When I recently met Daniela Castellanos, the stop-at-nothing brains and effortlessly glowing beauty behind Castellano Ethnic Origins, I knew I was meeting a kindred spirit and our connection was easy, playful and instantaneous. We are long lost sisters of some kind from many moons ago and I feel excited and compelled to share her beautiful designs with you and the brave vision and female empowerment that accompany them. Here in Costa Rica, the vibrant tribal mochila bags and woven bracelets feel so at home in the humid, buzzing forest and there couldn’t be a better place in which to capture their magic and context.
I caught up with Daniela earlier this month and this is her story. I have edited it very little as she speaks from the heart and her journey and experience need no tampering with.
|How did the company start?
In December 2013 I graduated from my journalism degree and began to search for a purpose and a meaning in my life. 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 launched the brand in July 2014 during my first trade show in London, Scoop in the Saatchi Gallery. In December of the same year I launched the website and also the social side to the project. The journey as a social entrepreneur hasn’t been easy. I have had to learn everything from scratch and work really hard to succeed. I didn’t know anything about finance, marketing, trading, neither about the fashion industry and manufacturing processes: I found my way alone in a very tough industry. I just follow my passion and stick to my dream – even when I was feeling sad and frustrated, I knew I had to carry on. There is still a long way to go but I am grateful to know that after a year of launching Castellano my concept has worked and has raised awareness of the indigenous people of my country and their amazing craftsmanship.
Can you tell us a little bit about the craftswomen and cultures you are supporting?
Wayyu indigenous people have their own language, the Wayuunaiki. The women are hardworking, very wise and disciplined with their skills and craftsmanship. They live in small settlements call “Rancherias” which consist of four to six huts huddled in the desert. They sleep in hammocks and cook in saucepans that are usually suspended from hooks under the roof. The women usually get up before down, light a wood fire and start the routine with a coffee or chicha (fermented corn beverage). Some look after the cattle and attend to agricultural work but the majority weave beautiful hammocks, Mochilas (crocheted bags) and colourful fringes that are attached to the hammocks, clothes and si’ira belts.
It has been fascinating to learn that each woven design they create carries a meaning which extends far beyond its aesthetic appeal. Behind every Mochila bag is a cultural message, a story, a soul and an important subject related to their lives. I especially remember one of my trips to the desert, where one of the weavers said to me: “Each Mochila bag requires our physical and emotional energy, we spend up to twenty five days to weave a large bag and more than a month to weave a hammock. In each Kanas (pattern in Wayuu language) we portray our way of life and most of all our values and beliefs in the bags”. This explains just how rooted the craftsmanship is in their culture.
I support their craftsmanship because I believe in a brand that could ultimately become a modern method of cultural and traditional preservation, while empowering indigenous Colombian women one stitch at a time.
What were the main challenges you encountered building Castellano Ethnic Origins?
I’ve had more challenges than I expected, it’s been really tough trying to build a new brand on my own. One challenge has been spreading the word and networking, as I’m fairly new to London. Selling wholesale to retailers has also been challenging as I’m unable to reduce the cost significantly due to the higher-than-usual manufacturing costs, overheads and other costs that go into making handmade and fair trade products.
Lack of knowledge in the fashion industry has also been a challenge. When you enter into a new industry there are many drawbacks to overcome: finduing the right price point for the bracelets was hard, finding the right customers and also marketing the product. I would say that marketing the products and building a network of relevant people in the fashion industry has definitely been the greatest challenge.
What do you love most about your job?
This is my favourite question. I love the freedom I have by doing what I love: travelling, helping people, navigating business and creating products that I truly believe will make a difference in the industry.
I love also to work on every area of the business of the business because every day I learn something new. Entrepreneurship is one of my passions, and through Castellano I can discover, broaden my horizons, meet new people, travel and also do good for my country, Colombia, and raise awareness of the lives and talents of its indigenous women.
For more information visit www.CastellanoEthnicOrigins.com