Latin American and Caribbean designers are ready to conquer the United States
For decades, the fashion industry has been concentrated almost exclusively in the world’s most populated cities and major fashion hubs such as Paris, Milan, London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Seoul. More recently, designers from the Middle East, South Africa and West Africa have started to emerge, earning nominations for the prestigious LVMH award.
Today, creatives with roots in Latin America and the Caribbean take center stage.
Brands such as A Lot Studio in Colombia, Wavey LA (born in Los Angeles and based in Mexico City) and Rebels to Dons, based in New York with roots in Trinidad and Tobago, are making their mark. They join more established actors such as Brooklyn, NY-based Kerby Jean-Raymond; who has Haitian roots; Fe Noel, who draws influence from his Grenadian heritage; Gabriela Hearst of Uruguay; LVMH Prize finalists Kika Vargas and Johanna Ortiz from Colombia and Victor Barragán and Barbara Sanchez-Kane from Mexico.
Many of these LATAM and Caribbean designers enter the United States via New York and pave the way for others in the region to follow in their footsteps.
A Lot Studio co-founder Valentina Ramirez, of Bogota, Colombia, graduated from Parsons School of Design, designed at Urban Zen under Donna Karan, worked for Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler and Claudia Li and made her brand by creating a collection for Clara by Rihanna. Lionel Foundation. She co-founded A Lot Studio in 2019, initially producing the collection in India, but moved the brand to Colombia during lockdown in 2020 after acquiring her co-founder’s stake in the business.
Since the brand’s inception, she’s curated 15 pop-ups, including five in New York at Wolf & Badger, Flying Solo, Canal Street Market, 3NY, and a standalone multi-brand boutique where she’s stocked her brand with other Latin labels. -Americans. The next step for the brand is Madrid Fashion Week, where many Peruvian, Mexican and South American brands are expected to participate, according to the designer.
“New York City is an aspiration for so many other counties and societies,” Ramirez said. “If your customer can somehow associate the brand with New York, they see the added value. Having a presence here makes the community proud to wear the brand, especially the younger generation.
A Lot Studio participated in Coterie as Ramirez seeks to expand the brand’s wholesale presence. “I already know a lot of Colombian designers at big retailers like Saks and Bloomingdale’s. Bulk orders allow them to grow faster.
Like A Lot Studio, Wavey LA also hosted pop-ups in New York.
Founder Talulah Rodriguez-Anderson established her brand in 2015 while completing her undergraduate studies at the Otis College of Art & Design. She also started a career as a DJ and offered merchandise including branded baseball caps.
Rodriguez-Anderson was born in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and moved as a child to San Diego and later to Miami. After creating the brand, she returned to Mexico to develop the line with designer Paulo Succar. Wavey LA held its first fashion show in 2018, opened a flagship store in Juarez, Mexico City in 2021, and this year opened a workshop in Roma, Mexico City.
“I don’t consider Wavey to be typical streetwear and I think the landscape is too saturated in LA,” Rodriguez-Anderson said. “I didn’t want to look like any other up-and-coming designer. When I decided to return to Mexico, I took the brand with me. I realized there was no streetwear here and we were the only brand doing that kind of stuff.
This summer, the brand hosted a stand-alone pop-up and a second at Laams on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“I feel like New York is one of the fashion capitals of the world and I feel like if you get here, you can get anywhere in the world,” she said. added.
Rebels to Dons founder Joshua Joseph moved to New York as a teenager and grew up in a family of artisans who ran a shop in Brooklyn where they sold items celebrating the African diaspora. Their items have appeared in films such as “Do the Right Thing”, “Predator”, “Predator 2” and “Coming to America”.
He started sewing at 16 and worked in retail at Uniqlo, Feit and Dunk Exchange before launching his line in 2017.
The brand recently teamed up with Ronnie Fieg and Kith Clarks on a footwear collaboration that launched at Blue in Green in New York and Soho Beach House in Miami.
“It’s very important to have this presence in New York, because it’s a melting pot of the United States for me,” Joseph said. “I would tell any business owner that New York is a place to understand. You can be an international brand and come here, but if you don’t have the right people in the store, you won’t attract good people.
Joseph thinks Caribbean designers are well represented and growing, but they still have work to do to increase their visibility. For Rebels to Dons, the designer is partnering with the Trinidad Tourism Board to build a section at Carnival in 2024.
Rodriguez-Anderson agreed that LATAM designers and people of color are making progress, but thinks they still lag behind white designers who have “more opportunities or the right connections to get things done faster.”
She added, “It’s harder as a Latina who’s not from New York trying to make that happen, because I don’t know a ton of people and I’m not friends with top photographers and models, but I’m willing to put in the work and keep pushing for the goals I have.
Ramirez sees the US market’s interest in South American brands, but that’s often just seasonal. “When it’s October, there’s a huge press for me, because all the media is looking for Hispanic Heritage Month stories,” she said. “After October, it’s much harder for South American creators to get that kind of exposure. We see it with other topics like Pride in June or February for Black History Month. It would be great if the news was broadcast all year round.