Interview with Daniela Castellanos, founder of ethical fashion brand CASTELLANO
Read how Colombian-born Daniela Castellanos wants to empower other indigenous young women by helping them create bags and accessories via her new fashion brand CASTELLANO – and how you can support her.
What’s your mission in a nutshell?
I’ve started to build a community that can support my mission of giving 250 jobs to indigenous women in Colombia and become a leading example in the fashion industry.
My innovation is an ethical backpack, which takes around 20 days to make using solely handmade, fine crochet techniques and soft leather. This piece not only preserves Colombian heritage, it supports women from the Wayuu community in La Guajira Colombia who live with limited access to electricity, water and food.
How did you start CASTELLANO?
When I was 24 years old, and after completing my degree in Journalism in Bogotá (December 2013), I decided to return to London, to work for the company where I interned before university. I arrived back in London with a suitcase full of clothes and a side project called Castellano Ethnic Origins.
After graduating I spent five months in Colombia, creating and developing Castellano. My idea was to tell and show people in England the human stories of the indigenous women in my country by designing bracelets and handbags that would be handmade by them.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
When I turned 23, I felt lost and I couldn’t find happiness in anything around myself. I decided to start CASTELLANO as a way of finding a purpose in my life.
I decided to travel to the north coast of my country to find out more about how the bags were made. This desire led me to go backpacking in Colombia, my home country. I knew of the existence of Wayuu and Arhuaca tribes but was always curious about their lifestyle and their weaving process.
In order to gain a better understanding, I lived with the tribes for two months to explore their story, which was my inspiration for making an ethical, sustainable and handmade collection. I also wanted to incorporate luxury into the products with the use of leather and Swarovski crystals.
I found joy and pure happiness while I was drawing bags and making sketches in the desert. I was exploring the life of the indigenous women while I was visualising CASTELLANO as a brand that could represent tribes and make a change in society.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I launched the brand in July 2014 during my first trade show in London, Scoop in the Saatchi Gallery, and in February 2015 I launched the website and also the social side to the project. I put all my passion and energy into my business when i decided to commit full time to it. I believe on to so much that i left my full time job to follow my dream.
What’s your USP?
It is not just a bag or an accessory. It’s a life story. We want to show the humanity behind each piece of art. We want to be a brand that respects human dignity. We believe in cool, ethical, luxurious products with a strong social mission.
How is CASTELLANO different from other fashion brands?
We empower Colombian indigenous women and we strive to make a positive impact on their society. We have spent time living with the Wayuu and Arhuaca women and communities, in their precarious conditions to understand how they live, why they weave bags, and what are the main social issues they face daily.
The Wayuu people live in the desert state of La Guajira and the Arhuaca People live in the mountainous areas in northern Colombia, and have been sewing and weaving for centuries. Each woven design carries a meaning that extends far beyond its aesthetic appeal.
We asked ourselves:
- How can we help to solve their problems through our products?
- How can we tell their story to the world while showing the beautiful side of their craftsmanship?
- How can we make consumers aware of the issues?
We are also different because we want to connect two worlds – the indigenous, native world (origins and culture, traditional handmade items) and the world of luxury fashion (wealthy, high-end consumer fashion). We aim to keep alive the heritage, tradition and the culture of the Colombian indigenous tribes.
We want to demonstrate to the world of fashion that we can design luxurious and innovative products that are still 100% crafted by hand. The status quo of high-end fast fashion needs to change. Our products are products that enhance and celebrate the traditions, while helping today’s communities.
Our ultimate goal is to gain the trust and respect of people everywhere, just as we have done with the local tribes and communities in Colombia. We want to touch people’s heart and connect them to a far-away corner of the world.
Who’s your target audience?
Our ideal customer is a conscious consumer, they are aware of the production chain in the fashion industry. Our customer invests in our products because he is supporting fine craftsmanship, culture, heritage and tradition. Our customer wants to contribute to the world and make a more fair and equal society.
On the other hand our customer has an open and international perspective of the word — they have an eye for detail, buying quality, not trends. There is a special component to our bags and bracelets: the tribal and geometrical patterns are timeless and could be worn during any time in history, as they preserve our heritage and origins.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Our main channel to spread the word is social media. We have large follower base on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Through these channels we keep a direct communication with our customers and keep them posted of what is going on in our world.
We don’t have a PR or marketing budget. What we have instead it’s our passion and a great team with a lot of commitment with our project.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Being a female entrepreneur in England for the last two years has certainly been a challenge. I had £20 a week in my pocket for food and found myself following a vegan diet. I burned out, I searched for help, I became part of the Princes’ Trust mentoring program, and I worked, worked and worked 24 hours a day on my project.
And your proudest moment so far?
In the last two years we have grown significantly. Our handmade products are now stocked in more than 20 boutiques around the UK, with one department store in London (Bentalls-Fenwick), and three shops in the U.S. (Miami, New York City ).
So far, my highlight with CASTELLANO is the manufacturing eco-system I have developed in Bogotá and La Guajira Desert. We are proud to employ more than 85 Wayuu weavers in the Guajira desert and more than 25 mothers head of families in central Colombia.
We have also been able to partner with SWAROVSKI headquarters in London to receive crystals as a donation to our social project, this extra stock allow us create a limited collection with the profits going directly to our water project in Colombia.
Our social media channels have increased dramatically on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We have also launched a new Vimeo channel to have a better connection between the consumers and the manufacturers. By the end of the summer, we are launching a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.com to increase our brand awareness and follower base.
Who inspires you?
My inspiration comes from the human stories of the indigenous women, the tribal patterns and their culture. When I am taking adventures, travelling and discovering the craftsmanship process I fell inspired, I fee free, all my creativity comes into place.
My inquisitive mind and eager for knowledge are my best asset, this allows me to feel inspired and to create products with a positive impact.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
I will tell them to be patient, not to run before they can walk, to ask for advice and to work as hard as they can to achieve their goals.
Also to stay 100% focus and to believe in their idea, if they are not confident enough to sell what they have created no one will buy or believe on what they are trying to sell or create. I have had so many drawbacks, hard days and frustrations but what keep me on the race is that inner force/fire and the strength on which I was born.
If you don’t have that inner fire inside you it is very hard to succeed, no matter how much funding or how many people are in your team, you need to aware that you are your best asset and best champion.
And a final piece of advice is “treat others as you want to be treated”, “Be humble but always know your values, your rules and that you are in control of your own life.”