Cuba’s first independent fashion brand is coming to DC next week. Clandestina, a Havana-based line that upcycles used clothing and materials into T-shirts, totes, and accessories, will be hosting a pop-up at Dacha from June 17 to 19.
Clandestina was co-founded by the couple Leire Fernández and Idania del Río in 2015, when Raúl Castro drew back restrictions on Cuban private companies.
At the time, there was nothing like their gritty brand on the island, says Fernández. “Everything was crowded with all these cliches about Cuba” instead of focusing on the burgeoning young creative community, she says. “We wanted to encapsulate all the feeling and creativity [of Cubans] into real, usable products.”
Enter Clandestina. The group has become known for its signature “Actually, I’m in Havana” T-shirts, and many of its products aim to make a statement, like posters alluding to global warming and shirts emblazoned with “resistir, vencer”—resist, overcome.
The group is the first Cuban company to sell its products globally via the web, thanks to recent improvements in internet access on the island. As a nod to this increased connectivity, Clandestina even partnered with Google last year to launch a new collection, which debuted at a runway show in Havana.
While the term “upcycling” has become trendy in an environment increasingly obsessed with sustainability, Clandestina does it more out of necessity rather than what’s in style.
“It’s a way to do things in Cuba,” says Fernández, alluding to the lack of resources in the country. “This situation creates a really resilient population, and it’s this philosophy of recycling that’s really emblematic of Cubans—translating this idea of upcycling into design.”
The duo is currently hosting a pop-up in New York, as well, and they hope that by bringing their goods to the US, they’ll be able to spread the word about Cuba’s flourishing design community.
“Our main message is that we are there, we are struggling and enduring and creating,” says Fernández. “We are doing cool things.”
Head to the Dacha Loft on June 17 from 4 to 10 PM and June 18 and 19 from 2 to 10 PM to shop Clandestina’s collection, as well as check out Cuban art and music. Bring a T-shirt and the Clandestina crew will either screenprint a design on it or rebuild it into a new, one-of-a-kind look.
Dacha Loft; 1600 7th St. NW