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Colombian designer Claudia Gontovnik talks sustainable fashion and female empowerment

By Cynthia Ijelman


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People |Interview

Image: @annie_ramone

Colombian sociologist, designer and multidisciplinary artist, Claudia Gontovnik dedicates her work to fair and sustainable fashion. Born in the city of Barranquilla, she is now based in Miami, United States, where she creates unique garments that each hold important social commentary.

With prices sitting between 395 dollars and 1,200 dollars, the pieces are true works of art that explore themes of religious diversity, racism and sexual preferences, among others, all of which coexist harmoniously thanks to Gontovnik’s ‘sutures’.

Image: @annie_ramone

FashionUnited had the opportunity to talk to the designer about her reputation as one of the pioneers of fashion in her country, her interest in sustainability and the work she does with female head-of-households on each of her pieces.

You come from an abundant career in the world of Colombian fashion... What was it like landing in the United States?

I worked in fashion in Colombia for many years where I made a lot of costumes for theatre, television, etc. When I moved to the United States with my family I decided to close everything and start afresh. So I opened a few shops with traditional clothing lines, but I realised that this was not what I wanted to do.

I started running an online fashion magazine and after five years I made the decision to terminate it because I was working on my own and it became too much. I wanted to pause for a year and think about what I wanted to do, so I took a sabbatical.

Image: @annie_ramone

How did you become interested in creating a responsible and sustainable fashion brand?

During that year I decided that I was going to continue working on my own thing because I felt that I had a voice that needed to be heard, but I saw that everything had already been invented.

I am a feminist, so for me working with women and empowering them is very important. There was also problems within the ecosystem and the world… so I said to myself, I am going to use what has already been invented and from that I am going to work without leaving a big footprint. So in 2014, I started experimenting with what the brand is today.

Image: Claudia Gontovnik

Where did the idea of the messages displayed on garments come from?

At one point I started to think about issues like racism, social differences, contrasts in religions and the violence surrounding that, and how to suture it, similar to a hospital suture when you have an operation. I started experimenting and this idea evolved.

Image: Claudia Gontovnik

Within each of my pieces, different religions, different races, different sexual preferences, all coexist happily in one place. That is the idea of each garment. Each one is unique.

How do you make the pieces?

These items that can take a long time. The first one I made took me about a week. I started looking for embroiderers in Colombia and I came across a group of mothers, who are considered the heads of families, who do this type of work in the city of Medellín. When I met them I showed them what I needed and since then we have been working together. It can take me up to three months to design a piece. It is important for me to find the perfect spot and to find right meaning for me.

Where do the garments you recycle come from?

What I use as raw materials I buy in second-hand shops or vintage stores. Everything is used and washed so that it can be reused. All the details are cut out. I also cut out words because I like to be able to say things. Nothing is used carelessly.

Image: Claudia Gontovnik

Who are your customers?

Many of my garments are unisex, so I have both men and women as clients. These are people from Colombia, the United States and Europe.

Where do you sell?

I sell online and in a multi-brand shop in Miami. I don’t have enough inventory to be able to sell in more places and I manage everything myself.

Image: Claudia Gontovnik

What is in store for the future of your brand?

In New York I was offered a huge project but I didn’t want to do it. I have already done something huge, and I prefer to keep going with what I have. I would like people to know a bit more about this current project because it has a lot of beautiful work behind it.

This article has been edited by Rachel Douglass.

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