How Black People Are Taking Back The Cowboy Narrative

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.

During a time when Western fashion is "in" again

There would be no Compton Cowboys without Mayisha Akbar. In the '80s, she moved her family to Richland Farms, a small rural town in the inner city of Compton, California. Her parents and ancestors were from the South and she "always had a horse/country vibe to her," as her nephew Randy Savvy, current leader of the Compton Cowboys, tells me. Later, when Akbar's son was shot, she was faced with a decision: Leave the city of Compton or stay and try to make a difference. She chose the latter.

"Every time she was on a horse, all the kids would follow her and ask to ride," Savvy shares. "So, she thought, What if I used the horses to attract the kids and, when they come, I can teach them things, tutor them, and mentor them." From there, the Compton Jr. Posse was born. Now, 28 years later, some of the same kids who joined Akbar's organization when they were younger have started their own group with a similar mission: to help young black and brown kids stay out of trouble.

Taija is wearing a Franscis Balken coat, The Break skirt, stylist's own shirt, boots, belt, and jewelry. Christian is wearing a The Break top and pants, stylist's own hat.

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.

The Compton Cowboys was started in 2017 by a group of 10 friends, each with varying interests. Some compete professionally in rodeo circuits, one is training to do English-style riding (like in the Olympics), one wants to be a cowboy model, another is a cook, while another enjoys managing ranches; Savvy has a professional goal of combining his love of hip-hop with his love of country. "Everybody has different passions and different things that we really care about," Savvy says, "but the common denominator is that we're all are cowboys—we ride and we have our own horses."

On top of keeping kids off the streets, Compton Cowboys help to expose them to something they wouldn't experience otherwise. "Most young, talented black people are in entertainment," Savvy says. "They do music, comedy, or play sports, and it's cool to be on the front lines of doing something different. It shows that our people can do other things than what we normally see our people do.'" But also, just by virtue of seeing black people on horses, be it in a ranch setting or on the streets of Compton (where they often ride, even if it's just to the corner store), it helps to correct a false image of the Old West. "It's a culture that's been swept under the rug and kind of white-washed, if you will, over time through media," Savvy says. "The cowboy image has mostly just been guys, you know, the John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods and those guys. But we're excited to show a more accurate representation of the diversity in the cowboy culture. To be the catalyst for that change."

Taija is wearing a Hardeman top and skirt, Maison Margiela shoes, stylist's own bandana, belt, and jewelry. Christian is wearing an Opening Ceremony jacket, The Break pants, stylist's own shirt and belt.

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.

Despite what Hollywood may have you believe, cowboys of color have been manning the frontier for centuries. According to Smithsonian Magazine, freed African-American slaves sought opportunities to herd cows after the Civil War. Author and scholar William Loren Katz explains that "being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to men of color who wanted to not serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations." In the 1870s and 1880s, it's said that as many as 25 percent of the 35,000 cowboys in the Old West were black. It's also believed that Bass Reeves, a freed slave who became a deputy U.S. marshal and went on to catch more than 3,000 criminals, was the real-life inspiration for the Lone Ranger.

The revisionist history we've been fed is part of what inspired Amanda Hunt to curate a small but mighty exhibit titled "Black Cowboy" which ran at The Studio Museum in Harlem through April of last year. It included photographs from artists like Deana Lawson and Ron Tarver and showed a range of black cowboys wrangling horses and on city streets trotting by a city mural of Malcolm X. "Black and brown cowboys are as old as the country and were right there alongside all of the fabled white cowboys—John Wayne, Buffalo Bill, etc.—and the native peoples we took land from," Hunt tells us. "'Black Cowboy' was simply meant to give visibility to some of those individuals and communities using contemporary art and images." Not just of black men, who are often at the forefront of Western conversations, but black women and children as well, "perhaps double-expanding a preconception of who gets to be a cowboy," Hunt says.

Christian is wearing Hardeman pants, stylist's own vest, top, and bandana. Giannina is wearing a The Break top and coat, a Han Wen skirt and shoes, stylist's own jewelry and head wrap.

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.

Brittaney "Britt Brat" Logan started riding a couple years ago after working with a guy who was a "full-out cowboy." "It was strange to see a black man that dressed like Yosemite Sam in Silver Spring, Maryland, let alone being greeted every morning with a 'Yeeehaaw,'" she says. That strange man ended up introducing her to horses and sparking an untapped interest. Sometime later, she joined the Cowgirls of Color after a member dropped out. Logan says she joined because of her love of animals but also for her son. "It was important to keep going knowing my biggest fan was rooting me on."

The Cowgirls of Color is an all-black female rodeo team based in Maryland. Logan says, over the years, the group of ladies has blossomed into more than just a competition-based crew: "We've grown to be a brand who represents women of color who aren't scared to go outside of the realms of what most people deem as normal." And to step into spaces often dominated by white men. "I feel like I'm a positive example of what could be," Logan says. "Before I met the guy at work, a black cowboy or cowgirl was foreign to me. I'd never imagined I would be a part of a world so hidden from others. It's important for me to represent this world that Hollywood doesn't show very often. It's important to let black women know that this horse stuff is possible and available to them as well. Black women do ride, and we ride well!"

Giannina is wearing a Hardeman top, vest, and pants, Han Wen shoes, stylist's own hat and jewelry.

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.

Cowboys are trending in fashion right now. Or, rather, the clothes they wear are. Raf Simons has been pushing Western wear on us ever since he started at Calvin Klein. Veronica Beard and Ganni brought us out West with suede fringe and blouses. Other big fashion houses, like Fendi, have declared the cowboy boot the new dad sneaker, while prairie dresses have gone and become "the most provocative thing in fashion right now," according to writer Robin Givhan.

These items have become Instagram bait for some, but have practical uses for actual cowboys. As Savvy explains rather patiently to a cowboy garb newbie like myself, almost every piece of clothing has a purpose. The shape of the boots helps to get your foot in the stirrup and onto the horse more easily. He explains further: "A lot of the way that you direct a horse is through your lower body movement, so the heel is important on the boot because the horse can feel that… it's more effective than like a round-back tennis shoe." The pants or jeans that riders often wear are essentially your seat so, if they're too tight, the rider can't move as freely and you might get a rub or rash. Tight breeches are important for English riding, "because a lot of what they do is off saddle, so they bounce up and down a lot for their posture and their techniques." As for the hat, "a lot of the cowboy stuff is outdoors, so the brim helps you get shade while you're on the horse," he explains. Savvy says that every member of the Compton Cowboys has their own spin on the attire. Some choose to dress more traditionally while others, like himself, inject a "Hollywood hotshot kind of vibe" into their looks.

Perhaps, more than comfort, wearing a uniform lets people know who they are: hard-working, badass cowboys.

Giannina is wearing a Franscis Balken bodysuit, Hardeman boots, stylist's own chaps, bandana, and jewelry. Taija is wearing a Franscis Balken coat, The Break skirt, stylist's own shirt, boots, belt, and jewelry.

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.

Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond was inspired by 19th-century black cowboys for Pyer Moss' Fall 2018 collection (he also included the Cowgirls of Color and Compton Cowboys in his campaign). Titled "American, Also," it was his way of sharing the story of underrepresented groups of Americans, as he said to Teen Vogue in an interview: "I wanted to challenge the narrative for what's typically [considered] 'American' and reverse the ratio of African-American exclusion in the conversation… It's a way to show us in a different, more positive light—it shows us as Americans, too."

That's why groups like the Cowgirls of Color and the Compton Cowboys feel so important. They help to remind us that black people are trailblazers; that we're as much a part of the American DNA as the next person. Nothing screams Americana more than an image of a cowboy after all, and, by the mere fact of existing, black cowboys and cowgirls are not only drilling that message in but redefining and updating what that image looks like.

"Most of the cowboy stuff is usually associated with the Old West and a traditional view of it," Savvy reflects. "You know when something is so old that when you bring it back it becomes new in a way? Because it's so outdated, nobody's doing it, but if you bring it back, it becomes fresh and different from everything else. So, for us, it's super-dope to be like, 'Yo, we represent the newest, coolest thing,' even though it's really the oldest thing."

Photographer: Savanna Ruedy
Stylist: Lee Velvet
Hair: Sergio Estrada
Makeup: Yanni Peña
Models: Giannina Oteto at No Agency, Taija Kerr at Wilhelmina, Christian Dion
at D1

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

"Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design"

Prada Group has announced that Prada, as well as all of its brands, will now be fur-free. According to a press release from the Humane Society, Prada, Miu Miu, Church's, and Car Shoe will ban the use of fur beginning with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (aka the Fashion Week coming up next). The list of fashion designers banning fur only continues to grow, with 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and more having stopped using the material in seasons past.

"The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy—reached following a positive dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, in particular with LAV and the Humane Society of the United States—is an extension of that engagement," Miuccia Prada told the Human Society. "Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products."

Following London Fashion Week designers forgoing the use of fur in September and the first-ever Vegan Fashion Week taking place in February, it's easy to imagine an entirely fur-free fashion future. It's especially easy, I presume, for the brands to consider a fur-free future, given that entire cities and states are taking a stance. New York is following in the footsteps of Los Angeles banning fur, with a bill proposed this March that would ban sales across New York State.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

"Club leisure" is the new athleisure

Alexander Wang is recognizing clubbing as the workout that it truly is with his latest Adidas collaboration. In this fifth installment, he "changes gears," per a press release from the brand, taking the iconic sports brand to the dance floor.

For the new campaign, the collection comes to life in iconic choreographer Tanisha Scott's dance studio and stars dancers Noemi Janumala, Dakota Moore, Avi McClish, and Olivia Burgess. The dancers show just how far these clothes can go when you want to bust a move or stretch, but TBH, I'll leave these poses to the pros and just use my clothes for flexing on the 'gram.

The collection—which features six apparel items, three shoes, and six accessories—features, per a press release, "Wang's knack for pre-styling." Standouts from the mostly black-and-white items include a silver sneaker that was *made* for moonwalking, an airy windbreaker that has just the right dash of bright blue with the scattered Adidas trefoil design, and a towel hoodie that you won't feel bad sweating in.

Ahead of the May 25 collection drop online and in stores, peep the gorgeous campaign images below.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Joggers, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Towel Hoodie, $350, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Sock Leggings, $60, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Adilette Slides, $90, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Futureshell Shoes in Platinum Metallic, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Core White, $280, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Shorts in Core White, $120, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Bum Bag, $50, available staring May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Duffle Bag, $70, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

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