The air is electric––and the fits? Impeccable. Enter: The Lewkk (pronounced “look”) is Tufts’ student-run fashion collective. The lovechild of Seniors Amari Diaw and Kaitlynn Hong, the Lewkk exists to “celebrate the fashion and stories of students of color,” according to their Instagram bio. From its humble origins as a high school project, the Lewkk has grown from an Instagram blog highlighting the latest in Tufts’ fashion to a sprawling organization of over 70 associates. Their collaborative efforts culminate in an annual fashion show, proudly displaying the Tufts community’s diversity of personalities and styles for all to see.
As an Asian student in a predominantly White university, Hong shared that she “wanted to transfer during [her] first year” and initially felt like she was unable to “make friends with people who looked like [her] and shared the same views as [her].”
Diaw, who spent her early childhood in West Africa, recalled that “it was very reaffirming” to have “persons of authority who looked like me” in West Africa, and that coming to Tufts made her feel disconnected from her cultural identity. This sentiment—one that is shared by many non-White students at Tufts—points to a lack of groups dedicated to celebrating the cultures of minorities. With few alternatives, Diaw and Hong turned to fashion as a creative and cultural outlet.
Fashion, according to Hong, allowed her to “blossom into who [she] was supposed to be.” She remarked, “Because I was so uncomfortable, I had to turn to my art and fashion to become the truest version of myself.” This experience was shared by Diaw, who explained, “So much of my life is people deciding who I am, and so with clothing, I feel like I’ve been able to take that back and decide how I will be viewed and how people will interpret me.” Recognizing that their experiences were not uncommon, they sought to create solidarity among people of color through the Lewkk.
With the goal of “making Tufts a more welcoming space,” Hong explained, the Lewkk was established as a space for people of color to flourish creatively. Diaw started the account in high school, and found that expanding the Lewkk to Tufts was “a good way to merge all the things I like—fashion and empowerment.”
She was then joined by Hong, who helped expand the Lewkk to include a fashion show. Since then, Diaw and Hong have been assisted by inspired students who were eager to become involved in the process. The most recent fashion show was a collaborative process between all 70 Tufts students who are a part of the group. Sophomores Juliette Wu and John Stewart and Senior Sarah Park volunteered to make stickers to promote the show, and video production was handled by Senior Jake Zaslav, who filmed the show as a part of his capstone project.
The show displayed a wide variety of stylistic interpretations of the show’s title, ‘Chrysalis.’ Chrysalis is defined as “a transitional state of growth,” and is often used to refer to the stage during which a caterpillar emerges from its cocoon and becomes a butterfly.
A common motif throughout the show saw several models shuffle down the walkway, weighed down by a thick overcoat or a similarly heavy garment, only to both metaphorically and literally shed their “cocoon.” The models revealed their true selves underneath, displayed for all to see.
Junior student Shaivi Herur, a member of the audience who was “palpably inspired” by the show added that the “diversity of models in [terms of] not just race, but also body type and aesthetic sparked excitement in me. Growing up, fashion was presented to me as high class and exclusive, but experiences like Chrysalis illustrate that there is room for so much more power, creativity, and true celebration of all kinds of people in fashion.” Herur explained,“Leaving the show, I found myself thinking that I too could find a place to celebrate style, expression, and diversity on a platform [similar to the Lewkk]…which previously felt strikingly foreign and not for me.”
Building on the idea of inclusivity in fashion, Diaw emphasized that “there isn’t ‘one’ way to dress.” One needs only to peruse the Lewkk’s Instagram page to affirm that statement. Moreover, you’ll find that outfits featured on the Instagram account are largely devoid of the inaccessibly expensive streetwear brands that tend to dominate contemporary fashion. The captions make no mention of which brands they are wearing, but rather are often personal comments on what fashion means to the model.
Be it through photographs on the Instagram page or in-person on the Chrysalis runway, the growth of the Lewkk from an individually-run fashion blog to a collaboratively orchestrated fashion show illustrates how Diaw’s and Hong’s shared vision of using fashion as a vehicle for self-expression has, in fact, become a reality.
Speaking broadly of fashion, Diaw remarked, “Fashion follows you, it grows with you.” With both Diaw and Hong expecting to graduate at year’s end, only time will tell how the Lewkk will continue to grow without them.