Daniela Castellanos is one to watch, a #Girlboss with clout, ambition and enough drive to send you wild. Two years ago she launched her label, Castellano, a brand that has such a back story that we had to spend some time with her to find out more.
Here, she talked to House of Coco about overcoming grief, travelling the world and so much more about how she came to be such a force to be reckoned with…
Tell us a bit about Castellano and your journey to getting where you are today?
Castellano is a fair trade, sustainable luxury brand that collaborates with the indigenous artisans in North Colombia to deliver a one-of-a-kind luxury product with transparency to the global market. With Castellano, I have found a way to support the ethnic communities in Colombia and seek to preserve their weaving skills and cultural heritage. Our aim is to help improve the living conditions for the traditional weavers, their families and the community, with an emphasis on clean water, electricity and education. We work directly with Wayuu women whose handmade Mochilas and bracelets are second to none.
My life experience brought me to be a social entrepreneur. My parents divorced when I was 4 years old and my father moved to America when I was 9; I had always his support from the distance. Sadly, my mother passed away when I was 18 years old and from that moment I started looking at life with another pair of eyes. I took great responsibilities from a young age. I looked after my two brothers in Colombia and managed to keep my home stable. This experience made me strong and allowed me to discover myself and re-evaluate my life. When I turned 23, I felt lost and I couldn’t find happiness in anything around myself. I decided to start CASTELLANO as a way of finding a purpose in my life. I decided to travel to the north coast of my country to find out more about how the bags were made. This desire led me to go backpacking in Colombia, my home country. I knew of the existence of Wayuu and Arhuaca tribes but was always curious about their lifestyle and their weaving process. In order to gain a better understanding, I lived with the tribes for two months to explore their story, which was my inspiration for making an ethical, sustainable and handmade collection. I also wanted to incorporate luxury into the products with the use of leather and Swarovski crystals. I found joy and pure happiness while I was drawing bags and making sketches in the desert. I was exploring the life of the indigenous women while I was visualizing Castellano as a brand that could represent tribes and make a change in society.
I launched the brand in July 2014 during my first trade show in London, Scoop in the Saatchi Gallery, and in February 2015 I launched the website and also the social side to the project.
What has been your highlight since launching the brand?
In the last two years we have grown significantly. Our hand made products are now stocked in more than 20 boutiques around the UK, with one department store in London (Bentalls-Fenwick), and three shops in the U.S. (Miami, New York City and Park City-Utah).
So far, my highlight with CASTELLANO is the manufacturing eco-system I have developed in Bogotá and La Guajira Desert. We are proud to employ more than 85 Wayuu weavers in the Guajira desert and more than 25 mothers head of families in central Colombia. We have also been able to partner with SWAROVSKI headquarters in London to receive crystals as a donation to our social project, this extra stock allow us create a limited collection with the profits going directly to our water project in Colombia.
Our social media channels have increased dramatically on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We have also launched a new Vimeo channel to have a better connection between the consumers and the manufacturers. By the end of the summer, we are launching a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.com to increase our brand awareness and follower base.
Your journey has been one of strength and you always manage to pick yourself and carry on. What motivates you to keep going?
The journey as a social entrepreneur hasn’t been easy. I have had to learn everything from scratch and work really hard to succeed. I didn’t know anything about finance, marketing, trading, neither about the fashion industry and manufacturing processes: I found my way alone in a very tough industry. I just follow my passion and stick to my dream – even when I was feeling sad and frustrated, I knew I had to carry on.
I’ve had more challenges than I expected, it’s been really tough trying to build a new brand on my own. One challenge has been spreading the word and networking, as I’m fairly new to London. Selling wholesale to retailers has also been challenging, as I’m unable to reduce the cost significantly due to the higher-than-usual manufacturing costs, overheads and other costs that go into making handmade and fair trade products. There is still a long way to go but I am grateful to know that after a year and a half of launching Castellano my concept has worked and has raised awareness of the indigenous people of my country and their amazing craftsmanship.
Nevertheless, I have succeeded because I have a passion for what I do, without passion and belief in myself I would have never gone far. My inner drive and confidence have made me work hard and keep focused to achieve my dreams. I also love what I do, because I feel happiness in every action and decision I make for the company. Every time I travel to Colombia and spend time with the women I feel full of life. Living with the indigenous communities, understanding their life and learning about their craftsmanship is what makes me feel happy. This feeling of joy and happiness is greater than any paid job or recognition. The human story behind my products, the message we are portraying and the desire to make an impact in indigenous communities is what keeps me going.
Describe the brand in 3 words?
Quality – Craftsmanship – Heritage.
Fast fashion has become a hot topic right now and its not something you agree with, tell us more about your stance on this?
The purpose of my brand is not only to create a beautiful bag, or bracelet. I want people to know that behind what they are purchasing there is a story of Colombian artisans, who weave for 25 days only to elaborate one piece, and that with the art they perform and love they are able to provide for their families. Nowadays, the world needs to preserve the communities that still keep the indigenous culture of their country and struggle to maintain it.
With Castellano, I want to challenge big corporations and brands. We empower Indigenous women by enabling them to be self-sufficient and create a business for themselves, which makes us different from other brand. We asked ourselves: 1) How can we help to solve their problems through our products? 2) How can we tell their story to the world while showing the beautiful side of their craftsmanship? 3) How can we make consumers aware of the issues?
Through my example (and success I hope) I want to challenge big corporations to do more for the communities with which they work. My project is a clear representation of the millennial generation. My greatest satisfaction is to make people aware of the human face that lies behind the products that they buy in their everyday life, and to realise the social impact that one product, purchase or brand can achieve in communities that lack water and electricity. I hope that one day the fashion industry will be more focused on brands representing handmade indigenous work, conserving artisanal fabrics and recognising fair prices.
You champion sustainability, tells us more…
Our ultimate goal in promoting a sustainable and ethical brand is to gain the trust and respect of people everywhere, just as I have done with the local tribes and communities in Colombia. We want the consumer to believe, not only in our mission and in us, but also in the power of the fashion industry to make a change and impact in the world.
We are lucky to live in a time when, thanks to technology, we can easily communicate our beliefs. I believe the fashion industry has the power to touch your heart and connect you to a far-away corner of the world, and is able to do that while helping others to have better life conditions and understanding social issues like lack of clean water, education, electricity and food. If you can solve problems with a product and make the consumer aware of these social issues, you are way ahead of the majority of entrepreneurs. If you take action and try to solve social problems with an authentic and unique consumer product you are making a social impact in the world. I support the craftsmanship of the indigenous communities in the world because I believe in brand that could ultimately become a modern method of cultural and traditional preservation, and at the same empower indigenous Colombian women with one stitch at a time.
We have spent time living with the Wayuu and Arhuaca women and communities, in their precarious conditions to understand how they live, why they weave bags, and what are the main social issues they face daily. We want to connect two worlds – the indigenous, native world (origins and culture, traditional handmade items) and the world of luxury fashion (wealthy, high-end consumer fashion). We also want to show the humanity behind each piece of art. We want to be game-changers. We want to be a brand that respects human dignity. We want to disrupt the status quo of high-end fast fashion. We believe in cooperating and collaborating with other brands, projects or ideas in order to create a sustainable community where we can all eventually win.
Tell us about your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is conscious consumer, he is aware of the production chain in the fashion industry. Our customer invests in our products because he is supporting fine craftsmanship, culture, heritage and tradition. Our customer wants to contribute to the world and make a more fair and equal society.
On the other hand our customer has an open and international perspective of the word — he has an eye for detail; he buys quality, not trends. There is a special component to our bags and bracelets: the tribal and geometrical patterns are timeless and could be worn during any time in history, as they preserve our heritage and origins. Our customer is aware of it and will keep our product on his ware drove for many years to come.
Who is involved in the brand?
My father has always supported me and helped me in every venture or idea I’ve taken in my life. He is my biggest support, as well as all the people that surround me; like my brothers who support me form the distance. My mentor here in London is always ready to advise me, when I’m overwhelmed with the pressure of sales and the everyday problems of a business. I also have a team of one full time person in Colombia, one beard advisor in NYC, one part time in London and 2 full interns in London who are helping me this summer.
Tell us what a typical day in your life looks like?
I am an early bird. In week days I wake up at 6 am, then I exercise ( I do a routine of Ashtanga yoga or run 5k). After I work on Castellano all day, work with my team and attend to meetings. I am always extremely busy. At night I put time aside for my personal life, it means attending to boxing classes, reading/listening to my books/audiobooks/ favorite podcast, spending time with friends or catching up with my father and brothers via face time.
Who/what inspires you?
My inspiration comes from the human stories of the indigenous women, the tribal patters and their culture. When I am taking adventures, travelling and discovering the craftsmanship process I fell inspired, I fee free, all my creativity comes into place. My inquisitive mind and eager for knowledge are my best asset, this allows me to feel inspired and to create products with a positive impact.
Are there any sources you go for support with running your business?
Yes, In February 2015 I started a mentoring program with the Princes Trust organization in London. They helped me to organize my business plan a finances, then in December 2015 I pitch my business to a panel and got a small loan of £3000 which I invested on my last trip to Colombia In January this year. Other than this help I have been surviving from the business. This September I am planning to launch a kickstarter campaign (crowd funding) to raise at least £50 K. For this project I will need lot of support.
What are your plans for the brand in 2016?
Since March 2016, we are taking a percentage of each bracelet and bag we sell to fill water tanks and distribute around 10.000 litres to vulnerable communities in La Guajira, Colombia. We aim to do this once a month and benefit more than 200 families in the Guajira Desert. We also provide food and clothes to vulnerable indigenous communities in North Colombia. Most of all, we want to keep working to demonstrate the world of fashion that we can design luxurious and innovative products that are still 100% crafted by hand, enhancing and celebrating traditions, while helping today’s communities.
Did you always know that one day you would be a #Girlboss?
I don’t think so. What I have always knew is that I wanted to be successful in any venture, project or idea I would create. I knew that I wanted to be independent, own my own business and create a brand that can give me happens and fulfil my passion. With this on mind I developed an entrepreneurial spirit since a really young age. I used to sell home backed cookies at school at age 8 then I was selling gummy bears and neon Markers
If there’s one #Girlboss activity you could get better at, what would it be?
Definitely being more patience and being less perfectionist. Control my impulses and saying “NO” more often to activities that are not my priority or diverging me from being focus on my current goals.
For people aspiring to run their own company, what advice would you give?
I will tell them to be patience, not to run before they can walk, to ask for advice and to work as hard as they can to achieve their goals. Also to stay 100% focus and to believe in their idea, if they are not confident enough to sell what they have created no one will buy or believe on what they are trying to sell or create. I have had so many drawbacks, hard days and frustrations but what keep me on the race is that inner force/fire and the strength on which I was born. If you don’t have that inner fire inside you it is very hard to succeed, no matter how much funding or how many people are in your team, you need to aware that you are your best asset and best champion.
And a piece of advice is “treat others as you want to be treated”, “Be humble but always know your values, your rules and that you are in control of your own life”