Homegrown fashion bursts onto the scene
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 funand-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-dayHavana FashionWeek at Cuba’s most elegant theaters, where hundreds turned out for runway shows, private fittings and cocktail parties.
“The changes that have taken place in this country, the openings, make things easier,’’ said Jesus Frias, a designer who put on a swimwear runwayshowonFriday. “There’s a fashion renaissance inCubabut 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 byPresident Raul Castro after he took power in 2008. Unlike some new private businesses, the fashion industry is receiving a relatively warm welcome from the bureaucracy, perhaps because it doesn’t directly compete with the state.
After successful runs in the first decades of Cuba’s socialist revolution, staterun 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 US.
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.’’