As I was thinking about the new concept for the blog, I really wanted to find brands that did something that was different, not your regular "minimalist who can afford bland and expensive clothes", "Coachella boho", "Namaste juicer" stuff.
One of those moments led me to Wana Bana Designs, an online store that sells accesories and clothing from Colombian designers with a fair trade story. Liliana, who runs the Wana Bana website, put me in touch with Nixa Sierra, who is one of the designers you can find in the Wana Bana platform.
Nixa Sierra makes bags and purses from vintage record covers and magazines. When I asked her where she gets the raw material for her bags, most of it is sourced from flea markets or from people who are moving and need to get rid of their vinyl collection.
The whole theme of upcycling vinyl records is fascinating for me because I still buy vinyls. I had mixed feelings when I saw that two of the bags Nixa showed me were made with a Queen and a Freddie Mercury album cover. I thought "That's so pretty!" and at the same time I flipped the bags because I just HAD TO KNOW if I would have owned that album...! I guess I'd have to get the vinyl's in twos, one to listen and another one to turn into a fashion statement!
I visited her workshop in Bogota, which technically is not her workshop, but is the workshop of a mother-daughter team who make the bags for Nixa. I had a great, long conversation with Nixa before I even got to take photos of her products.
The idea behind these bags is to stir some thoughts and get a conversation started among consumers. What would have happened to these album covers had they not been salvaged? How much stuff is currently sitting in your storage that you no longer care about? She has recently slowed down the production of her bags to focus on a more ambitious project (which I hope to share with you as soon as it is up). She has been working on a platform to showcase Colombian-made products that have ecodesign at their core. Now, eco-designed clothing and accessories is already a niche market, and narrowing that to a geographical region is even more exclusive! I am definitely looking forward to learning more about the brands that will be showcased on this platform.
Nixa is an entrepreneur and visionary - when she came up with the idea to make the bags, she focused on three things: durability, maximizing the usage of recycled material and being vegan. She knows, however, that there are things that could be done better, but it is also a question of sustainability and economics. As a business owner, there are tough decisions you need to make. Is it worth importing material that is more sustainable but potentially more expensive? Or do you start with what you've got in your backyard? We didn't go in-depth with this discussion, but these are tough issues for small fashion brands - some solutions are just not feasible at the scale you are operating in.
What I like about Nixa (which has also been covered on Wana Bana's website) is that the cost of the bags is set by the artisans. Is this a rare practice in Colombia? From my conversations, it seems to be. Sadly, squeezing manual labor is a shortcut to profit, no matter where you are in the world...
During the time I was in the workshop, I realized that this was also the home of Aida and Joanna, the mother-daughter team who make the bags. I could see that one of the doors in the back led to a bedroom. I even met Johanna's son, a shy and sweet boy who was just back from a full day at school.
The photos and footage that I got that day are not specific to Nixa's bags, they were manufacturing bags for another brand that day. Still, isn't it neat to be able to walk down the street and see people at their craft? Their workshop literally faces the street. There is only a glass display of bags separating them from the sidewalk.
I enjoyed my conversation with Nixa because she is equal parts business woman and designer. I told her about the shoes I was wearing that day, which were made in Portugal from rescued fabric. It had not crossed my mind that something like my shoes would be hard to make in Colombia because Colombians are not that wasteful, at least when it comes to clothing. It is common (and I know this from experience) to give away clothes that you don't need to family members first, and whatever doesn't fit them is given to the Church or other organization. But before you even donate, you repair and stitch the hell out of your clothes! And then, you make rags! Whatever ends up in the trash pile is not usable at all. Just to give you an example, when my 23-year old cousin died of cancer, I was 12 years old and I inherited some of her clothes (I was kinda tall for a 12 year old). Did I "need" her clothes? No. But the thought of giving them to someone outside of the family before giving them to me first would be...weird...
It would be difficult to start a business in Colombia where you use deadstock, which is more common in the US and Europe. Interesting food for thought, isn't it? Companies that use deadstock exist precisely because they operate in cultures where a fast turnover of clothes and fabric is normal. There's just SO MUCH of the GOOD stuff leftover that you can use that material to make beautiful shoes and dresses. Don't take my word for it though, I don't know the mechanics behind sourcing deadstock and, who knows, maybe if we dig deep enough into the Colombian textile industry we'd find good material that would go otherwise go to waste, but it was an interesting realization nonetheless.
Speaking of realizations, I had my little bonding moment with Nixa when we were talking about ethical and sustainable fashion and the need to diversify the offer. I think the industry is still growing, and a diversity of voices and styles is needed to make this a mainstream movement. At the end of the day, fashion is a personal choice, and if we want to get everyone on board with ethical fashion, there has to be an option for everybody. As a blogger, I am trying to create content that I would like to read, as I haven't found a blog that really speaks to me. Therefore, I was happy to hear that Nixa is working on a platform that wants to diversify the current ecodesigned fashion offers!
One of the reasons I was drawn to Wana Bana designs is that their brand and products are fun and creative. I got to know them through this pair of kickass shoes. I want to see more of this in the ethical fashion scene! I understand that having a solid foundation of basic pieces is essential, but at some point it gets boring when everyone is making basics and staples...accent pieces can also be timeless!
A big thank you to Lili, Nixa, Aida and Joanna for letting me document their craft!
For more information:
Check out Wana Bana's website, curated with Colombian-made products and follow them on Instagram.
Follow Nixa's Facebook page or Instagram account
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