Most people think of fashion as regarding simply aesthetics, but for Paloma Tenorio, fashion is a way to “play with” and “navigate” identity. In early April, Tenorio, and her mother Lisa Tenorio opened their own clothing store, Baba Yaga, located at 510 Caledonia Street in Sausalito.
Tenorio, who graduated from Tam in 2015 and identifies as gender neutral, describes their style as “eclectic,” explaining that they have always been attracted to vintage items. “I think what is important is that vintage allowed me to play with identity a lot,” Tenorio said. “I definitely was not cool in high school…but the way that I dressed was empowering. It was a way for me to have control over my identity and to navigate identity…And a love for that kind of grew into wanting to work with fashion.”
The name, Baba Yaga comes from a Russian folktale about a witch. Tenorio felt this name was fitting, as the tale’s central theme is of transformation, a dominating aspect of both their and their mother’s fascination with fashion. “For me it was about feeling different and having a sense of identity and being a queer person and trying to establish my own voice and wearing clothing that makes me feel empowered,” Tenorio said. “For my mom, a lot of this had to do with aging and being a woman and thinking about how she can reclaim her power through fashion. Baba Yaga to us represents a strong feminist symbol.”
The first time Tenorio became serious about fashion was in their sophomore year at Tam when they started an online store called Strange Babies with their mom. “…We went all the way out to LA to get our inventory…but [we] had it solely online and we always dreamed about opening up a store. It worked out that both of us kind of had the same aspirations,” Tenorio said.
Following senior year Tenorio traveled to Seattle with a group of friends. “That year off really helped me to think about what I wanted and where I wanted to go,” Tenorio said. “What was really helpful too was that I saw a lot of people my age who were very successful, but found unique ways to be successful, who didn’t necessarily need a traditional path to be well known in the community and to have really wonderful lives.”
Tenorio feels that non-traditional choices are not encouraged at Tam.
“There’s a lot of encouragement at Tam to go on a pretty traditional path, to do a four year program, and to graduate and go on to like a UC or some other degree program,” Tenorio said. “And I think for a lot of students if you don’t make the mark at the end it can be so demotivating and [make you] feel like, ‘I failed and now I have to go to College of Marin where all the burn-outs in Marin County end up.’” However, they feel there were definitely some teachers who understood them and helped them out, including english teacher Mike Levinson and social studies teacher Jon Hartquist. Tenorio still feels that “something important for the future of fashion is to have a space for the people within [the LGBTQIA] community. I think there isn’t one and I would love to make clothing that is welcoming of other identities,” Tenorio said.
Within the store, Tenorio wants to employ creativity wherever they can. “I actually think there are a lot of different styles in the store,” Tenorio said. “I try to break up the racks into different stories. I want each rack to be like its own look in a way so the colors and the fit go together really well. I have a mix of Boho (bohemian clothing) for sure, we’ve edited some of the pieces to look for modern as well, there’s everything from like ‘50s to ‘90s in this store so you get a lot of different looks, but I guess the main goal is that I want to encourage people to mix all of those together and create their own look.”
Tenorio does not feel too connected to students at Tam, and they acknowledge that they were “not engaged and not motivated for most of high school.” Tenorio also added, “but I know my experience is not unique. I know plenty of people feel this way and I think people can find solace in a [store] like this. I’m super friendly and everyone is welcome of course. The store is a safe space for any LGBTQIA person and I would love to talk to any creative people in the area.” ♦