Tenicka Boyd Is a Jet-setting Black Woman Using Global Fashion as a Form of Activism
The non-profit director shares what it’s like to explore the world from the intersection of travel, fashion, and activism.
There’s no doubt that fashion and travel go hand-in-hand. From runways and magazines direct to our overstuffed suitcases, fashion helps us create a vibe on our adventures and tell a picture-perfect story. However, fashion has another story to tell. For decades, our style has also been used to make statements to the world about who we are and what we stand for. From the colorful wears and peace symbol necklaces of hippies to the all-black ensembles and afro picks of Black Panthers, clothing also tells the story of the time.
Today in the age of social media, fashion, travel, and activism meet at a unique crossroad that allow people like Tenicka Boyd to spread their message globally without having to say a word. Much like her style, Tenicka sits at the intersection of activism, progressive politics, and culture change as a non-profit director, but it’s how she uses clothing to disrupt systems and stereotypes on her travels that has caught the public’s attention. Whether she’s exploring the bustling streets of Accra, Ghana, cruising the blue Mediterranean waters of Croatia, or enjoying a safe quarantine escape in Palm Springs, Tenicka carries the stories of marginalized people on her back with every outfit she wears — and that includes her own.
Travel + Leisure caught up with the stylish justice fighter to learn more about her “editorial vacation” style, why she feels the travel industry needs to normalize the “joyous Black woman,” and what far flung escape she’s dreaming of next.
Travel + Leisure: How would you describe your travel style and how does it tell your personal story of being a Black woman in America?
Tenicka Boyd: “I would describe it as luxury resort wear that looks like an editorial shoot somewhere off the coast of Africa. My aesthetic is vibrant, free, jet-setting Black woman. Every piece I wear is to inspire other Black women and girls to bask in leisure.
My style really is a tribute to all the Black women who have inspired me, from my mother to Nina Simone to Ella Baker. I always imagine them at play, asleep, by the pool. Who were these Black women after work, after the protest, with one another even? I show up as her. I'm a Black American who grew up in a deeply Pan-African household so my style is also heavily influenced by Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and African architecture, scenery, and activism. My style can be seen as luxe and aspirational because of the range. But that really is what it means to be a Black American: to have an exquisite range. To be able to protest, to have a rich cultural context, to be accessible to the streets, to be well versed in luxury, and to be able to sit at the intersection of all of those identities and emerge confident and well done. Not distant from but uniquely a part of your people. I'm really just a corner of a mirror of Black culture and everything about that is luxurious and resilient.”
What are your go-to travel outfits?
“I love colorful, printed robes that can serve as a dress, a beach cover up, or a shirt. I love wide leg linen pants and big billowy sleeve tops. Of course, I love asymmetrical swimsuits with incredible lines and rich colors.”
Fashion is often used to make statements to the world. In what way does fashion play into your sense of personal activism?
“I am an activist by day who thinks through policies and strategies to make systems work better for marginalized people. My clothes are like a protest and a rallying cry. I choose to protest the idea that it is contradictory for Black women to be at rest, or play, or at leisure. I am intentional about wearing Black designers who also challenge and protest through their designs what is considered beautiful and classic. I wear clothes that mean something and tell a story. I wear fabrics with silk and chiffon because they are very feminine fabric. I like to wear bold colors that remind me that I am both soft and bold.”
Why is it so important to you to highlight these designers?
“I love fashion. I like to buy the best clothes and Black designers make some of the best clothes. Oftentimes they are ethically made, locally sourced, and employing local talent. I also like the stories behind the designs. I like that many Black designers are intentional about engaging Black customers and they're not an afterthought.”
What three designers are always in your bag?
You’ve described your photo aesthetic as “Luxuriating, free, joyous Black woman,” why do you feel this type of representation is important in travel?
“White women are often the center of vacation advertisements. Not just in traditional media, but blogs as well. From the south of France, to the Amalfi Coast, to the beaches of Rio De Janeiro and a brunch in Cape Town, the image that comes to people's minds is that of a white woman in a straw hat and a linen dress. However, people deserve to see a Black woman in those images as well. We are deeply marginalized in this country, but we are also living in spite of it. We too are living joyous lives, eating well, traveling often, and wearing impeccable clothes. I belong to a community of Black women who make every day count. And we should be represented in the travel industry.”
Judging by your photos, you are not #TeamCarryon. What tips do you have for packing elaborate wardrobes?
“I used to be #TeamCarryOn. I could pack for a week vacation in a carry-on because I carry light fabrics. But when I travel to places like Tokyo and Norway, I like to pack a few coats so I need a few pieces of luggage. I always tell people to pack the things you can't imagine living without. I also swear by packing cubes. I try to keep my hair to a minimum since I need as much room as I can for all my clothes. When all else fails, I just use my husband's carry on for my stuff as well.”
What country is your favorite for shopping?
“I would have to say it's a tie between France and Kenya. My absolute favorite vintage store is in Paris, Nice Piece, and it is owned by a young, Black French guy who sources some of the best designer pieces you have ever seen in your life. My second favorite store is the Designing Africa Collective in Nairobi. The owner curates these incredible pieces from around the continent and, although they are expensive, they are truly one of a kind.”
Have you ever had any negative experiences while shopping abroad? What did you learn from the experience?
“I went to a shop in Panama City and was denied entry because the security guard thought I was Afro-Panamanian. Not just me but my entire family. After they realized we were American they agreed to let us in, but it was too late and I decided I no longer wanted to shop there. I never shop where I'm not wanted, so I have to scratch places off my list daily.”
Your husband and daughter travel with you often, what have they taught you about style?
“They're very practical dressers so I've learned to pack things that can serve any purpose. They also like to walk everywhere so I've had to invest in better walking shoes.”
How has COVID changed the way you travel?
“We used to visit about 7-8 countries a year. I used to go to Paris for 3 days on a red-eye just to shop. I used to fly to Kuala Lumpur on the way to Bangkok to go to a thrift store. I used to layover in Johannesburg to pick up an order from a tailor in Maboneng before we headed to Cape Town. The days of moving that quickly across borders is over. We spent 100 days in quarantine like so many other New Yorkers and we've just started to venture out to places like California and the Caribbean while trying to maintain social distancing. We've had to alter our activities pretty drastically but we are committed to exploring.”
Once the world opens up to Americans again, where are you headed?
“The Maldives. First class. Life is short.”