At only 22 years old, Avery Barnes bridges two continents with her boutique in Pioneer Square. Taswira sells clothing and jewelry made by African women, enriching two communities a world apart. Raised in Chicago, Barnes’s first heroes were her single mother and her actress grandmother, who starred as adorable moppet Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life back in 1946. Not close with her father but intrigued by her Nigerian roots, Barnes journeyed to Africa to work with Bamburi Women Empowerment Center in Mombasa, Kenya. While women craft and learn business skills, Barnes sells their wares and other imported art in Seattle.
After a series of popups in local markets, Taswira secured an empty storefront through Seattle Restored, an economic development program partly funded by the city. Her shop is in Pioneer Square through at least November and is the only African streetwear boutique she’s heard of in the U.S.
The tireless entrepreneur hopes to teach crafting and business classes in the space, not so different from the lessons held in Kenya. Like her grandmother, who once warbled the famous line about every time a bell rings, Barnes has found a way to build a wonderful life.
My grandmother mentored me a lot [about] the importance in what I say and what I do, and what I really represent, and to always do good to not steer away from my core values.
I didn’t want to be on the cover of a magazine because of just being pretty. My grandmother told me you need to be on the cover of a magazine for something that you’ve done in the world.
I remember when I landed [in Africa]. The plane was surrounded by soldiers with, like, AK-47s. But I also saw zebras on the other side.
I came back with a whole suitcase full of items, designs from the center. I ended up showing them in a few fashion shows.
There’s a lot of tribal background to African designs. Every single pattern of plaid fabric actually represents a different family lineage.
It’s important for us to integrate the cultural and traditional aspects into these pieces.
The way that the modern era in Africa is evolving is the way the fashion in Africa is evolving.
There’s a lot of poverty there. However, they are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my whole life.
We’ve been able to take a woman’s average earnings of, like, $120 a month and multiply that by six in just one quarter.
Being able to generate different sources of income is important, but incorporating your purpose and your passion—that is where the roots of my intentions are.
I get questions about cultural appropriation a lot. And it’s a hard one to answer.
I think that it’s better for people to feel confident wearing different cultural pieces than to not wear it at all. And to not see it represented at all.
My style really changed when I saw the impact that creating these products through the Women’s Center had on the community.
I now primarily shop through Black-owned businesses.
I love what Seattle Restored is doing because they’re connecting landlords with vacant properties with small businesses that could use a boost. They’re literally turning the lights on.
Taswira is an acronym: transformative action for sustainable women’s initiatives and resources in Africa. But it’s also a word in Swahili that means “vision” and “big picture.”
This is not just a gallery or retail space, but more of a creative space. It is here to bring the community together.
I’m doing what I love every single day. It doesn’t feel like a job.