Colombia, Mi Amor
The spirit of Colombia is difficult, if not impossible, to reduce to an essence; it’s just something you have to experience for yourself. That said, a new crop of Colombian designers is doing a pretty darn good job of materializing the infectiously vibrant culture. Mercedes Salazar, Pepa Pombo and Mola SASA are just a few under the direction of New York-based PR firm, CREO Consulting, who are spearheading the recent obsession and bringing Latin American fashion stateside.
Founded in 2015 by cousins Giovanna Campagna and Cloclo Echavarria, CREO has played a starring role in putting Latin American fashion on the map. After years working at prestigious PR and publishing houses, both had pretty much sworn off careers in the fashion industry. When Cloclo flew down to Medellin to work on production for a Haider Ackermann project, the same event that Giovanna was covering for W Magazine, they had a vision of their future, working together and simultaneously supporting homegrown fashion. There was a tremendous amount of talent coming out of Latin America, but without the right support and network, it remained seemingly unrecognized. At their fingertips were the materials, skill and experience to bring these designers to the world stage, so they dove in headfirst and CREO Consulting was born.
Between New York, London and Colombia, the CREO girls are just as much about the international life as the jet-set clients they cater to. But their roots are deep, and at the heart of CREO is an undying support for Latin American artisans and sustaining crafts that would otherwise die out. Their reach now extends beyond Colombia to all corners of the world, from Brazil’s Isolda to Cuba’s Hunting Season, and most recently to cult Parisian boutique Colette, where they’re producing a collaboration with designer Esteban Cortazar. We caught up with the girls to get the scoop on the ups and downs of starting a business, the importance of family, and the best spots to crack open a cold one in Cartagena.
COOLS: You support many Colombian designers with familial ties. How does this tight knit community influence the way you do business?
Cloclo Echavarria: Giovanna and I grew up in an environment where our family values were intrinsically linked not only to business but social responsibility and the notion of giving back to our country and the community that surrounds us.
We, or I personally, don’t really know any other way to do business other than with family, but also with the main objective to contribute in some way to Colombia.
Giovanna Campagna: It just so happened that many of our cousins and relatives have a talent for design, and we were so proud to be able to support them. Working with family is ultimately super rewarding. Of course there are ups and downs – and lots of emotions! – but we know that at the end of the day our personal relationships are what matter most. And it’s a blessing to be able to spend your work hours with the people you love.
COOLS: How have the Latin American business and fashion industries changed with the introduction to an American market?
CE: Right now Latin American fashion, and in particular Colombian fashion, is having a big moment in the U.S. fashion industry. We see the influence everywhere!
I think this has changed the industry in Colombia because local designers now feel that they really do have a chance to make it “big” and on an international scale. I think seeing other designers from the region get into stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Net-A-Porter and into magazines like Vogue and blogs like Man Repeller allows them to dream and know that one day these dreams could come true.
GC: I think that from a brand’s perspective, one of the most appealing things about breaking into the American market is the great potential for sales. The American market is so strong and its purchasing power is something Latin American brands want to tap into. For example, one jewelry brand we took on saw a 120% increase in international sales in one year, which is amazing! The impact that it has on the growth of their business is very significant. In Colombia in particular, I think that we will see increased job creation in the fashion industry as a result of this. Many of our brands have already expanded their factories and offices since CREO started. It is great to feel like we have been a part of that.
COOLS: What has been the greatest challenge thus far in starting your own business?
CE: As a service based company, it is hard for clients to always see the value of our work.
GC: Finding a balance between managing the company’s “back office” and performing our actual work. When you start your own business, it’s not unusual to end up spending at least 50% of your time just managing the business itself!
COOLS: The greatest achievement?
CE: I think the greatest achievement is in some small way helping to put Colombia, its designers and its craft, on the international fashion map.
GC: We’ve helped prove that Colombian brands can compete with the best international names. It’s very satisfying to play a role in this moment for the country, as we definitely feel proud to be Colombian.
COOLS: There are so many shifts in the industry right now – whether it’s geared towards “fixing” the broken fashion system, see-now buy-now, and sustainability – how are you addressing these shifts?
CE: We work with all our designers in different ways. Many of our designers have a sustainable aspect, not only do they work with artisans and techniques that could be dying out otherwise, they also incorporate sustainable fabrics and materials. Some of our designers are working against mass consumerism and focusing on a more slow approach to fashion, not subjecting themselves to the fashion calendar and developing limited edition pieces and collections. The good thing about this time of uncertainty or period of shifts is that it allows room for every designer take their own approach to the industry without there necessarily being a right or wrong [way].
GC: I think it’s an exciting time and we encourage our brands to think independently and see what works best for them and for their customers. We recently took on a beautiful outerwear brand, Maison Alma, which produces limited amounts of pieces made from luxury interior fabrics. We’ve encouraged her to create only a small amount of each piece and to even work outside the standard seasons, as we think this will help her product remain fresh and exclusive.
We have also advised some of our brands to explore the see-now, buy-now methodology through direct sales. It seems like the one problem we have yet to solve is how to reconcile that with selling to key retailers. It’s something we are still figuring out… stay tuned!
COOLS: You’re based between London, New York and Colombia. How do these different places influence what you do?
CE: Each one of these places represents some thing different to me, and I think we are so lucky to be able to work between them all. I identify with each in their own way but I think it is having the access to all three, and seeing how they compare to each other that really influences me and my work rather than each separately.
This being said, we would not have CREO without Colombia being at our true core.
GC: New York has the advantage that things move very quickly, which is wonderful for our young business. Someone will connect you with an editor or a buyer, and you’ll be able to get coffee with them the next day, no problem. Also, New York tends to be a trendsetter in the industry; when something catches on in NY, it is in a sense legitimized.
London, on the other hand, is such an important entry into Europe and to the Middle East & Russia, which are huge markets. And Colombia is definitely the core of CREO. Each time we go back, be it for work or for family, something comes out of it that leads to exciting new business. It’s important to us to keep our ties there strong and to know the currents in fashion, culture, art, etc.