Lisbeth Carolina Arias isn’t your average aspiring fashion designer. She’s not interested in glamorous runways or in eccentric attire that is impossible to wear. You won’t find the 25-year-old high-tailing it for hot, in-demand, designers on the streets of New York City or Italy. That’s because she’s already done all that. She’s interned for the likes of Vera Wang in Manhattan, and learned about Italian custom clothing from the makers themselves. Arias is interested in much more than the superficial aspects of fashion. She cares about the story behind the fabrics and the people who make them.
Originally from El Salvador, Arias, developed an admiration for fashion thanks to her seamstress mother.
This interest in fashion turned into a career move for Arias. During her design studies at North Carolina State University, in 2012, Arias interned in Central America.
“I worked alongside local artisans in Guatemala,” Arias said in an interview with mitú. “I met the women that made all of this.” It was there that Arias decided she wanted to construct a line that featured their authentic designs with modern wear.
This year Arias launched Descalza, a Latino-inspired fashion line, that blends authentic textiles from El Salvador with her contemporary designs.
“I saw a part of me in those textiles,” Arias told mitú. “I knew I wanted to work with them.” Arias says that she was able to learn from these artisans as well as teach them some fundamentals of design.
“They would do simple repetitive patterns,” Arias says, and adds that she wanted to build a collaborative working relationship with the artisans in El Salvador. Arias decided to use what she had learned in Italy and apply it to the passion she has for her culture.
“When you wear something, you want that to express who you are without having to say anything,” Arias says.
“In Italy people pay a lot of money for custom-made clothing because they can wear it forever,” Arias says. “They enjoy the quality of it. All of this was mixing in my head.” With this, Arias returned to hometown in Raleigh, North Carolina and started her business.
“In North Carolina you don’t see many people like you,” Arias tells mitú. “And when you do meet them, you see they are breaking boundaries.” After this experience, Arias realized that she’d start Descalza.
Arias works with a couple of cooperatives in El Salvador that are Fair Trade certified.
One of the fair trade cooperatives is called Diconte Axul from El Salvador, and the other is Colores del Pueblo from Guatemala. Both places represent Fair Trade artisan workers.
According to the Fair Trade product site a Fair Trade product means: “Our rigorous social, environmental and economic standards work to promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses. When you choose products with the Fair Trade label, your day-to-day purchases can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives.”
Despite Arias’s cooperation to work fairly with artisans, some are calling her company out.
This whole racist "Descalza"kickstarter is exactly why Mayan women want their intellectual property back. pic.twitter.com/qtNxwUP5oc
— Daniel Alvarenga (@_danalvarenga) August 23, 2017
“[Protecting Mayan workers] is a really good fight to have,” Arias says in response to the backlash. “But they picked the wrong person. I’m not against that fight. I am on their team. I am really proud to see people are asking these questions and want people to get treated fairly. I just wish these people knew my whole story. The video really highlights the artisans. Even the name Descalza goes back to these people. I am upset [about the negative comments] because my whole mission is to work with them.”
She adds that while other fashion lines, whom feature textile prints from indigenous people, claim they are helping local artisans, Arias says her approach is different.
“I am not helping them because I am not above them,” Arias tells mitú.. “We are working together side-by-side at the same level, collaborators. 25% of whatever we make for each item goes directly to the workers.”
Arias released this video to tell the story of Descalza and raise funds for her company.
Arias is hoping to raise $20,000 for her fashion line. She’s raised more than $8,000 already. You can check out her Kickstarter for more information..
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