Addis Boyd: Sistas of Liberty

Addis Boyd: Sistas of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is intended to be a symbol of freedom.

But how much does the statue really represent liberty for all?

This was the question that Columbia University freshman Addis Boyd asked himself after talking with a friend about an art project in which she “created a mini version of the statue of liberty, put an afro on her, and covered her in hip hop lyrics.” Addis wondered: “What would the Statue of Liberty look like if she was of African descent? What would a Latinx, Muslim, Indian Statue of Liberty look like?” The number of variant depictions, representing different ethnic backgrounds, are endless.

S.O.L. Apparel founder Addis Boyd. Taken by Jayson King'ori.

S.O.L. Apparel founder Addis Boyd. Taken by Jayson King'ori.

Addis reached out to his cousin Gabriel Reid, illustrator and freshman at Northeastern University, to sketch the statue of liberty as a black woman.

“I wanted hoop earrings, a dashiki inspired dress, and really pronounced African facial features,” Addis said, “with the crown and the torch, too, obviously.”

A few months later, Gabriel sent Addis back a sketch. The image inspired Addis; he realized that having a woman of color as the statue of liberty was something that “young girls and women of color could look at...and hopefully be inspired by.” By putting this image of a woman of color on a shirt, they would feel more represented by our  nation’s symbol of liberty.

Mandy Wagnac and Zara Harding. Taken by Addis Boyd.

Mandy Wagnac and Zara Harding. Taken by Addis Boyd.

“I thought of a scene in the finale of Shonda Rhyme’s hit show, Scandal,” Addis explains on his apparel website, “The main character, Olivia Pope, is the subject of a presidential-like portrait hanging in what is presumed to be the National Portrait Gallery. Similar to real life when former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait was first released to the public and a little Black girl was photographed staring at the painting with wide-eyed admiration, the Scandal series final scene shows two young Black girls staring with awe and admiration at Olivia Pope’s portrait.

That scene stuck with me. I wanted to create an image that sparked the same inspiration for young girls, like my little sister, to realize that they too have power and more than every reason to have equal rights and chase their dreams.”

This was the birth of Sistas of Liberty, an apparel line representing and supporting the equality of women, especially women of color.

Blossom, Zara, Lonaoui, Kiarra, Zico, Matthewos, Addis (Taken by Amiri Tulloch)

Blossom, Zara, Lonaoui, Kiarra, Zico, Matthewos, Addis (Taken by Amiri Tulloch)

“I grew up hearing ‘sista’ all over,” Addis explained about the company name, “[It’s] a slang representation for a group of respected female friends and figures. Quite literally, it’s a flavorful  slang for sister, and it’s a way of representing women of color. That’s why we chose to do ‘sista’ instead of statue, because it encompassed our spin on the statue of liberty.”

Ikenna Okoro and Lonaoui Amare. Taken by Addis Boyd.

Ikenna Okoro and Lonaoui Amare. Taken by Addis Boyd.

After Addis and his friends tested out various materials, colors, and styles for the best possible apparel, the company officially launched on February 15. In honor of Black History Month, 25% of the profit from Gabriel’s shirt design is being donated to Black Girls Code, an organization empowering and equipping young Black girls to succeed in STEM fields.  

Each month, Sistas of Liberty plans to work with an artist of a different ethnic background to design a shirt representing their ethnicity. The profits from each month’s shirt will also go towards an organization that aids that specific ethnicity of women.

Addis wants these shirts “to be looked at, especially from younger women, as symbols of not only freedom but sources of inspiration and motivation and empowerment for them.”

Allyship is an important part of Sistas of Liberty. Addis’s own identity as an African American man has taught him about the importance of proper allyship.

“Being black, I know I’ve seen people of other ethnicities trying to be allies to black people, and it’s a really fine line one must navigate between not doing enough and not doing too much.”

Addis suggests that those desiring to be allies for the black community “talk with people who you’re trying to be an ally with. Understand them before you try to do anything. You don’t always have to do something physically, just listening and trying to understand our experiences is a way to be an ally.”

S.O.L. Apparel Black History Month Edition Designer Gabriel Reid. Taken by Lauren Walshie.

S.O.L. Apparel Black History Month Edition Designer Gabriel Reid. Taken by Lauren Walshie.

He acknowledges that as a man, he will never know what it’s like to be a woman, and he will never experience the oppression that women face. He therefore wants to make sure he doesn’t “take too much space, as there’s so many important people doing important things for women.” Rather, he wants Sistas of Liberty to be “the smallest thing I can do to show my support of women’s fight towards true equality.”

Addis wants to thank his friends Blossom Maduafokwa, Zico Gharrafi, Zara Harding, Mandy Wagnag, Kiarra Lavache, Jayson King’ori, Lonaoui Amare, Matthewos Kassaye, Amiri Tulloch, Kieran Law, Tejas Sinha, Bella Barnes, Ikenna Okoro, John Alyn, Ikenna Nebo, Anna Kraft  and most importantly, Gabriel Reid, for their help with the design, material, modeling, and photography process for Sistas of Liberty.

He also encourages anyone to reach out with any creative ideas or thoughts that S.O.L.apparel can change or make better.

“This is an ongoing and collaborative project, not just between me and artists, but everyone. If you have ideas, if you have anything to say, please let us know.”

Addis’s ultimate goal for the brand is to continue supporting women in their fight for equality—and, of course, having Michelle Obama wear their shirt one day would be pretty cool, too.


You can find Sistas of Liberty on their website and Instagram.




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