Behind the Colorful Latin American Textiles of 'Descalza'

There is something very special about the vibrant hues of Latin American textiles. The colors seem to come alive and they take you back to a time when they were a fundamental part of the Mayan culture.

For the Mayans, hand woven fabrics were more than just an artistic expression, the textiles became imperative for their identity and traditions. According to historians, women's weaving skills were an important factor for prospective brides. The vibrant textiles were also used for ceremonial purposes as well as an economical status indicator.

While many of us find comfort with neutral garments, one Latina is helping us step out of our comfort zone by bringing back these textiles that are rich in history. Lisbeth Carolina Arias, a Latina from North Carolina, is launching a clothing brand, Descalza, which sources beautiful hand-woven fabrics from Latin America. 

We caught up with the Salvadorian designer to talk about her new clothing line, obstacles she faced, and much more.

 
 

Descalza is a handcrafted latino-inspired clothing line created with artisanal fabric from Latin America. This line blends modern fashion with traditional fabric that is cherished by the immigrants in the United States who want to hold on to their culture.

 

Read it all in our exclusive interview below!

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How did the idea of your brand Descalza start? 

I studied fashion & textile design here at NC State-Raleigh. Through NC state I was able to do a lot of internships and most of them were abroad, including Guatemala. It was my sophomore year when I did that internship. It was the first time I was able to see those textiles and as a Latina, I was like, “Hey, this is kind of my home. It looks like me!” They're colorful yet subtle and the women that were making them looked just like me! It was different because I was used to the design world not having a lot of Latinas. When I came to Guatemala and I saw these people weaving these amazing fabrics, it left an imprint on me. I told myself I was going to come back to those textiles. So, I continued through school, graduated in 2015, and then at that point, I still had that gut feeling that I wanted to do something on my own, to start my own business. But everyone was like, “No, you need to get design experience.” So, I headed to New York and I was there for about a year. I love the city, I love the feeling, I love the vibe, the people. The industry was different though. It was interesting because it was a place where you could be working your butt off but people didn't appreciate it. However, the one thing I did get out of NY was this validation that I was a designer. Coming from NC, which is not a big fashion design state, New York gave me the push that I needed to come back to Raleigh and to start my own clothing line.  

Last year in the summer of 2016, I came back and spoke to my professors and told them that I wanted to start my own line. I wanted to bring the textiles from Latin America and give them a more modern feel. The fabrics are sourced in Latin America but the products are being made in the U.S.

 

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How did you come up with the name “Descalza”? 

The reason I came up with “Descalza” was that when I went to Guatemala the women I got to work with most of my summer never had shoes on. I asked them why they didn't wear anything on their feet and they said that when they weave for a long time, their shoes become uncomfortable and they prefer to be descalzas.  

Your clothing line gives back to the community by sourcing fabric from Latin American. Do you think it's important for designers to also source elsewhere? 

Yeah, I think nowadays it's so tough to be original. When I was in New York, everything had been done. It’s hard to be the one-of-a-kind or exclusive. There are all of these artisans all over the world! It takes time to find them because they’re not in the capital of the country where all the tourists go – they’re usually located in small villages where you have to go out of your way to find them. However, when you do, you see all these amazing textiles and some are undiscovered. I’m not just putting together pretty patterns or colors, I’m putting things together because this is history. It's how they do it, it's how the Mayans did it.

 

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You came to the U.S. at the age of 2, what kind of adversities did you face with your mother growing up in NC?  

I never thought that my life was any different. I was always put in all the smart classes in high school. I remember if I brought a 99% home, my mom would say, “Where is that 100%?” I’m like “Ma, it’s a 99!” I grew up with a mom that knew my potential and kept pushing me towards it. That was really hard for me because I didn’t have older brothers and sisters who had gone through that experience. My parents at that time didn’t speak English and so I had to learn everything by myself. I think that was one of my biggest struggles was realizing it was so much harder for me than my classmates.  

At the time, there weren't a lot of Latinos in North Carolina. There were some at my school and they were nice, however, they made me feel like I wasn’t Latina enough. I didn’t have the Cholo pants or the weird lipstick trend that was going on. I was in the smart classes so they were like, "Oh, you're trying to be white."

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What can people expect from your line?

We're kind of doing a big introduction for anyone who doesn't know what Descalza is. Right now, people are identifying Descalza with me but for someone who is up in NY or in Cali and have no idea who I am and they can watch the video of my story and the line. I have two skirts right now - the pleated Chapinas, which is the black skirt with the purple hem for the younger crowd and then we have a skirt that is made entirely out of the woven fabric from El Salvador which is called Dama Skirt. Aside from the skirts, I have a men's tie which is made out of the woven fabric from Guatemala. It’s a sick tie, it’s a skinny tie but super funky. 

For more of Descalza check out their Kickstarter!