Black History Month: In Conversation With Dillea Himbara

In honour of Black History Month, S/ is highlighting inspiring Canadians across the creative realm on the significance of this month and what it means to them. Next up is Dillea Himbara, founder of the Toronto-based sustainable fashion label Sapodillas, who shares that commemorating Black history is a celebration of resilience and fortitude.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

“If we still need this month then equity has yet to be found. The fact is, Black and Indigenous Canadians are only recognised for their work when it is prescribed to do so. Media outlets will post a couple Black faces and return to programming as normal on March 1st. ‘Black history should be taught at school all the time.’ A conclusion my daughter came to at age 7, yet our intuitions lag behind?

“There is a high level of dishonesty in Canada concerning our abusive and racist past and present behaviour towards Black people, and people of colour. And today, we see that same history manifest through our disproportionate representation in the prison system, and our lack of representation at the Federal and Provincial level, and really, in any and all high-ranking positions across industry. 

“Black History month to me is a time where non-Black people get to benefit from lip service without having to put real effort into dismantling the institutionalized systems of Anti-Black racism that exist all around them.”

How is the 2021 commemoration of Black History different after last year’s widespread efforts to raise awareness, amplify, and protect Black lives?

“As a Black Canadian, I feel that awareness surrounding anti-Black racism has yet to resonate here at home. Violence toward Black people is nothing new. The changes thus far have been superficial at best. I look to my queer community and see the lack of protection for Black Queer Femmes, especially trans Black women. It’s nowhere to be found. In the fashion industry, we are made to feel as though featuring a black model is some accomplishment or a sign of equality… yet every designer on the model’s body is White. It’s frustrating, it’s stifling.

“What is different? It’s hard to not come across as a total cynic. I am optimistic, and I think this Black History month we look to our Black Future as a community. As non-Black society continues to mimic our culture and our swagger, continues to monitor and police us, continues to harass and evict us, ‘We Rise.’ 

“We come together and confront the euro-centric and white supremacist barriers rife within our communities. And we celebrate our achievements, we are joyful in the face of adversity because Black History is the storytelling of our collective ability to prosper no matter how many times we have been cut down.”

Who is a Black figure that has inspired you to tap into your creative and entrepreneurial potential?

“I am enamoured by the work of Aurora James. Not only does she celebrate the artisans and practice radical transparency through her supply chain for Brother Vellies, she’s now forcing major companies to stop talking and do the work. To bring equal opportunities to their businesses through her initiative, the 15 Percent Pledge. Not to mention her work to help people facing voter suppression. I’m just in awe of Aurora’s ability to bring about social change and make it a cornerstone of her business.

“However, I could probably link back a lot of what I do to Pharrell Williams and my discovery of N.E.R.D. Pharrell was such a special example of being Black in a way that conventional media hadn’t allowed me to see yet. Missy Elliot was instrumental to my creativity in a similar way.”

Are there any moments in Black history that have had a profound impact on you?

“I grew up in South Africa in the ’90s. My family moved there in 1995, the year after apartheid officially ended. The idea of prolific Black leaders who had actually changed the outcome of my life and my experience was tangible, but still something I only understood the way you understand a book you’ve read. 

Sandy HudsonDesmond ColeRavyn Wngz and Janaya Future Khan. These are Black Canadian voices in our community who have stood up to not only call for the end to white supremacy but have taught and shared and organized in the BLM way that allows all of us to find the strength in our own voices to do the same and make Black History daily.”

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Photography by Sara Melvin, model Chloe Christian, and set design by Caely White.