In 2015, artist collective and self-described urban fashion label Clandestina was founded in Cuba by Idania del Río and Leire Fernández. It began with four members, but today has grown to well over 30 strong, and with an emphasis on sustainability, recycling, repurposing and international expansion, Clandestina has become one of the most buzzed-about brands in recent years. The International Folk Art Market took notice.

According to del Río and Fernández, IFAM board member Peggy Gaustad
approached the label about showing at July's market. Unable to make that work, however, Clandestina agreed to return later. And so, members come to Santa Fe this week for the multi-day event Folk Art Matters: Havana Calling, which includes a presentation with the label and IFAM CEO Stuart Ashman, a pop-up sale and free screenprinting classes with Clandestina artists and independent Cuban printmaker Dairan Fernández de la Fuente of Taller de Gráfica Experimental, a traditional printmaking studio also based in Havana. Together, they'll also provide workshops at Ortiz Middle School and the New Mexico School for the Arts while they're in town.

Idania del Río (right) and Leire Fernández founded Clandestina in 2015.
Idania del Río (right) and Leire Fernández founded Clandestina in 2015.

For Clandestina, the collective and brand's very existence is a thing of beauty, a new-school testament to changing political, commercial and philosophical tides on the island nation.

"In Cuba, this is all very new—everything related to private enterprise and small business is kind of a new thing," del Río tells SFR. "Of course, something
related to fashion is even newer … the logistics were kind of exhausting, but now we have a presence in Cuba, in the US, an online store; a huge community."

New politics in Cuba aside, Clandestina isn't political itself. In fact, Fernández finds that thought funny, saying the term "political" is often foisted on Cubans who do anything and that concepts like repurposing and recycling aren't inherently political so much as they're good for the planet. They're also a necessity for Cubans, she says.

"Here in Cuba, recycling is so important," Fernández explains. "We think of ways to give new life to anything, even to a bottle of water, and we bring this philosophy: We want to create something we can link to the Cuban identity, plus we think about the ethical, social impacts of these things. We are not political, we are graphic designers; we are trying to be in the future, we're trying to build something everyone can be a part of."

This is no wasteful, fast fashion nonsense like what is commonplace in America or Britain. A recent report from Pulse of the Fashion Industry stated, for example, that 4% or 92 billion tons of the entire planet's overall waste comes from fashion waste. This makes Clandestina about as punk rock as it gets, and
plenty fashionable, too. We're talking totes, tees, shorts, accessories, bags and more, all made with reused and/or repurposed materials, but hip in appearance with impressive craftsmanship. At the end of the day, it's about the people. Take one early Clandestina project dubbed Dame tu Camiseta (literally "give me your shirt"). The collective invited participants to bring in T-shirts they already owned for custom screenprinting work that ran about a buck or two. For the Santa Fe events, attendees are encouraged to bring shirts and hoodies for free custom print jobs.

Up next, del Río and Fernández say, is a broader presence in the States. Clandestina already has customers and retailers based around the country, but del Río and Fernández say they want to get their products more places both as a bridge to and from Cuba.

"It's more than mojitos and rum and tobacco," Fernández says. "We are trying to connect people and put a light on our values and what is really cool about the Cuban people. In a way, Clandestina is really linked to the Americans. We're neighbors, there's a lot of common history."

Clandestina Presentation and Sale Event Opening:
5-7 pm Thursday Oct. 17. Free.

Pop-Up Sale:
10 am-5 pm Friday Oct. 18. Free.
IFAM Center. 620 Cerrillos Road, 992-7600