Image courtesy Araceli Graham
Interview

Araceli Graham

04.28.16

Retail platforms for new and emerging designers are few and far between. Especially those focusing on a specific region of the world highlighting local designers. Araceli Graham identified this void and created Cooperativa Shop, with editorial guidance from Karla Martinez de Salas, and other guest editors, their multi-cultural approach has introduced many lesser known ready-to-wear and accessories designers based in Mexico City and Colombia to a broader market. The site fuses together traditional Latin American signatures of tapestry and embroidery with more modern design elements and the result is a well curated shop of sophisticated talent.

Interview

Tell us about your decision to launch an online shop focusing only on Latin American designers?

I’m from Mexico City and have always been involved with creative people there: from jewelry designers to fashion and handbag designers, architects, interior designers, and more.

About five years ago, I noticed a serious creative movement happening in Mexico and attended many pop-up shops, art shows, and collective projects that my friends were participating in. Not only was it an experience that made me feel proud of their accomplishments, but it also influenced me to do the same here in the United States. I launched Cooperativa Shop as a place for emerging, unknown, and truly talented Latin American designers to transmit this creative, more refined and cosmopolitan side of our Latin American culture.

Were there obstacles to getting support from designers or investors?

I’ve never felt a lack of support from my investors or designers. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced is in the positioning: how to build a platform that translates within the U.S. market while not losing the cultural elements that are so proudly represented by each designer.

There is a lot of news about American designers working with artisans in Latin America, why do you think the support for Latin American designers is less known?

Many Americans tend to identify our Latin American culture with the obvious stereotypes like ponchos, sombreros, Cartagena, or 5 de Mayo, but there’s a whole other side to our culture that is often overlooked – a more refined and cosmopolitan culture. Our mission at Cooperativa is to transmit this side of our culture by creating a platform for our designers to tell their stories and sell their collections.

What do you think can be/should be done about this?

Getting recognized as an emerging designer, especially in the U.S., has become more and more challenging over the years and though many Latin American designers find their own ways of getting recognized here, most end up belonging to one boutique among a million other ones. Designers on Cooperativa are more than just a brand or a label – they have a face, a story, and unique personalities to complement what they have to offer. There isn’t any other website that offers what we do.

What is your background?

Before learning the tricks of the trade of introducing new and emerging designers to the United States, I held executive positions at
GlaxoSmithKline, Pegaso, and Coca Cola, which helped me gain a deeper sense of the corporate world. Since moving to the U.S. 12 years ago, I’ve introduced and helped establish jewelry designer, Olga Prieto from Mexico to the U.S. and collaborated with Carla Forte and Mario Bucellati to introduce their collection, Predilleto, to the American market.

Have you always been interested in fashion?

I was fortunate to work with Olga Prieto and Predilleto, to generate insight to all sides of their business – from design and production to sales and development.

How did you meet Karla Martinez de Salas?

Karla and I have many mutual friends, but when I started working on the launch of Cooperativa, we were formally introduced in New York and connected instantly. Karla was thrilled about the concept of the site – she really understands our messaging and the exclusivity of the collections we represent.

What is her role with Cooperativa?

Karla is our Editor at Large. In addition to selecting her “picks”, she helps us select designers and what pieces to carry on Cooperativa. She also oversees the styling for our photoshoots – something she has an enormous talent for.

How are you sourcing your designers?

We have met designers through designers but also through personal contacts (for example I found out about Takeda through the production manager at Vogue LATINOAMERICA and about a few others through Gloria Saldarriaga). I also visit Mexico and Colombia every month to scout for talent.

Do you have plans to open a brick and mortar?

For now, our focus is to highlight our designers through our website, social media, and occasional pop-up shops.

How do you see the site evolving in the next few years?

My goal for Cooperativa is broken down in three stages: the first consists of clothing and accessories, the second of home décor and emerging art, and the last stage consists of furniture.

For those who don’t know, who are some of the most exciting Latin American emerging designers you are excited about?

There’s a strong use of artisanal techniques these designers use in their designs, which range from contemporary to one-of-a-kind, variety, handcrafted, emerging and sophisticated — each designer showcases their culture and history in their craft. For example, Adriana Santacruz from Pasto, Colombia is renowned for integrating artisanal approaches in her ponchos by using vibrant fabrics and traditional Southern-Colombian forms of weaving.

Mexican designer, Jose Alfredo Silva of Trista relies on high quality fabrics like silk organza to create his pieces – from tailored silhouettes to flowy dresses. Inspired by architectural structures and watercolor graphics, his unique technique of hand-embroidery and appliqué is what sets him apart and allows him to create simple, significant collections that speak to contemporary women.

High-fashion Colombian designer, Olga Piedrahita, discovered her treasured technique of working with wrinkled and pleated fabrics completely by accident and has received an enormous amount of attention throughout Colombia since establishing her brand. With inspirations that range from the Amazonian jungle to the works of Gustav Klimt, she continuously reinvents herself by discovering the beauty in imperfection and describing those findings through her collection. Her store in Bogota comes
with a mind of its own – the floors and the walls resemble the prints she finds influence from, her pieces are scattered throughout — uniquely paired with the theme of each room, and nature surrounds it all from the inside and out.

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