After an entire season played outside of Canada, specifically Tampa Bay, the city of parking lots as far as the eye can see and low-ceiling practice ballrooms, the Toronto Raptors seemed to have been as excited to return to the comforts of home as much as their fans were to have them back. A team absent from their assigned city may not seem like much of a big deal to the casual observer, but for a place like Toronto, where Raptors gear is uniform, and the town’s tallest tower regularly glows red, white, and purple, it was significant.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s tough to find a clearer example than the return of the Raptors. As fans were counting down the days until players would be back in Scotiabank Arena, star forward Pascal Siakam was devising a bit of an ode to the style and stories that make Toronto a playground of community and inspiration for Black and Indigenous creatives. It was strategically scheduled for his time on the bench in street clothes whilst sidelined with injury during the season’s first dozen or so games.
It all began with the efforts of Tia Cardoza’s ‘Seat At The Table,’ on Instagram—an aesthetically pleasing and locally focused series that shines a spotlight on Toronto’s creatives hailing from its marginalized communities, all coming together to engage in tough and necessary conversations. From the roundtable talks to the very name of the platform, A Seat At The Table looked to forge legitimacy for the works of these groups rather than await the seal of approval from the city’s less inclusive collection of tastemakers and gatekeepers.
Where can one find a better example of this dynamic in practice than the Raptors’ Cameroon-born, max player donning pieces by some of Toronto’s most talented BIPOC designers?
Cardoza, who has spent the better part of the last year and a half highlighting and investing in BIPOC businesses as a passion and hobby outside of her work as an urban marketing coordinator at Universal Music Canada, made waves through her endeavors. It culminated in Siakam’s brand manager reaching out to her with the opportunity to personally curate a selection of pieces from BIPOC designers of her choosing for the former All-Star to wear—likely keenly aware of the fact that broadcasting cameras across North America would rest lenses on him during the healing of a shoulder surgery that sidelined him for five months.
“He [Pascal Siakam] was especially interested in using his platform to highlight the work of BIPOC designers. He obviously has a digital following on Instagram and he thought, ‘What better time to bring some positive reinforcement to these communities?’”
“It was an easy ‘yes’ for me. No questions asked,” she said of the request during our call discussing the process behind the deceptively simple project.
“He [Pascal Siakam] was especially interested in using his platform to highlight the work of BIPOC designers. He obviously has a digital following on Instagram and he thought, ‘What better time to bring some positive reinforcement to these communities?’ He knew eyes would be on him in the arena. He knew he’d be super enthusiastic and passionate on the bench.”
According to Cardoza, she presented Siakam with both local, more casual looks, as well as high-end street designer pieces. He developed a liking to the collections by Toronto’s designers—gravitating to the illustrious and relatable stories from those behind the labels, and eventually aligning most with their seemingly carefree, chic streetwear—the very kind the city is defined by. These designers and labels included Adidem Asterisks by Nicko Bruno and Xavier Miller, and Révolutionnaire by Nia and Justice Faith, who were recently in collaboration with Canada’s very own Roots (which birthed the fan-favorite varsity jacket Pascal wore in November at Madison Square Garden). Since returning to action with the Raptors, he’s continued rocking these brands in his pre-game fits.
“It reflected his personality. He wanted to be comfortable and confident—without doing too much.”
Cardoza’s expertise shone through in her curation. She told me she leveraged her relationships with local designers to collect the most culturally responsive garments according to the creators themselves—which gave Pascal Siakam space to seamlessly integrate everything into his own wardrobe as he saw fit.
Among the brands worn was Ghost Label, a very proudly locally-made brand founded by Rodrigue Djimbaye. An enthused Cardoza tells me of Djimbaye’s objective as a designer, which is to create pieces that speak to and for the wearer. It was an objective, she says, he kept in mind during the creation of the custom bomber jacket Siakam showcased during the home opener in Toronto. But the connection between creator and appreciator went beyond abstract notions of fashion’s purpose for Djimbaye. He simply heavily identified with Siakam’s story—both having suffered through the loss of their fathers, and both originating from the African continent. Djimbaye is an admirer of Siakam’s P.S. “humble, hustle, heart” logo and mantra, and incorporated the personalized heart symbol into the jacket. Quite the testament to the designer’s aforementioned philosophy for fashion.
“It was beautiful to see it all come together at the home opener—with how their motives just aligned so well,” Cardoza reflected.
Another creation Siakam eagerly identified with was Toronto designer Joshua Diamante’s ‘Bee Hunna’ hoodie, a colloquial play on ‘be 100’—a name created by Bianca Pereira to represent a devotion to accountability, authenticity, and self-discipline. Easy enough to understand why a player working themselves back from injury, and a relatively lost season, would identify with such traits.
The stories behind these works, and the rather eclectic variety in selection alone, is a reminder of this city’s wealth of culture and talent. As Pascal Siakam seems to understand, it’s just a matter of exposure.
A seat at the table, so to speak.