Interview Part 1: Carolina's Background and Ties to Latin America
(photo credits: Descalza website)
Abigail (me): In the Descalza launch video you mention how you and your family migrated from El Salvador to the US and the influence that it has had on your brand Descalza. In honor of June being Immigrant Heritage Month I wanted to ask you if you could please share a little bit about your background and how your ethnicity has played a role in your life?
Caro: Yes so my mom brought me here to the US when I was two years old from el Salvador. We crossed the border. We took a plane here to North Carolina where my father already lived and that was the beginning of us living here in the US. We ended up staying in a small town called Sanford in NC. It’s 45 minutes away from Raleigh and that’s kinda where I grew up.
I think the ties of being an immigrant didn't kick in until I was getting older and started to notice simple things like when I would go to Burger King, I was the 5-year-old ordering food for my entire family, those subtle moments that at that time I didn’t know what they meant until now that I’m older. As an immigrant my parents already did so much for me so I feel like my job as an immigrant in the US is to go to school and have an education while my parents work really hard to provide for me.
Being an immigrant comes with this feeling of being part of two worlds; as an immigrant living in the US you grow up with a world that you create here. I have my friends here. My mom, my dad and my brother live here but then my mom’s family and my dad’s family they all live in El Salvador. You grow up in this world knowing that a part of you belongs somewhere else and you’re not fully complete here. I think for me growing up and being able to go back to my country when I was sixteen years old and finally understanding and meeting that part of me really left an imprint on me. So I knew somehow that whatever I ended up doing with my life it had to serve both of my communities. So I kept thinking of ways that I could serve both communities and I even thought about joining the Peace Corps and go to El Salvador to live there for a couple of years and do something there with non-profits.
Me: That’s a very great way to describe the feeling of being an immigrant because I can definitely relate to feeling part of two worlds. My family and I moved to the US when I was 14-years-old and I definitely feel like even though I have my life here, I consider NC my home, I still feel like part of me is not complete unless I go to Mexico to visit my family and experience the culture. I have not been to Mexico in 5 years, which is the longest I’ve ever gone without visiting and I get super nostalgic every time I think about Mexico. So it is just like you said, we are part of two communities and it’s very important to serve both. Thank you for sharing that.
The next question is about your career. What made you choose your career as a fashion designer and what advice would you give to anybody who’s considering a degree in fashion design?
Caro: To answer your first question so my mom has been sewing all my life, she’s a seamstress. But fun fact, homegirl didn’t teach me how to sew because she was scared that I would injure myself. So I decided that I was going to go to school to learn how to sew. I took sewing classes in middle school and high school. I started when I was like 12-years-old and I thought it was the coolest thing that I could sew. I felt like I now had something in common with my mom. Throughout high school these apparel classes where the only classes where my mom could help me with my homework. She knows how to sew and this was the first time that my mom felt like she was useful. All of my other classes required her to understand English or math and my parents didn’t have an educational background. My mom only went to kindergarten and my dad only made it to second grade. So this was the first time that my mom was helping me with my homework for school.
So one day in high school I met this recruiter from NC State in one of my classes. He gave me a pamphlet and he was talking about chemistry and the college of textiles. In this pamphlet there was a picture of this girl working on a project, she was working on a dress and was sewing something on it. I asked the recruiter what she was doing and he said that she was more than likely working in her studio. I asked him what her major was and he said it was fashion textile management. That’s when I decided what I wanted to do.
I lived college two different ways; I had the service part and that’s why I was so involved in Mi Familia, Sube Ritmo, Unidos and all of this stuff because there is this tie that I have with my community. Then I have the other side which is about design, intention and creating conversations and having fashion to be that tool that creates cultural awareness. I started to scout a lot of internships in communities where I could learn more about textiles. I started to learn about the intention, the purpose and meaning that people put behind their textiles. In 2012, I went to do an internship in Guatemala, which is when I was first introduced to the textiles that I work with today. I realized that here I was in the college of textiles at NC State and the majority of people didn’t look like me. Everybody wanted to have a job in a nice corporate office or work for big brands and that’s very cool but I don’t feel like that’s me. I’m a maker, I love to make things and while in Guatemala I noticed that the women there were also makers. The love that we have for textiles is because of the craftsmanship that we have with our hands and how our hands become these instruments. So I knew then that someway or somehow I was going to come back to them and to these textiles.
It really took listening to my heart and knowing what fuels me in order to create Descalza. Which for me is this bridge that allows me to use fashion as a tool to create critical conversations that we need to have about our community and about being an immigrant.
Me: I think that your need to serve the community is very inspiring and it’s amazing how the picture of that girl sowing had such a huge influence in your life. That’s why I think that representation in the media is so important because it's really inspiring whenever we are able to relate with the images that we see. I believe that you’re making a contribution already by the way you are and by what you do and so many other people are going to be inspired by your work.
Caro: I really hope so and thank you it’s nice to hear that.
Going on to your second question about if someone wants to do fashion what would I say to them. I would say this; if you’re heart is drawing you to this and you’re ok with spending endless amount of hours sweating, tearing and going through emotional rollercoasters but still be willing to wake up the next morning and do the same exact thing then it’s for you. I would say go for it, so many people are going to try to stop you, so many of life’s circumstances are going to create this wall in front of you but you’re going to have to find a way to overcome those things.
(photo is from Descalza Collection II Fashion show taken by Abigail Diaz)
I’m still willing to wake up and do it everyday because I have people that I’ve surrounded myself with that fuel me to keep going. My family, friends, mentors, role models and just good people in general. Surrounding yourself with people who are ready to lift you up when you’re down and to celebrate with you when things are going well its extremely important in such an emotional and competitive career.
Please continue to Part 2: Carolina's Transition from College Student to Founder of Clothing Line Descalza