Written by Julie Watterson
Lisbeth Carolina Arias realized a dream Aug. 26 when she held a launch celebration for her clothing line, Descalza, at NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles. She started the line as an undergraduate and took it with her post graduation in hopes of building her own business.
Descalza embodies Arias’ Latino heritage and the magic she found as her mother taught her to sew. The line provides fashion forward pieces for consumers who embrace a cultural and community driven brand.
Arias was a part of the first graduating class of Fashion and Textile Design (FTD) majors. The idea of Descalza began as a senior collection show known as Mezcla. The skirts, ties and neck scarves were created as a modern clothing line with handcrafted artisan fabric sourced directly from Latin America.
Arias and her mother immigrated to the United States from El Salvador when she was 2. She was raised in Sanford, N.C., and was mentored through the Scholars Latino Initiative Program at UNC Chapel Hill during high school. Upon applying to NC State, she was selected as a Caldwell Fellow.
Many prospective students find out about the Wilson College of Textiles through recruiters that visit high schools. For Arias, it was that exact same scenario. “I chose to go to NC State because a representative from the Wilson College of Textiles came to my chemistry class in high school. He handed out a pamphlet about the college and I saw a picture of girls sewing and working on a mannequin. When I saw that picture I thought of my apparel classes and how those were my favorite! That day I decided I wanted to go to NC State so I could sew and make just like the girls in the pamphlet,” said Arias.
Her family’s background with textiles may have also given her inspiration to enter the textile industry. “Since we arrived in Sanford my mom has always worked in textile industries as a seamstress. I became in love with it too when I was 11 and began to learn how to sew. I was drawn to to the unknown and the mysterious,” said Arias. She describes sewing as a magical art. “The fact that I could make something from 2D into 3D and my friends would have no idea how! It felt like knowing how to do magic. What made it much better was that my mom knew how to do everything! She would teach me magic. It was a skill that connected us both,” said Arias.
Upon entering the Wilson College of Textiles,, she discovered the FTD program, the major she would eventually stick with. “When I arrived to NC State I was majoring in Fashion and Textile Management. I spoke with Liz Moran and she highly recommended me to apply to the FTD program. I was nervous since I assumed all designers knew how to draw and knew everything about the design process. With support from Liz, family, and friends I applied and got accepted! It was at our first year studio that I found out that everyone was nervous and none of us had it all figured out,” said Arias.
While at NC State Arias also enjoyed her time outside of the classroom with Mi Familia, a latino organization, and the Caldwell Fellows. “Mi Fam and I go way back to my freshman year. That’s where I met incredible students who had a very similar upbringing to mine. It’s where I met my mentors, roommates, my best friends and my NC State family. I became more involved with Mi Familia and the other latino orgs. I also loved teaching and sharing my culture with others,” said Arias.
The Caldwell Fellow community helped Arias see how her dreams may coincide with her education. “When I was a freshman I met so many older Caldwells who were intermingling their passion projects with their majors. Having friends and mentors who weren’t afraid to think big was definitely contagious and it gave me the right push to be ambitious,” said Arias.
By her senior year she was the director of Sube Ritmo Latin Dance Team, the NC State Representative for UNIDOS (a latino org between NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Duke), and president of Mi Familia. “Now as an alumna, I’m still connected to Mi Fam and the executive board. They volunteered their Saturday afternoon to Descalza when we had the launch celebration,” said Arias.
Her professional experiences also contributed to the idea of her clothing line. “I think all the internships have added something special to Descalza. The one that added the most was my first internship with Maya Traditions in Panajachel, Guatemala after my sophomore year,” she said. “At that time they didn’t have anything set for FTD majors, so we created something together! This internship was the first time I was exposed to the textiles I work with today. The women were incredibly talented and so humble. Their work, who they are, and what they were doing resonated with me. Being Salvadoran, I felt connected with these textiles. I knew I was going to come back to those textiles somehow,” explained Arias.
She traveled to Italy and New York City for further experience. “The other internship was in Florence, Italy called Amo Romeo. There I learned the value of quality and the appreciation people have when clothes are well made. The last internship I had was in New York City at Vera Wang my last summer before graduation. Post graduation I worked for several start-ups. The lifestyle up there was difficult while putting so much time and energy into someone else’s dream. New York City gave me the push I needed to feel confident in chasing my own dreams,” said Arias.
When creating Descalza, Arias has worked to help keep most all of her supply chain within the state. “When I first started researching cut and sew manufacturers, I knew I wanted to stay in the U.S. It was a good surprise when I discovered facilities in North Carolina that were a few driving hours from Raleigh. When I met them it was even better! The manufacturers I work with (Opportunity Threads and Brown & Church Neckwear) have values that align with Descalza,” said Arias.
All of the Descalza products will be North Carolina made and the fair-trade fabric will be sourced directly from Diconte Axul, an artisan cooperative in El Salvador, and from Colores Del Pueblo, a textile group in Guatemala. “Right now I am sourcing fabrics from Guatemala and El Salvador since that’s where I have my connections, but the goal is to work with artisans from all Latin America. The hardest part has been finding them since they don’t always have an online presence. That’s why for me to build connections with other artisans I’ll need to travel to the countries and create strong relationships with them,” explained Arias.
In mid-September, Arias reached her Kickstarter goal of raising $20,000 to support Descalza. She credits many people for the success including the Fashion Group from the COT, Mi Familia, Kent Hester, photographer David Rashidi, the Descalza damas and models, the Descalza Kickstarter Team, and all the guests who attended.
Descalza is not just a dream clothing line for Arias, but a hope that it will be something bigger by bringing nations together. “Descalza, on its own, is bridging my two worlds. I get to travel back home and to Latin America to work with artisans and source their fabrics. Then, I get to drive around my second home, North Carolina, and make beautiful skirts and ties together,” said Arias.
Follow Descalza on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram @WearDescalza