mentioned before, I rocked Fat Mermaids on the runway which was literally perfect because if you don’t know, Fat Mermaids is a body positive brand that mixes fashion with magic and it’s owned by a Black woman! I was so hype to rock their “IDGAF About Your Diet, Susan” shirt. We styled the shirt tied up in the back with black swim bottoms, and a donut (yes, I literally ate a donut on the runway). It worked out beautifully.
One of the main takeaways from this experience was always keep growing. I know I say that a lot, but that’s because it is an ever evolving process and to be honest, I’m really reminding myself more so than preaching at y’all. Another takeaway I gained is to trust your creativity, and find people that believe in it just as much as you do. As mentioned before, the energy backstage was off the charts, but that’s because everyone was spawning positive vibes due to believing in each other’s individuality (now, imagine if America operated like this!). Finally, I was reminded to stop taking myself so seriously. So many times we get caught up in making sure our ideal image is the one we portray, and we literally miss the moment we are living through. Being in the company of so many beautifully different people encouraged me to harness my me and let her be great; hence, the donut on the runway.
I had such an amazing time at the show. I would like to send a special thank you to Danielle Jackson Thorn and her team for inviting me to take part in this epic experience and believing in my mission enough to showcase it in this production. I’m so grateful for this space, and look forward to seeing what Loving Your Reflection has in store for the future. I’d also like to thank Fat Mermaids for trusting me to rock their brand and helping facilitate body diversity.