Cynthia Cervantes

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L+A: Tell us about where you grew up and a little bit about your youth?

I grew up in a barrio of Los Angeles, California, raised by my Mom [she was a single mother]. We were constantly moving around, living with family friends and relatives for a majority of my life. When I was a junior in High School my mom got sick and couldn't really work, so we found ourselves essentially homeless... I lived with an aunt and my Mom lived with my grandparents for some time.

L+A: Did you always know you wanted to work as a creative?

I always loved fashion and creative environments but my circumstances didn’t lead me to it, till much later on. I told my mom I wanted to go to FIDM (design school) but she said “absolutely not” - I was first generation to go to college. So my mom wanted me to graduate with a degree that actually made money [laughs].

In college, and after I graduated, I worked for nonprofits in San Francisco, working in low income schools across the city. That work led me to an opportunity to move to New York, and work for a non profit serving low performing schools in Newark. In my last education related role I worked at a High School in the Bronx, where I was the Chief Operating Officer (basically the Vice Principal). But, I was extremely unhappy. The frustration of dealing with the system wore me down, on top of dealing with a board who made decisions about schools they barely even spent time at.

L+A: So how did you make the move from working in Nonprofits to working for yourself as a creative?

I quit my job! I quit my job and didn’t tell my mom [laughs]. Because I knew she would flip out, and my mom also has a specific mentality of what an acceptable job is. Being a creative was not on her list for me.

I immediately started freelancing - I had a lot of friends that were in creative roles, so I would help in anything that I could just to learn more about what was out there. I also began to produce shoots for Street Etiquette, and style looks for different clients.

L+A: What other jobs did that lead you too?

I worked for almost 2 years at Comme des Garcons and Dover Street Market - I was the Special Projects and Operations Manager [I loved that job]. A regular work week was 50-60 hours, a tough week was around 70 hours. I was in charge of all the installations, and it was my passion. I lived for that job! I knew that I was doing the right thing and I had not really felt like that about a job before, until that moment. 

I was in a flow of waking up at 7am and getting home at midnight, and I loved it every minute of it, but there’s no way of keeping up with that pace. It leaves you with zero energy for yourself.

I was still also helping the guys at Street Etiquette on the side, and after a few years of one-off projects with adidas, they were offered a long-term contract. They asked me if I was interested in coming on full time, and it just felt like the right thing to do at the right time. I had been giving my all to DSM, but it left me with no personal time for myself or for my own projects.

L+A: Where did the inspiration come from, to create Maroon World?

It was actually around the time when Trump was just a candidate for president, which was also around the time that many black men and women were being systematically murdered by law enforcement, and we felt that no one was listening to what the black community had to say about any of it.

We thought something was missing and we needed to put something out there, to counteract the narrative of what was happening. That’s how the idea of Maroon World started.

L+A: How did you guys decide on the name ‘Maroon World’?

A few things - Historically, the Maroon People are escaped slaves - in Jamaica, they ran away to the mountains where no one could attack them, and after many failed attempts at capturing them, they were eventually left alone.

In Mexico, when it was being colonized, artists were commissioned to document race mixing, and these pieces were called Casta Paintings. At that time slaves were being brought over to Mexico, and Spaniards wanted to document the mixing of cultures and races. People that had mixed children, like an Indigenous woman with a Spaniard man, or a Black man with an Indigenous woman, were captured in paintings by these artists.

I was researching all of this and came across a Casta painting of an Indigenous woman and a Black man, whose offspring was called "Cimarron," which was a word used to describe the escaped slave colonies, bringing us full circle back to Maroon. Travis said “That’s the name, Maroon,” and we added the "World" after, because it’s worldwide.

Also, Maroon is a verb, which means "to isolate," and what other verb is best to describe what has happened to our communities? So it all came together.

L+A: Would you say being a POC influences your brand?

Definitely. No one was going to pay us to do all POC content so we thought “let’s just do it ourselves”. We wanted to highlight different cultural groups, not just our own [Mexican, Black, or West Indian]. We also want to be inclusive to the POC LGBTQ community, because it’s our community too. I am queer, and Travis is one of the first men in my life to not fetishize that. I am grateful to have found someone that I am comfortable with, and of course that dynamic plays a role in our art.

Honestly, we had no idea to what we were doing, but people have been so receptive to it, and it’s been a very humbling experience.

“There was never any financial goal in my mind. We just wanted to make something that people see themselves in.”

L+A: How do you and travis come up with the content for it? Because you use a lot of high end designers in your photos [in reference to the photo with Hood by Air from Vol.1].

I’ve known Shayne [from HBA] from back in the day when we used to party together. It’s been so inspiring to watch his growth and his process, so of course we want to include and support his work. This issue we have pieces from another brand and designer we love, No Sesso, which translates to No Gender, a clothing line done by Pierre Davis.

We want to use designers that are POC, and always try to include them, because we’re often discouraged from pursuing this line of work. We should be supporting each other.

L+A: What is your thought process behind each photo?

We want the moment to be raw – like the photo of the woman in red who hasn’t shaved or waxed her bikini line. We’ve all seen these moments personally, but they're not celebrated, and that’s a part of humanity that is beyond beautiful!

The goal of each photo is we want you to recognize the moment but also feel like you’ve stumbled into it in some way.

L+A: What’s something that you’re inspired by, right now?

Life and Bedstuy. I am very much inspired by our own people every single day. Like right now I am into the mango ladies that you see in the summer on Broadway Street. Their style….Don't sleep on that! It’s a very cool sportswear look if you pay attention. It’s a cap, a tight legging, and a fitted sweatshirt or jacket, with some dope Nikes. That’s a whole style right there, it’s a moment!

L+A: As a WOC have you ever had to deal with any shady comments in a professional setting?

Yes, more than a few times! Clients would come to the guys [Street Etiquette] for content that provides representation, but I would notice how they were being talked to or how the clients would talk about the models. You hear all these micro-aggressions like that ‘Get Out’ scene where the dad says “I would have voted for Obama a third time”.

And, as a WOC people in general don’t expect you to be able to lead; And that attitude is inexcusable.There have been so many times when I have heard shady comments and I should have said something, but in the moment I let it go. For example: I was on the phone once and maybe I had a slight attitude. But my coworker would say “I love when you talk ghetto!” There’s no circumstance where that comment is ok.

L+A: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I hope that we can continue this type of work on a bigger scale and continue to contribute to this cause as much as possible.

L+A: What advice would you give your 15 year old self?

My 15 year old self? This is like “Fresh Air” [podcast].

Don’t give up. Bad things are going to happen but it’s not the end of the world. There’s always another day.

‘The best advice I’ve received from a woman was “you are more than enough,” and that was from my favorite English teacher at Long Beach City College.’

Photo Credit: Cynthia Cervantes and Travis Gumbs