We are dedicated partisans for American manufacturing. But our commitment isn’t predicated on a sense of national chauvinism. It’s instead a hunger for localism, a desire to purchase goods that are produced in the communities where we live, work and play.
That’s true as well for the countries we visit. While there, we seek out those enterprises trying, against the odds, to design and make clothing in a local context.
My wife and I recently took a trip to Havana, Cuba. We traveled to “Support the Cuban People”, one of twelve categories under which U.S. nationals are allowed to visit Cuba. We were intrigued by the possibility of interacting with Cuban cuentapropistas, local entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the government’s slightly more liberal attitude toward small scale private enterprise.
Those enterprises take several forms. They’re casas particulares, rooms for rent in peoples houses, many of which are now listed on Airbnb. They’re paladores, privately owned restaurants with interesting takes on local cuisine. And they’re among a collection of burgeoning shops with a commitment to local production and design.
During Cuba’s “Special Period“–the lean, desperate time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its primary Cold War benefactor–domestic manufacturing of clothing went belly up.
In recent years, however, new voices have emerged on the Cuban style scene. The first was Clandestina, a clothing shop with slick, modern, playful vibe, the kind of enterprise you might find in the hippest corners of Austin, Portland or Brooklyn. Its name, in fact, is a play on the black market clothing shops–tiendas clandestinas–that popped up in the aftermath of the Special Period.
What really caught our eye, however, was a newcomer to the Cuban fashion scene: Dador. Established in 2018, Dador is the collective brainchild of three Cuban designers: Lauren Fajardo, Ilse Antón and Raquel Janero. The shop’s aesthetic is defined by a casual elegance, evocative of its island roots. Everything is produced in its upstairs workshop.
During our visit, my wife purchased a top from Dador’s Malecon collection. It’s an exceptionally well designed piece, made out of a horizontally striped blue and cream linen, with cap sleeves and red buttons down each side. Living in the subtropics that we do, it’s an ideal additional to her spring, summer and early autumn wardrobe.
I admire Dador not only for its impeccable sense of style and its commitment to local production, but also for its perseverance in the face of daunting obstacles. Despite the slightly more favorable entrepreneurial environment in Cuba, doing business there is still notoriously difficult. Depending on the caprice of governmental authorities, private enterprise can quickly fall out of favor, resulting in a regulatory crackdown that makes private sector economic activity all but impossible.
Against these odds, Dador has emerged. If you find yourself in Havana, I strongly recommend you pay them a visit.