It's hard enough for the average designer to get his or her own fashion brand off the ground, but breaking into the international market can be even more difficult. And if that designer's home base is not considered a fashion capital by traditional gatekeepers, it can be particularly daunting to get noticed on the international stage.
Entrepreneurs Andrea Chediak and Karina Rosendo hope to remedy that geographically driven opportunity gap via Stitch Lab, a local fashion incubator that aims to support the work and talent of designers from Central and South America while providing additional resources for designers to break into wider global markets. "What we really like about the word 'incubator,'" Rosendo says, "is that it means growth, development."
Stitch Lab will host a pop-up showcase presenting the work of 20 designers this afternoon during Miami Fashion Week. In addition to offering shopping opportunities for guests, the event will also include a class hosted by celebrity makeup artist Mariela Bagnato and a panel featuring entrepreneurs and fashion influencers, such as blogger and activist Danié Gomez Ortigoza and designer Giannina Azar, who is responsible for the creations worn by Jennifer Lopez on her Vegas residency stage.
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Chediak, who is best known for her work on Univision's long-running morning show, Despierta America, believes current trends provide a unique opportunity for designers from countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala to be seen and heard. "People [nowadays], they like to buy something that they feel is one-of-a-kind or personalized instead of just buying something mass-produced." Designers chosen by Stitch Lab tend to work with artisans in their communities to create clothing, handbags, and accessories made with a custom feel. Colombia's Soles for Change — one of the brands on display at Stitch Lab's showcase this week — employs artisans who are single mothers or seniors and pays them a percentage of sales in addition to labor wages. Palma Canaria, another Colombian brand, uses natural fibers to create one-of-a-kind pieces.
Though not all of the brands in the showcase adhere to strict sustainability guidelines, Chediak and Rosendo say most of the featured brands use sustainable fabrics or production methods, hire local artisans, and pay fair wages. The founder of featured hand-fan company Solipsis, for example, considers the Salvadoran and Guatemalan artisans who construct the brand's fans to be co-designers of the pieces.
Many of Stitch Lab's featured creators are successful in their home countries, but Chediak and Rosendo say the greatest challenge in breaking beyond the regional market is that showing on international stages can be prohibitively expensive for up-and-coming designers. "We wanted to give them an affordable price and a more complete program where they could come and develop their brand," Rosendo says.
Stitch Lab Showcase. 2 p.m. Friday, June 1, at 1548 Brickell Ave., Miami; stitchlabmiami.com. Admission is free.