Nia Murillo’s first sewing machine arrived at her home wrapped in a gift box, on February 13, 2001, when the Colombian designer celebrated her 12th birthday.
That gift from her parents was the first tool that helped her discover her talent and passion for fashion design.
In this creative path, Nia Murillo found that the Afro-Colombian community had not really taken ownership of their identity and there were no design proposals focusing on reclaiming black roots.
“Etnia hecha arte” (Ethnicity meets art) is Nia Murillo’s slogan
“As blacks we have to highlight our ancestors because we carry them in our blood and they are rooted in our being”, this is how Nia Murillo sums up her philosophy as a black woman and Colombian designer.
According to Murillo, blacks in Colombia “need self-recognition, character, and they need to understand that we come from Africa, but that we must leave aside the stigma of slavery and give ourselves the value we deserve.”
At barely 30, she has managed to highlight her ethnic roots and has gotten her clothes and accessories to acquire not only a visual appeal, but also a symbolic value, thanks to what they communicate, the stories they tell, and the fact that people notice this when they see her creations in the street.
Her first collection was titled African Color’s, featuring women and men clothing and accessories whose colors, shapes and textures are stories to be unraveled.
From then on her message has been the same: turn the elements of her own story into art, hence the slogan “ethnicity meets art”.
It should be noted that her pieces are designed and aimed at free-spirited women and men, who are versatile and confident about their culture, whatever that may be; and there is also a certain timelessness that makes each garment easy to carry.
Related article: Colombia and the Artistic Footprint of its Black Population
Nia Murillo Imports her Fabrics from Kenya
Throughout her years as a fashion designer, Nia Murillo has been known for using flowy and vaporous fabrics, which have the goodness to adjust either to a neckline or to stick to the body.
Her main material is African fabrics, which are brought directly from Kenya and are handmade by African artisans.
For Murillo, in addition to being the raw material, “it carries the ancestral identity of our culture and our ethnic roots”.
And with those fabrics she has built an unbelievable universe of products ranging from dresses, blouses and skirts, to footwear, wallets, turbans, earrings and necklaces.
The fabric used by this girl born in El Chocó is called Wax and it basically consists of wax applied on a cloth to create a pattern. These patterns have individual meanings according to their colors, lines, circles, etc.
The symbols speak of social status, at least in that part of the world, and their export to Europe, Asia and America, represents a source of profitable income for Africans.
Recognition for Nia as an Afro-Colombian designer
Currently, the name of this designer is widely acknowledged in Colombia. Her pieces have been showcased in grand events, such as the Petronio Álvarez festival, the fashion week of the Cali Afro Show, the Pacific Folk Festival, as well as several fashion fairs in Bogotá.
Her recent collection called Root represents the quest to exalt the richness of black culture around the world. These garments are sold in neighboring countries, such as Brazil and in more distant countries like Spain and the United States.
This year, the designer has taken up yet another challenge. She launched a children’s collection under the Thiaret brand, inspired by her youngest daughter Nyamekye.
It is basically composed of dresses and turbans manufactured with wax fabrics, “which are the vehicle through which our children will learn to love and take ownership of their culture,” she stated.
Her fashion portfolio, which has been illustrated by graphic designer Jennifer González, was recently presented at an art meetup at Casa de Nariño, the official residence of Colombian President Iván Duque.
The sketches included fresh, unique and striking garments, which ultimately carry Nia Murillo’s unmistakable stamp.
Nia Murillo and a Past full of Changes and Adversity
Nia Murillo was born three decades ago in El Chocó. This department, which borders with the Pacific, is one of Colombia’s black territories, where disparity and unequal policies have resulted in armed conflict, displacement and a collective self-esteem of inferiority “although it is full of people who have lots of spunk and talent”.
During her childhood, the designer moved to Buenaventura, and then to the salsa city of Cali, but the unexpected departure of her father abroad caused a total revolt in Nia.
“At just 14, I felt incomplete without my dad’s support. So I became defiant and a year later I ended up pregnant”, she recalls.
Upon learning of her situation, Nia’s father reassured her. “He told me there was no problem, that now more than ever I should study because I had to be a good mother, so I finished high school”.
After giving birth, she studied design at Fundación Academia de Dibujo Profesional, a private university in Cali. She graduated at age 20 and immediately went on to specialize in fashion marketing.
Today Nia is a single mother of three. “It is my best role. They are my strength and they drive me to continue representing my ancestors and exalt our identity as Afro-Colombians throughout the world”.