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Davita Galloway's DUPP&SWAT Studio Is Charlotte's Haven To Showcase Artists Of Color

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Gracyn Doctor
Gracyn Doctor
The clothing and accessories in the shop are all from local artists. Davita Galloway changes them periodically.

On a very muggy Wednesday morning, Davita Galloway opened her studio, DUPP&SWAT, for the day. The vibrant, colorful creative studio is decorated from top to bottom, and is a safe place for entrepreneurs, artists and anyone who wants to drop in to shop or just hang out.

Galloway walked around the studio, pointing out the clothes by local designers hanging on the walls and at the giant mural sprawled across the studio floor that's painted by her friend and local artist,John Hairston Jr.

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Gracyn Doctor
Grayn Doctor
The paintbrush wall was painted by Galloway's niece, Damali Archie. The floor mural is by John Hairston Jr. Galloway said when she saw the sketch, she knew it had to go on the floor of the studio.

"There's remnants of Charlotte here and there, like, that's the Charlotte Hornets, the bunnies," she said. "And then over there is a hummingbird, and a crown here with DUPP&SWAT. It's one of those things that if you keep looking at it, well, each time, you will see something new — as is true for our space."

DUPP&SWAT comes from her father’s nicknames for Galloway and her brother, Dion. He’s DUPP and she’s SWAT.

The siblings founded the studio in 2010. The goal was to create a space that felt safe for artists of color and to provide them with a platform to exhibit their work.

"We needed a space to meet with clients and do photo shoots and that kind of thing," Galloway said. "But as soon as we opened our doors, the community flooded in, OK, the community flooded in because representation. They saw us, and the space, just even then at that time, felt comfortable and safe for them to enter."

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Gracyn Doctor
Gracyn Doctor
Artwork by Jasmine Mykaela and Fauxcus Arts

Eleven years and three relocations later, they continue to sell and showcase work from local fashion designers and artists in the studio’s store. They also host events, like pop-up shops and music festivals, every month. Right now, the studio is featuring fashion and art installations from Feminist Goods, Shawn Michael, and Jasmine Mykaela, among many others.

But while the studio came from a need for artists, it was also meant to serve Galloway’s needs.

She left her hometown of Winston-Salem to attend college at UNC Charlotte. In 2002, she earned a bachelor’s degree in health fitness, and in 2006, a master’s in public health. But her true desire was to attend fashion design school. So, a year later, she moved to New York to attend the Parsons School of Design. Still, this wasn’t as fulfilling as she hoped it’d be.

"I was just ultimately frustrated. So, I just found myself working really, really hard all the time at Anthropology," Galloway said. "And living by myself in New York is a beast. I just started taking advantage of my managerial responsibilities and access and I started taking money from the store."

She walked away from the incident with a misdemeanor and a changed mindset. After a swift pack-and-move by her parents, Galloway found herself back in Winston-Salem. Her situation left her depressed, but a conversation she had with her brother, Dion, put the pep back in her step.

Thus, DUPP&SWAT was born — and Galloway hasn’t looked back since.

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Gracyn Doctor
Gracyn Doctor
DUPP&SWAT is located just outside of Uptown in Camp North End.

Connections made in New York launched her styling and costuming career in Charlotte. Today, she uses her studio and her talents to pour back into her community.

Galloway’s always on the go. She’s already working on an award show to recognize Black women doing work in their communities, and TheHaute Asiko Fashion Show at the Harvey B. Gantt Center.

"I'm curating the show," she said. "And I think it’s going to display a beautiful piece of what could be, what is, and what's next. It's going to be a beautiful tapestry of fashion and color and just downright just raw expression."

Asiko means “fashionable” in Yoruba — a west African language — and that’s exactly what Galloway intended for the show to be. What made her really happy was the ability to let the designers create whatever looks they want, however they want.

Galloway’s work around Charlotte led to her receiving the Advocacy Award from the Charlotte chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. She is also a founding member of Hue House, a creative agency connecting artists of color to opportunities around the city.

With all that she has going on, Galloway said the pandemic showed her the importance of self care and doing nothing. The studio closed for about four months, and while they survived off city grants, community support, and day jobs, Galloway says she also used that time to be still.

"It made me realize how important it is just to stop and pause and breathe," she said. "You know, like no days off isn't a flex. You need a day off. So, I'm just leaning more into that and getting comfortable with sitting still and pausing and doing nothing."

Still, the hustle for Galloway doesn’t stop. She’s already working on costuming her next stage play, “Greenwood” at the Mathews Playhouse in addition to working upcoming events at DUPP&SWAT.

She said for her, it’s all about providing the community with the things she needed growing up.

"I think in a way, I'm satisfying my younger self because I'm filling voids and satisfying things that I needed when I was younger and just didn't have or didn't know where to go," Galloway said. "I'm always thinking about what's next. You know, who's next? What do they need?"

For those who need some fly fashion in their lives, The Haute Asiko Fashion Show is Friday at 7 p.m. at the Harvey B. Gantt Center. Tickets are still on sale and can be bought at the door.

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Gracyn Doctor is a Report for America corps member who covers race and equity for WFAE.