You know the designer Johanna Ortiz by now, right? She’s the Colombian designer who seemed to burst into the American fashion scene in 2015 with her off-the-shoulder shirting and architectural skirts. Here’s the thing: Ortiz launched in 2001. Colombia knew about her for a while. But it wasn’t until two cousins — Giovanna Campagna and Cloclo Echavarria — started a company with the intent of bringing Latin American designers to the United States that Ortiz’s name began to circulate among the US editors.
Today, Echavarria and Campagna’s business, CREO Consulting, represents 9 designers total. Each one is dedicated to a particular craft, each one tells a different story about its country. Below, a Q & A with the two women who are just getting started making their designer introductions.
How did you two decide to start CREO Consulting?
Giovanna: It all happened very organically. We realized there was a hole in the market; we already knew of a lot of talent in the Colombian market, but they were just in need of the right support system. In most cases, designers approached us for representation. When we hosted our first showroom in New York for Fall/Winter 2015, we called everyone we knew in the industry — friends, past co-workers, etc. Luckily, everyone was so supportive.
A few of your brands have familial ties. Was this part of the intent when starting CREO?
Cloclo: We come from a family that is very big, very united and very entrepreneurial. (We are just 2 of about 40 cousins!) Many of our cousins have their own brands already, so when we launched CREO it seemed only natural that we would work with them. We are related to three of the designers that we currently represent: Danielle Corona of Hunting Season, Yasmin Sabet of Mola Sasa and Lucia Echavarria of Magnetic Midnight. It was never intended to be such a family business, but it evolved into one.
Tell me about the diverse background of your brands. Why is it important to bring these Latin American designers to the US media and markets?
Giovanna: Originally, all of our brands had some kind of a link to Colombia. Our family has a long tradition of giving back to our country, which is why it is so important to us to do the same by supporting Colombian fashion.
We recently started working with some exciting designers from other Latin American countries, too. Gabriela Goldbaum, the designer of Valdez, is from Ecuador. Valdez is a line of luxury, hand-made Panama hats with an inspiring social aspect: Gabriela has created workshops in Ecuador where she trains and then employs local women to craft her designs. (Valdez recently launched with Colette in Paris and will soon be releasing designs for Theory, which is super exciting.)
There are so many talented designers who don’t receive the attention they deserve, or who lack access to the global market. We felt we could become a sort of bridge between the Latin American and the international fashion industries. It was also very helpful that at the moment of our launch, Colombia was in an exciting moment of growth, not only in fashion, but also in art, film and hospitality.
Each of your brands have elements of design and handiwork that are part of their culture — how does this help to make your collection of designers unique?
Cloclo: Latin America is such a melting pot of cultures, which means there are many amazing artisanal crafts that our designers learn from and incorporate into their work.
While this definitely makes them unique, we try to avoid pigeon-holing our Latin American brands as simply artisanal and not on the same level as high fashion. We make a point to select brands that can compete on the international level, so any element of artisanal craftsmanship is very refined in their work.
What we love about the incorporation of our brands’ artisanal elements is that it truly does help preserve these techniques by providing employment to the artisans that have mastered them. Mallarino, for example, is a jewelry brand by Lucia and Isabella Bueno, two sisters from Cali, Colombia who specialize in filigree. Each creation is made by Colombian artisans who have mastered the craft over generations.
What’s the hardest part about starting your own company from scratch?
Cloclo: Making sure everything is legal!
Giovanna: Being your own accountant.
What’s the best part?
Cloclo: Working with my family.
Giovanna: Same — working with my amazing cousins!
What were you surprised by?
Cloclo: How nice and supportive people in the fashion industry are.
Giovanna: Retail markups! They’re usually arbitrarily high, which is why I love working with brands of quality that you can appreciate.
What have you learned?
Cloclo: That even in creative industries the red tape and paperwork is so important so learn that first.
Giovanna: Nothing is more important than personal relationships. It’s a very small world — particularly in fashion.
Advice to anyone who wants to start their own company?
Cloclo: Don’t think about it too much, just do it.
Giovanna: The harder you work, the luckier you get.
Psst! Click through the slideshow above to learn more about each of the CREO consulting brands: Carmelinas shoes, Mola Sasa, Hunting Season, Pepa Pombo, Piamita, Magnetic Midnight, Mallarino, Mercedes Salazar and Valdez.