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This Is Cuba's First Global Fashion Line

Shitty internet connection won't stop Clandestina from going global.

The past few years have been interesting for U.S.-Cuban relations. It seems like the island which was once forbidden for Americans, started to open up for outsiders. Chanel hosted a fashion show in the island, and reality TV personalities like the Kardashians, travelled to Cuba to smoke cigars and take questionable photos.

In Cuba, a country where everything seems like it's stuck in time, things seem to be slowly changing. The island's younger generation needs to be heard, enter: Clandestina.


It was founded in 2015 by Leire Fernandez, a Spanish advisor for UNESCO in Cuba, and Idania del Rio, a Cuban designer.


"Leire and I were working on a few projects, when Raul Castro announced the changes on the private sector in Cuba. We both saw it as an opportunity to try something new, a design business that could sell something different than Che Guevara tees. A design brand that could show a more contemporary Cuba, like the one we were living in," Idania told As/Is.

Though they now sell online too, Clandestina started as a brick and mortar store in Havana.


"We wanted a storefront because in Cuba it's hard to find places like this. We wanted to create something that the local audience could see and experience, not only the products, but the decoration and the vibe."

As for their name, Clandestina just seemed fitting for a fashion venture in a country like Cuba.


"A lot of places related with fashion in Cuba are a little clandestine, and a lot of things in general are clandestine. It's hard to find things here, so the black market is very important. Also, making fashion in a socialist country is very clandestine," Idania explained.

Since their launch, the brand has garnered media attention, and even Barack Obama's approval. When he visited Cuba in 2016, he told Idania he was interested in buying some t-shirts for Malia and Sasha. They ended up getting the ones pictured below:


But even if you have Obama as a customer, running a business in Cuba isn't easy, and the scarcity of materials in the island forces people to get creative. That's how they came up Vintrashe (vintage + trash). It consists of using whatever materials they can find and *Tyra Banks voice* ~making it fashion.~


"It's hard to get what we need, but we don't stop if there's something we can't find. When that happens we change the scope, even the product. To prevent us from depending on imports, we use everything we can find in the local market, from discarded materials, to trash. That's the core of the Vintrashe collection, which means vintage + trash. Here in Havana, it's all about diving in all of those secondhand stores (Salvation Army type, but never cool), buying piece by piece, taking them to our shop, and remaking them into tank tops, pouches, handbags, totes, shorts, etc."

Vintrashe is only available at their Havana store, but might be soon available online by May.


"Vintrashe represents around 80% of our sales, for now it's available only in Havana, but we think we can launch the collection online by May."

Though finding materials is difficult, connecting to the internet can be even more challenging. They've learned to work around it, even enjoy it, but they hope that changes soon.


"It's very challenging, sometimes it's hard to find the proper resources, or even simple things like apps to keep track of your expenses. It's even harder if you consider that most of the things entrepreneurs need today can be found online. In Cuba, it feels like we need to make everything from scratch. We need internet, the Cuban government is making efforts, but it's still slow for how fast the world moves. Our day-to-day operations are very loco, always putting out fires. I think we enjoy it, at least most of the time."

As/Is asked Idania how she felt about the fashion industry flocking to Havana to host fashion shows and shoot editorials using clothes most Cubans could never afford. Though she has nothing against being the flavor of the month, she'd like it if they'd include more Cuban designers in these initiatives.

Thomas Concordia / Getty Images

"The Chanel show in Cuba was very controversial, especially because there was so little interaction with Cuban designers.


And since there's no shortage of creativity and talent in Cuba, Idania shared some of her favorite Cuban brands and designers.


"My favorite Cuban designers are Celia Ledon, who we are working with on future collections, and Robertiko Ramos. Other designers and projects we love are: Mayelin Guevara, Fresko hecho en la Habana, El Encanto Atelier, and LaJabaCity."

Idania prefers Clandestina's classic designs.


"I love almost all of our products. The 'Actually I'm in Havana' and '99% Cuban design' t-shirts are already classics and Im really proud of that. When I see them in the street, or in people's photos, I feel something between excitement and goosebumps."

For anyone who wants to start their own fashion line, but is lacking resources, and they gave this advice: "Never give up, and forget about perfection."

Clandestina will soon launch their Vintrashe collection online, a collection in collaboration with designer Celia Ledon, and about eight new t-shirt designs.

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