Fashion and Feminism: Jamie Balbuena of Bandida


Jamie Balbuena in highwaisted jeans and a crop top that says Bandida

Jamie Balbuena | Bandida

I used to think that if I was going to be a Serious Feminist, I would have to give up my eyeliner and outfits. It wasn’t until years later that I would come to realize exactly how misogynist that was, how deeply the devaluation of the artistic elements of fashion is actually due to its proximity to the feminine. In an effort to further the dialogue on fashion, adornment, and feminism, I’m doing a series of interviews with feminist designers and artists that create beautiful things to wear. Check out our previous installments here!

When I first saw Jaime Balbuena’s Bandida line, I legit hollered in excitement. Bandida celebrates rebellious Latinas with a solid “don’t fuck with me” vibe. It challenges ideas about Latinas while celebrating Latina femininity. It’s feminism through a bi-cultural and multi-ethnic lens. From t-shirts and crop tops celebrating cholas as icons of both fashion and resistance to Carmen Miranda giving the middle finger (we’re fond of ladies giving the middle finger around here), it was love at first sight. 

Verónica Bayetti Flores: You’ve said that the inspiration for Bandida came from your grandmother, and that ultimately bandida is a celebration of Latina femininity. Tell me more about that.

Jaime Balbuena: Definitely. My grandmother immigrated to the US in her 20s. She was exhausted most of the time so when I pushed her buttons, which was kind of often, she would call me all kinds of names. But, as I’m sure a lot of Latin@s can relate, I could feel her affection and humor in the words. Now all those names she called me are my power words. They remind me to break the rules and encourage me to take risks. I’m growing up in a such a different world than she did, and a lot of the opportunities I’m afforded are because of the risks she took in immigrating to this country.

A lot of Latinas feel torn between several cultures. Our motto is “You have to be a little malcriada to make it in America.” It’s about recognizing that you’re going to have to break some rules within each culture. You have to do what works for you as a self determining woman.

Several pictures of a Latina model with long dark hair wearing crop tops and t shirts that say things like "chola" "pero like" & "loca como tu madre"

“You have to be a little malcriada to make it in America”

You’re a self-taught graphic designer who’s using her skills to design really bomb clothes, and I know that you also braid hair. One of the things I’m trying to explore are the ways these traditionally feminine forms of creativity, like clothing design and doing hair, aren’t really valued as art always. Has that been your experience, or do you think people generally see your creative pursuits as artistic?

Thank you! But yes, there’s always been a debate between art and design, and design and craft. They say art expresses emotion and design expresses ideas. Craft in general is always at the bottom of the totem pole, and traditionally feminine crafts are minimized.

I’m not sure what people think about my creative pursuits. There are certainly technical aspects to what I do. A certain skill is required to design a logo or design a braid pattern on someones head. But I feel like it’s art when I see the human reaction to it. When I finish a clients hair and they light up and call it art. When I’m wearing a Bandida shirt and another Latina stops me to say how much they love it, that feeling of understanding is art.

You’ve said that a Bandida is “a girl who’s working at a night club and then will go clean someone’s house for extra money…Someone who likes to express themselves with their style, someone who hustles.” This speaks to me so much – just how hard women of color and immigrant women have to work sometimes for what is often just placed in the laps of folks with more privileges. Can you tell me more about celebrating girls who hustle and make it work? How do you see your own experience here?

Honestly, that’s just it. Making it work. I grew up seeing my young mom work 2-3 jobs at any given time. She made our situation work. I’m so grateful for that. She showed me that I can do it too. I’m not working to raise 2 kids like she had to, but I am hustling so eventually I won’t have to differentiate between my work and my play.

And yeah, there are people who don’t have to work much for what they want… but fuck those people. They don’t think about me and I don’t think about them. I believe in focusing on what you want, and doing what you gotta do to get it. Expressing yourself through your style is the cherry on top.

I’m interested in the ways that cultures of resistance can be integral to any form of art, including design. Do you see elements of feminism in your art? Of Latina women’s power? How do you incorporate those things?

Art can be a voice for everyone, and cultures of resistance definitely add an exciting voice to art. I incorporate feminism and Latinidad into my art by transmuting Spanish words which were once oppressive into terms of endearment and hopefully empowerment. Latina femininity is complex, and our identities are up to us individually to craft. The words I reference have empowered me to reject other people’s projections of what they think I should be, both from inside and outside of my culture. Connecting with other women who know just where I’m coming from has been the best part of it. I think the shirts are the design, and the human connection is the art.

You’re in a desert island and you get to take one food, one beverage, and one feminist. Your picks?

Avocado, lemon water, and Bianca Jagger.

Make sure to check out Bandida’s store and Instagram!

1bfea3e7449eff65a94e2e55a8b7acda-bpfullVerónica is ready to embrace her inner malcriada.

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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