I can’t recall the exact moment, but I was aware of how others perceived me from a very young age. And if you identify as Black (like I do), Asian American, Latinx, or any other marginalized identity, I’m betting that you, too, had that early consciousness. You grow up knowing and wrestling with how your own self-perception may not always align with the stereotypes around your “label.” For me, the only way I could cajole others into seeing me the way I saw myself was through style. After all, you can’t control how you come into this world, but you can pick what you wear while moving through it. And for many people from marginalized communities, fashion is a way to honor the entire diaspora of nationalities, ethnicities, and languages found across the globe.

Hemlines can tell us a lot more about heritage than we know, and fashion can be a tool for mobilizing us to speak up about xenophobia and climate change and better advocate for ourselves. Ahead, I’ve spoken with 16 Latinx fashion designers about their heritage, how their brands are redefining Latin fashion, and their hopes for the future. Their work is a reminder of the power fashion has in shaping our personal, political, and historical narratives and the full spectrum of possibilities.

Krystal Paniagua

Latinx fashion designers from around the world

PHOTO:

COURTESY OF TALIA CHETRIT FOR KRYSTAL PANIAGUA

WHO: Krystal Paniagua, Founder of Krystal Paniagua

WHERE: London, United Kingdom

How did you get into the fashion industry? And what led you to found your brand?

I began my journey in my early teens, learning how to sew and understanding design basics. Later, I decided to pursue an education in fashion design and studied in multiple universities in cities. I first got into the industry at the start of the pandemic, which pushed me to do my own thing. I had the chance to deeply think about what I wanted to do with my life and how I wanted to live it. It was a vital moment of understanding my priorities and what I wanted to communicate to the world as a fashion designer.

What makes your brand special? What can shoppers expect from your collections?

Our brand is unique because the garments are made from a yarn of natural fibers and are all made in-house by a community of like-minded people. Our knitwear uses a unique technique that doesn’t require cutting, making the process free from textile waste. Also, the garments are meant to be interpreted by the wearer; it’s up to them to style them how they best see fit.

What do you envision next for the future of fashion? What does a more inclusive industry look like in your eyes?

I envision a new wave of established designers representing their beliefs and modern vision in fashion, especially in what happens behind the scenes. I envision a democratic approach in design while keeping a sincerity that is personal to each designer. For me, an inclusive industry recognizes talent beyond privilege, for designers to make a living out of their practice and be offered equal opportunities to present their work and find the appropriate success.

How has your identity informed your approach to style? How does your heritage play a role in your creative process?

My identity is truly a mix of all the cultures and places I have been part of. I was raised by Puerto Rican military parents and was born in Germany.  I’ve lived in Texas, Puerto Rico, New York City, Milan, and London. And while my identity as a Puerto Rican has shaped my perspective, I am also shaped by the experiences that I have had while living in different places and interacting with people from different cultures.

I want to represent who I am as a designer and my Puerto Rican identity through my work. However, I also want to communicate the diversity of my identity as a Latin person who has lived in places that are entirely different from where I was raised. For me, it’s all about the exchange, and I don’t want to limit my perspective to just one point of view. My work is about diversity and about the similarities we can share as citizens of the world. It’s about understanding where you come from but also where you are heading.

What do you hope to achieve with your work? What do you hope it says to the world?

I hope to portray the versatility of life—that we are shaped by many ideas and beliefs. I hope to inspire others around me to do whatever they want in life and never settle if you’re not 100% satisfied.

Santos by Mónica

Latinx fashion designers from around the world

PHOTO:

COURTESY OF ANDRES JAÑA FOR SANTOS BY MÓNICA

WHO: Mónica Santos Gil, Founder and Creative Director of Santos by Mónica

WHERE: Brooklyn, New York

How did you get into the fashion industry? And what led you to found your brand?

I’ve always had a passion for art, design, and transforming everyday objects to give them a second life. When I was 17, I moved to New York to obtain a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. While in school, I had the privilege of interning for numerous luxury fashion brands, where I discovered my interest in designing accessories.

What makes your brand special? What can shoppers expect from your collections?

Each piece we produce is impeccably handcrafted using high-quality vegan materials that do not harm the environment. The cactus leather we use is long-lasting, ensuring that you will enjoy your bags for years to come. Our handbags are made-to-order in limited-batch production. As a small company, focusing on this type of manufacturing is our way to take more direct control of our inventory and reduce overproduction.

What do you envision next for the future of fashion? What does a more inclusive industry look like in your eyes?

I’ve always seen fashion as a direct reflection of how I feel, the person I am or aspire to be. In that sense, I believe it’s crucial for us designers to rethink gender designations—whether that means styling products with an all-gender focus or designing completely gender-neutral collections—and to cater to the needs of customers of all shapes and sizes. I see inclusivity as a core value that every conscious brand should incorporate into their ethos, and there’s much more that can still be done.

When it comes to racial identifiers like “Hispanic” and “Latinx,” it’s well known that these terms fail to represent the entire diaspora of nationalities, ethnicities, and languages within the umbrella terms. What do these words mean to you? Do you identify with either? What does your heritage mean to you?

I identify as Latina, Hispanic, or Puerto Rican. As a young Latina in the U.S., I’ve always considered my background as both a challenge and an opportunity. I have sought to bring about a refreshing and energetic perspective that reflects the traditions of my Puerto Rican upbringing in a new environment to create something unique and personal for me.

What do you hope to achieve with your work? What do you hope it says to the world?

My mission with Santos is to minimize the impact fashion has on the environment and educate consumers and brands alike on their contribution to waste to foster more mindful consumption. I hope to emphasize this with my work and to continue finding new ways to make sustainability a part of everything I do.