This Mexico City-Based Couple Honour Their Cultures and Platform Future Storytellers
Cynthia and Travis, whose style is inspired by their heritage, work to amplify the stories of Black and Latinx communities.
Beyond the Fit is a series that explores how emerging creatives weave together personal style and identity.
Creative duo Cynthia Cervantes Gumbs and Travis Gumbs are a dream team. They're the founders of the creative studio Maroon World, a platform that celebrates the lives and experiences of people of colour. Through images that challenge tired notions of beauty, gender, masculinity and femininity, the couple, who recently moved to Mexico City from New York, capture the vibrant communities of Black and Latinx artists. "Everything that we do is rooted in intention", says Cynthia. "That has always been the guiding principle since we started working together".
Born in St. Kitts and raised in the Bronx, New York, Travis is known for co-founding the influential lifestyle website Street Etiquette, which grew from a menswear blog into a creative agency. Cynthia, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, grew up in Hawaiian Gardens, California, and moved to New York to pursue a career in education reform. While serving as the chief operating officer of a high school in the Bronx, she also worked on creative projects with friends on the side. Feeding off each other's creativity and cultural perspectives, the duo have collaborated on projects like interior design, apparel, photography and video. "Figuring out how to use the tools around us to create is really how we live our lives", says Travis. "You literally have to believe in what you're doing, or the success is not going to bring peace".
Cynthia and Travis, who married at her father's ranch in Michoacán, Mexico, in 2018, sought a new way of life when they decided to relocate. "One of the things we really like about being here is that you just feel more at ease", says Cynthia. "Mexico City is not a white-dominated place, so there aren't those daily microaggressions against you". Now settled in their new home base, the partners in life and art have also started a new chapter of their lives, becoming parents to their son, Tenoch. Here, they talk about how style is more than just self-expression for them, it's a language for communal connection and ancestral storytelling.
Why did style become such an important element of your lives?
Travis: Style was my first real expression of being an individual. I've always been into style, ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with different sneakers and stuff. I was 9 and wanted to spend $100 to $125 on sneakers, but my mother never bought them, which is fair. So, at 16, I started working and went crazy collecting sneakers. Then, my style was an expression of whatever trends were happening. As you get older, you just really find what works for you, what you're comfortable wearing and you know your voice. Your voice evolves in such a way where there aren't many drastic changes, but there is a lot more confidence. That's what I like. Today, I am in full-on dad mode.
Cynthia: I think about style in terms of communication. You're communicating who you are, and you're also communicating with other people who are interested in the same things you are. I agree with Travis that that communication changes as you evolve as a person. When I was raving in high school, I wore big jeans, little tops and a bandana around my head. As you go through scenes, it's like you're silently trying to communicate you're part of this community.
"Everything that we do is rooted in intention. That has always been the guiding principle since we started working together".
The evolution of someone's personal style is interesting. How do you think our modes of developing an aesthetic or look have changed over the last decade?
Travis: We were the last generation that was able to do it in a purely authentic way. Now, it's all just regurgitated off Instagram. Style is just more accessible to everyone. That's why I like the way we grew up, because we were able to have our style evolve slowly and come into its own, it wasn't just a mood board of things that you can buy.
Cynthia: I feel like what social media has done is allow people to change their style really quickly. One day, you're like, "I want this aesthetic", and then the next day you're like, "God", and switch it up.
"I think about style in terms of communication. When I was raving in high school, I wore big jeans, little tops and a bandana around my head. It's like you're trying to communicate that you're part of this community".
Cynthia, you also made a shift from education to the creative industry, but it seems that identity and elevating Black and brown communities is a common thread between them?
Cynthia: My career was in education reform. Specifically, I worked in non-profits that serve low-income neighbourhoods. That was always my intention. I wanted to work in Black and brown neighbourhoods, helping kids and families, but I was always doing creative stuff on the side. When I met Travis, he saw that I would do mood boards for myself. I would cut out pictures from magazines and literally have them all over my wardrobe door and he was like, "People get paid for this". This was almost eight years ago, and I didn't have a sense of what jobs were available in the creative sector. I would just do one-offs for friends, and then Travis really pushed me to explore those projects more, so then I ended up switching careers.
Travis, your work with Joshua Kissi on Street Etiquette was major, in that it was an example of Black people running their own media publications—we need more of that.
Travis: I definitely, 100 percent agree with you. Aesthetically, I wouldn't exactly speak to the people in the same way, but us controlling our stories and having equity in the industry is definitely important.
Cynthia: People hadn't seen it done by two amazing, young Black dudes before, so that energy is being like, "We can do this too. We can be photographers, we can be creative directors, we can do events, we can do everything". I think that was so inspiring to so many people.
Does your cultural background also play a role in how you connect to your own personal style?
Travis: That's the foundation for both of us. My culture is what got me into style because it was what I was surrounded by: I looked at my uncles, my granddad and the older people in my life. That's where I took my style cues from. Cynthia likes to wear these Mexican embroidered tops, like her grandmother.
Cynthia: I also used to wear a lot of jewellery, but since I'm in the house all day with the baby now, it's a no. The jewellery specifically comes from my grandma, who would wear bracelets all up her arm and three watches that worked occasionally.
"As you get older, you just really find what works for you, what you're comfortable wearing and you know your voice. Today, I am in full-on dad mode".
Is there anything today that you would say feels like a signature piece?
Travis: We've got stuff in LA, we've got stuff in New York, we've got stuff in Mexico City, and we've got stuff on the ranch. It's all spread out. I'm taking it less seriously. When I was back home at my mum's house, right before quarantine, I was just opening a load of boxes. It made me think about how, at one point, this was all so valuable, but my mindset has changed.
Cynthia: Right now, am I going to wear a flouncy big dress that has buckles when I'm with my baby? No.
Travis: We are literally home all day long, so it's been hard to even access that part of us.
Cynthia: Putting on trousers feels revolutionary right now.
Do you think moving to Mexico City has changed your perspective on creativity?
Travis: The work we are doing in this new world is meant to be connected with the culture. We knew moving to Mexico City would inspire us. We wanted to experience something completely different. I wasn't born in America, so I knew how inspiring that change of environment could be.
Cynthia: I think Mexico has deepened my love for home-grown, DIY aesthetics, just using the resources you have to be fab. I think, more so, having a child has changed my perspective creatively.
Cynthia: He's my favourite person in the world. Sorry, babe! My son inspires me because I want to do dope shit that he's going to be able to look at and be like, "Wow, my parents were on this. Look at what my parents did". I want to leave a legacy of important work for him to build on, not to be like, "Oh, my parents' accomplishments are great", but to be like, "Now I'm going to take it to the next level", or whatever he decides to do. That idea that he is going to be looking at this work really inspires me.
Words: Devine Blacksher
Photography: Dorian Ulises López Macías
Reported: September 2020