Homegrown fashion industry bursts onto scene in Cuba
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
HAVANA (AP) — Like so much else in Cuba, shopping for clothes isn’t easy.
Buying a simple pair of socks or a T-shirt means choosing between the
wildly overpriced, shoddy offerings of state-run stores and the bales of
low-priced clothing illegally imported by “mules” traveling from the
United States, Ecuador or Panama.
This year, a third option is bursting onto the scene after years of
growing quietly in backroom workshops and bedroom studios. A small
homegrown fashion industry is winning renown and an increasing share of
Cubans’ limited clothing budget with simple but fun-and-stylish clothing
produced on the island with natural fabrics and sold at competitive prices.
Hundreds of private designers are turning out gauzy wedding dresses,
brilliantly decorated bathing suits, linen pants and even uniforms for
state businesses. Last week, dozens of designers displayed their wares
at the five-day Havana Fashion Week at Cuba’s most elegant theaters,
where hundreds turned out for runway shows, private fittings and
“The changes that have taken place in this country, the openings, make
things easier,” said Jesus Frias, a designer who put on a swimwear
runway show on Friday. “There’s a fashion renaissance in Cuba but it
can’t be a priority for the state, so it’s we private designers who are
bringing it back.”
The growth of the artisanal fashion industry comes thanks to free-market
reforms put in place by President Raul Castro after he took power in
2008. Unlike some new private businesses, the fashion industry is
receiving a relatively warm welcome from the communist bureaucracy,
perhaps because it doesn’t directly compete with the state. After
successful runs in the first decades of Cuba’s socialist revolution,
state-run clothing businesses were hurt by the collapse of the Soviet
Union and had largely disappeared by the mid-1990s.
Celebrities and fashionistas have made Havana a hot destination over the
last two years amid a boom in tourism set off by detente with the United
States. In May, French label Chanel took over Havana’s Prado boulevard
for a runway show that garnered global attention, and anger among many
Cubans for its privatization of one of the main thoroughfares in the
capital of a country that has declared socialist equality as its guiding
Privately designed clothes remain out of reach for Cubans on state
salaries of about $30 a month, but those with private-sector jobs or
help from family overseas can afford them. Mario Freixas, a well-known
designer who dresses many of the stars of state-run television, sells
shirts for $20 and men’s and women’s pants for $30.
Alongside the domestic market, Cuba’s own designers are hoping that
their lightweight blouses and fringed swimsuits will become popular
items for visitors to take home.
“We all have high hopes for the tourism boom,” Frias said. “I don’t
think anyone comes to Cuba to buy imported clothing.”
Havana Fashion Week began in 2015 with 30 designers, organizer Catherine
Dorticos said. This year’s edition had twice as many.
“It’s a way to motivate people, for people to see other options and for
artisans to produce more and feel inspired to do new things,” she said.