Sistren: The Black Female Collective Disrupting The Airwaves & Inspiring Our Summer Style
If you’re not familiar with
Sistren, now is the time to get to know the collective. The sister-friends (Michelle and Deji biological, Babirye their soul sister) broke onto the broadcasting scene in 2015 with podcasts that saw them debate and pull apart everything from bisexuality and black excellence to self-confidence and self-care.
You may recognise two of the trio from Cecile Emeke’s brilliant web series
Ackee & Saltfish, or from their stint at Radar radio back in 2017 (which they departed following allegations about the station’s management). Today, they’re over on Foundation.fm, dissecting the issues facing young, queer black women and navigating the world with their audience on their weekly show.
Sistren are now partnering with adidas Originals on its new
Home of Classics footwear collection, inspired by the legendary brand’s 50 years of sporting and cultural heritage. The trio front the campaign, wearing everything from the Supercourt RX sneaker to Stan Smith kicks. We chatted to the airwave disruptors about protecting trans women of colour, Lakeith Stanfield’s style, and the best spaces created by black women right now.
Where did you all first come together?
Michelle: “DJ and I are sxsters, we met in the womb and though we’re two years apart, we’re soul twins. Babs is my sister from another mister, and we’ve been friends since we met in 2009 at drama school. I used to bring DJ to Babs’ house parties all the time and they connected instantly (Scorpio tings).”
How did the idea of podcasting come about?
Michelle: “There just happened to be a gap in the market, as podcasts hadn’t really caught on in the UK in 2015 in comparison to the US. We had something to say that we weren’t hearing anywhere we listened, and we wondered if there were other queer black womxn out there, living within several intersections, who wanted/needed to hear these conversations too. So it was a case of filling in the need and creating what we didn’t see in order to affirm ourselves and others like us.”
How have the show and your friendship evolved since you started back in 2015?
Deji: “We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and that’s helped to shape our show into what it is today. It’s made us realise how much our friendship means to each other. The love is real.”
Babirye: “We know what we’re doing, we know our strengths, our weaknesses. We’ve become a lot stronger, we’re a force.”
Why do you feel like the podcast medium is the most effective for you to discuss the stories and issues you do?
Deji: “It allows us to speak freely, we’re in control of what we talk about.”
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing young women, queer women, and women of colour right now?
Michelle: “There isn’t just one issue sadly, and it’s too long a list. But we’re not talking enough about the death of black trans womxn, that’s for sure. Our existence as queer, non-binary, trans womxn is both power and problem. How we love is taboo, living our best lives is taboo, our success is taboo. We were never taught to love or express ourselves in this way and that we could all still ‘win’ – the patriarchy has its foot on our necks. Toxic masculinity and his friends will be the death of us. Literally. If you want to help, call out your friends and even strangers when you hear them being shitty and disrespectful about and toward us. Drag them, report them, whatever. Protect black trans womxn, at all costs. Protect black queer people. Protect sex workers.”
Babirye: “*Black. I don’t, we don’t, define ourselves as women of colour. And it’s a good question to ask because the question is a good example. Anti-blackness is global and the erasure of black queer womxn’s work and contributions to culture and social political change. There are so many issues but the main issue is the gaslighting from other queer communities that insist on erasing our blackness from the conversation.”
Right now the political landscape is terrifying and the social one is quite fraught – how can young queer black women navigate life when it can feel a bit hopeless?
Deji: “We’re lucky enough to have the internet. As damaging as it can be it’s also allowed us to gain access to groups on Facebook, club nights, panel talks and healing spaces that have been created for us by us.”
Babirye: “I think black womxn exist in a thriving time, we’re speaking and connecting to ourselves and our people. There are so many Facebook groups, clubs, talks, organisations and spaces carved out for us. Having your friends that listen to you and validate you is important.”
Michelle: “Be compassionate to yourself. Take time off social media. Make time to do nothing and to chill with friends. Create a self-care toolkit, a handful of things you can physically do to ground yourself. Whether that be giving yourself a manicure once a month or meditating for 10 minutes every day or writing out words of gratitude weekly. Acknowledge that time spent alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely or without love. Reflect, recharge and reconnect. Your friends don’t hate you, promise.”
Why did you want to partner with adidas Originals on the launch of Home of Classics?
Deji: “We felt that it was important for us as black womxn and non-binary people to have a platform like this one to share our story. So hopefully a young black girl can see it and know her existence matters and her voice is valid. Also, my sister had these really cool blue high-tops when we were younger and I always tried to steal them for myself. I was obsessed with them.”
Michelle: “To take up space. To be the representation we wanted to see when we were younger. To fulfil my younger self’s goal. As a kid I was always gassed by the adidas adverts and I vowed to be in one, one day. I also had a thing for ’80s/’90s hip-hop and fashion in sixth form, so I bought a pair of royal blue suede adidas high-tops I’d bid on from Ebay.”
How would you describe your personal style? And whose look do you admire right now?
Deji: “I like to call my style tomboy femme. Rihanna can do no wrong. But I do love me some Solange too!”
Michelle: “My style is a punk-tomboy-femme hybrid. It changes with my mood and dependent on the weather. Other than Queen Riri, I currently wanna be Lakeith Stanfield. Kojey Radical always looks fly too.”
Babirye: “It differs for me, I can go all the way and finish with a red lip or wear a crop top and tracksuit bottoms and you will deal. My style is always changing.”
Women of colour, Sistren included, have been hugely successful in carving out a space for themselves in the media over the past few years. Who else do you champion that we should be listening to, reading or watching?
Michelle: “In the words of Issa Rae, ‘Everybody Black’. For listening: A Little Juju podcast on Soundcloud, Born n Bread collective, Mellowdic show with Lex Amor on Reprezent, Soul Surge on Reprezent, and all the Foundation.fm radio shows. There are events like Black Femme Film, Spring Melanin, AZ Mag Hub, Black Girl Book Club, Black Girl Festival, FOC It Up, Cocoa Butter Club, Blacktress, BBZ and Touching Bass. For reading: Nnedi Okorafor, Black Ballad, AZ Mag, Ayobami Adebayo, Koleka Putuma, Olumide Popoola, Okey Nzula, Belinda Zhawi.”
Deji: “I’m rooting for everybody BLACK.”
Babirye: “ Thick/er Black Lines, Black Blossoms, Our Naked Truths, Ibile Botanicals and Misery Party.”
What’s up next for you?
Deji: “EXISTING LOUDER.”
Babirye: “World domination.”
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