FN is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. Observed from September 15 to October 15, the occasion recognizes the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. FN invites you to follow along as we shine a light on Hispanic-American shoe designers and entrepreneurs making big waves in the fashion industry.
Collectiva founder Concepción Orvañanos always wanted to get into footwear.
So when a shoemaker won a local government-sponsored huarache-making contest in her home country of Mexico, the entrepreneur — who, along with creative director Huguette Hubard, released the brand’s first collection just a year ago — got into her car and drove four hours from Mexico City to his town of Sahuayo in Michoacán.
“I went to his house with my children, knocked on his door and stayed with him to see the whole process [of making the shoes],” Orvañanos said. “I asked him to make a few changes, to make the shoe a little more commercial without changing the look of the traditional Mexican huarache, and we came up with this.”
In just a matter of weeks, these will be the first shoes, along with one other huarache style, to debut on Collectiva’s website, which offers two carefully curated accessible luxury apparel collections. Their designs are handcrafted by a team of roughly 230 artisans — about 90% of them women — in rural communities throughout Mexico, primarily based in the states of Chiapas and Michoacán.
Orvañanos and Hubard, who are second cousins, have a lot of history in fashion artisanship: Orvañanos developed brands Yakampot and Arroz con Leche while working with local craftsmen, and Hubard’s background in design extends from Europe to the United States.
“Our idea was to take inherited techniques and elevate them through curation, reinterpreting modern silhouettes so that all the hours and skill going into these designs are properly showcased,” Hubard explained. “Our identity is getting stronger over time.”
For its recent spring ’21 line, Collectiva was inspired by what Orvañanos and Hubard called the “links between generations of women.” Orvañanos put it like this: When your grandmother was expecting your mother, her health habits — what she consumed, what she washed down — had led to the formation of eggs inside her daughter, which are the same eggs that later become you.
“I read that somewhere, and it made me feel very close to my grandmother,” she said. “I didn’t even know her, but with that link, it all made sense.”
Hubard added, “Just like our artisans learn their skills from their mothers, we believe that there’s a chain of women who have learned from each other for generations, and we wanted to celebrate that.”
Albeit in their freshman year, Collectiva already has 10 retail partners — one of them being high-end American department store Bergdorf Goodman. The retailer picked up the brand in its inaugural season after a walkthrough of its showroom, where Hubard said Bergdorf buyers “fell in love” with the collection. Collectiva also has several partners in Japan, a few in Asia, one in Europe and the rest in the U.S. and Central America.
However, its roots are still in Mexico City, where a team of 30 people from production to sampling are based. Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, Collectiva — like many fashion and footwear brands — has encountered supply chain issues and cash flow struggles, but it’s still pushing ahead with the launch of its pre-fall ’21 collection while continuing its philanthropic commitment by giving back 5% of its profits to its community of artisans.
“The system of fashion is imploding,” Hubard added. “There are so many things people are just doing as a matter of inertia. We really feel that this is a time when projects like ours have meaning. We’re creating something that is not only a beautiful product, but also preserving our culture and helping the communities that create it.”
Currently, Collectiva works with two nonprofit organizations: the Aid to Artisans in Washington, D.C. and the NGO Impacto in Mexico. The desire to give back, said Orvañanos, really stems from her father — a successful entrepreneur in Mexico, who built low-income housing for less fortunate communities back in the ’70s and ’80s.
“When I created the business, my two objectives were: First, to give back, and second, to keep the culture alive and not lose all the beautiful traditions we have,” Orvañanos explained. “There is so much that we need to show about Mexico to the world. We feel that we can be a bridge to take those treasures internationally.”