The Story of Clandestina, the First Cuban Fashion Brand to Sell Online

The flag of Cuba | © Marco Zanferrari/Flickr
The flag of Cuba | © Marco Zanferrari/Flickr
Photo of Jack Guy
20 February 2018

Among the crumbling buildings of Havana lies Clandestina, a boutique clothing and print shop that would fit perfectly in the hipster neighbourhoods of London or Paris. Despite coming from a country that has endured many years of oppression, the brand has made Cuban entrepreneurial history and is continuing to evolve.

Tough economic conditions drive innovation

In 2015, Clandestina’s founder Idania del Río brought together a team of artists and designers who used whatever materials they could get their hands on to make a line of products for Cubans and foreign visitors alike. The Cuban economy had been stuck in a rut, mostly due to the United States’s trade embargo, and it had been difficult to find basic materials. However, that didn’t stop del Río from following her creativity.

Clandestina heart t-shirt | © Leandro Feal

Since its inception, Clandestina has sold prints, t-shirts and bags from its boutique store on Calle Villegas in Old Havana. After becoming one of the trendiest brands on the island, the team decided to expand its operations and started selling Clandestina products online in November 2017.

Resistir, vencer | © Javier Labrador

Clandestina makes history

The occasion marked the first time that an independent Cuban brand had set up an online store. Private enterprise has only been allowed in Cuba for the past five years or so and the terms of the United States trade embargo have made it incredibly difficult for Cuban entrepreneurs to access international markets. Despite all of these difficulties, Clandestina now operates an online store selling Cuban designs manufactured in the United States. If you purchase something, you’ll be getting your hands on a piece of Cuban history (even if the garment is made in the United States).

Actually, I’m in Havana | © Javier Labrador

Is change coming to Cuba?

Even if you can get a piece of Cuba delivered to your door, you’re still much better off making the trip to the island so you can truly experience the conditions the Clandestina team is dealing with and appreciate why the brand’s story is so remarkable. For now Clandestina is the only Cuban brand selling online, but hopefully that will change with further political reform. Cuba’s current president, Raúl Castro, is due to leave office this year so there is a good chance that things will change; if they do, we’re sure to see an explosion of pent-up entrepreneurial spirit in Cuba.

Fascinating street scenes are everywhere in Havana, Cuba | © Pedro Szekely/Flickr

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