Cuban fashion brand Clandestina defies embargo, communist restrictions

Cuban-Spaniard partnership succeeds with help of e-commerce, tourism


HAVANA – Idania del Rio partnered with Leire Fernandez to create Clandestina, a clothing brand that became the first on the island to launch an ecommerce site last year. The private sector entrepreneurs started with a staff of four and now hire 30 employees. 

The 37-year-old Cuban designer and Fernandez, a 43-year-old Spaniard, first opened a boutique in Old Havana, and despite the U.S. embargo they have been able to work with a company in the United States to make their designs on clandestina.co/ site available to Americans.

The U.S. apparel company manufactures and produces her designs to be sold in America. Del Rio not only battles with the U.S. embargo, she also struggles with the lack of textiles and supplies available at whole sale prices. The majority of her customers are tourists and online shoppers from the U.S. 

"It's a huge challenge to try to make our products affordable," Del Rio said. 

Del Rio was among the many young Cubans who benefited from Cuban President Raul Castro's implementation of market reforms. The flagship store in Old Havana is full of T-shirts with quirky messages and bright tropical prints. She is also known for "upcycling" second-hand fabrics.

Del Rio also designs canvas bags, hats, key chains, stickers, pillow covers and posters at her 403, Villegas store. She has dreams of developing a fashion brand that is recognized as Cuban around the world. 

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