When Saida Carter’s sustainable fashion brand, ERA Vintage, graced Stacey Allen’s social media feed a few years back, it was the beginning of an enduring friendship. Allen needed a last-minute outfit for an upcoming soiree, but the brand’s shipping policy would be cutting close to the day of the event. With crossed fingers, she reached out to Carter in hopes she could purchase an outfit in person, and the designer agreed.
“I was nervous, incredibly nervous,” Carter recalls with a smile as vibrant as her ruby top. “It’s always a nerve-racking thing bringing pieces to someone. They might not like what you have available.”
But Allen did. Throughout their session, the two creatives began to bond over their shared admiration of eccentric prints, sumptuous fabrics, unconventional fashion trends, and educating the youth (both have experiencing teaching, Carter through the Houston Independent School District and Allen in her current position as an artistic director at Nia’s Daughters Movement Collective).
Near the end of 2020, after several more fruitful conversations, the duo applied for Fresh Arts’ Space Taking Artist Residency, a six-week opportunity for underrepresented local artists to unveil groundbreaking work at Sawyer Yards Creative Campus.
They were accepted into the program, and their project, A Single Thread Weaves a Future, begins its run on July 10. Allen and Carter are the final artists to receive this opportunity. Houston creative Koomah + the Locas kicked off the residency in March, while Y. E. Torres’s dance film installation followed in May.
“I couldn’t believe it. I truly couldn’t believe it,” Carter tells Houstonia. “The dedication and finesse we put into making sure our vision was so clear and concise, and to have it be accepted? That was a big victory for both of us.”
As with much of the world during the pandemic, the art universe underwent an incredible amount of devastation. In response, Houston arts nonprofit Fresh Arts wanted to give back to the local artists who’d lost freelance gigs and other opportunities during the past year. Funded by the Texas Commission on the Arts, the residency provides artists with a $2,400 stipend and full creative control on how they presented their installations.
A Single Thread pays homage to “stylish Black women who revolutionized the Houston community,” according to the project’s synopsis. These subject matters will be weaved together through reworked vintage apparel, a live dance performance from Allen’s students at Nia’s Daughters Movement Collective, photography, and spoken word. For both Carter and Allen, executing topics of femininity and divine power through a Black woman’s lens isn’t new territory, but rather themes they’ve always consciously fostered in their personal work.
Since earning her B.A. in Dance from Sam Houston State University, Allen steadily dove into African Diaspora dancing—an ever-evolving dance symbolic of African culture, generational ties, and spirituality. Through expressive rhythm and improvisation, she’s laid the groundwork for young girls to use their talent as dialogue while also honoring extraordinary Black women who’ve shaped her world. Meanwhile, for Carter, church etiquette and the historical origins of Black women dressing in their Sunday best sparked her fashion fixation. From the outlandish wide-brim church hats and sheer-modesty stockings to the glowing additions of pristinely lined pearls and diamond brooches, that underlying vintage appeal would go on to serve as muse for her clothing brand.
During Covid-19, “I began reflecting and honoring my instincts, my immediate ancestors, the Black women in my inner circles and those who’ve really impacted not only my life, but the world,” Allen explains. “That’s what this entire installation is about.”
July 10–Aug 21. Free. Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street Studios. More info at fresharts.org.