This article was sponsored by Tequila Herradura

There’s always a piece of untold African American history hidden in the shadows, where our ancestors are waiting for the proper vessels to tell their story. Fashion designer Chelsey Carter-Sanders is called to do just that with indigo dye, the blue crystalline powder that was more valuable than sugar and cotton in the 1700s. Although synonymous with blue jeans and denim clothing today, indigo was planted, tended and harvested, and converted into dye for clothing — all by enslaved African Americans.

“I want to champion the fact that this is a very big part of fashion history, but also African American history that a lot of people are not aware of,” Carter-Sanders told The TRiiBE. She is the second Chicago-based artist featured in the new Legacy of Now series by Brown-Forman, the parent company of Tequila Herradura and presenting partner of Carter-Sanders’s artist spotlight. 

In March, as part of the Legacy of Now series, Chef Emani prepared a New Orleans-inspired four-course soul food dinner for Carter-Sanders and an intimate guestlist of friends and family at the WNDR Museum. The room celebrated Carter-Sanders’s hard work, tenacity and success in the fashion world. And beverage director Tyler Ghallager curated flavorful cocktails to accompany each dish. You can find the drink recipes here and make these cocktails at home. 

“This is so important because I’m able to honor the legacy of what I come from right now while I’m living, and that means more to me than after I’m gone,” Carter-Sanders added.

Photo courtesy of The New Vanguard.
Photo courtesy of The New Vanguard.

As a designer, Carter-Sanders prides herself on sourcing her fabrics by hand, and reproducing something beautiful and modern, from a textile with centuries of history. Tequila Herradura exists to give people a taste of extraordinary and Alex Carter Brand does just that. The passion for craftsmanship can be seen in every garment Carter-Sanders creates, and in true fashion, Tequila Herradura has a legacy of taking that same level of care with tequila.

Born in 1870 and made at Casa Herradura in Amatitán, Jalisco since the 19th century, Tequila Herradura is one of Mexico’s most historic and renowned tequila distilleries. The brand introduced the first Reposado tequila to the world in the 1970’s and also created the Extra Añejo category.

Casa Herradura is one of the most awarded premium tequila brands in the world. The brand remains heavily influenced by its rich heritage as an industry pioneer and is the only tequila distillery that produces its own barrels to ensure the highest quality product. 

Similarly, Carter-Sanders carefully crafts and uplifts ancestral narratives through her work. For her “Acres of Untold History” exhibit, she’s paying homage to the origin of debt by telling the history of denim, a staple of the Alex Carter Brand.

One eye-catching champion of the exhibit is the Denim Tree, which consists of a sculpted denim trunk composed of more than 200 pairs of upcycled jeans. The tree’s crown is made from cuts of denim, roses and blooms that speak to the hues of denim. As viewers admire the tree, Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” plays in the background.

“That song means a lot to not only me as a Black woman, but also me as a descendant of ancestors that picked cotton and all that they had to endure. As an artist, her story in and of itself is extremely complex,” Carter-Sanders said, speaking about Simone’s often underappreciated career.

Asked what she would say if she could speak to the ancestors about their impact, Carter-Sanders said she hopes they are proud of the hard work and sacrifice she’s put into continuing their legacy.

“I’ve been walking very sure and certain of my path, and I know that’s only due to them looking over me and guiding me in a very spiritual way,” Carter-Sanders said. “What I would tell them is, your sacrifice, your determination, the vision that you saw that the world wasn’t ready to see or receive yet, it’s coming to fruition. And I won’t stop until I do what I’m supposed to do but also spark future generations to do the same.”

In paying it forward, The New Vanguard has so far raised $4,500 for its new grant, the Vanguard Legacy Grant. If interested in donating or applying, please visit www.eatxvanguard.com.

is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.