Underground Runway presented “Blaq Beauty,” a grassroots fashion show, at Parliament bar and night space in Old Oakland on Friday night. Underground Runway, founder Tiffany Stewart told the audience, is inspired by singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone’s famous words: “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.”
Stewart founded Underground Runway in 2008 after graduating from Cumberland College in Kentucky and City College in San Francisco, where she studied psychology and fashion. It is organized as a 501c3 nonprofit in Oakland. “I’m a curator,” Stewart said. “I create my own collection. It’s not about the clothes. It’s about the people.”
“Underground is a platform for unsigned and unrecognized talent,” according to Stewart – mostly local amateur models. Blaq Beauty was a small show, with about a half-dozen models in a small intimate space like Parliament. The clothes are sold on the Underground Runway website. “These shows support people who are aspiring to be something better,” she said.
Perhaps the most striking of Blaq Beauty’s participants is Ava, a 6-foot tall transgender model originally from Cleveland. Blaq Beauty is Ava’s first Underground Runway show. “It’s a little different,” but enjoyable, the model says, with the show’s focus on people, not clothes.
Stewart said that despite the big changes the latest tech boom brought to the Bay Area—the exorbitant rents and gentrified neighborhoods, for one thing—in her opinion, the most important thing that brings people to the Bay Area has not changed. “It’s about everybody being who they want to be,” Stewart said.