"When a brand says cheap clothes are fairly made, they are lying to you," says founder of Casa Raki, Josefina Alazraki Theo.
While it’s not necessarily an easy statement to hear, it’s one that we’re pleased to be continuing a conversation about. As we move into an era of more conscious consumerism, brands like Casa Raki are helping to not only raise awareness and make a positive impact in the fashion landscape, but also help us to look good in the process.
The brand features classic, beautiful swimwear in block colours and classic silhouettes. Drawing on her childhood on the Uruguayan coast in Punta del Este and her long-lasting relationship with the sea, Josefina is paving a new path for the industry, with solid experience to back it up. After several years of working in the e-commerce fashion industry for both Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion.com, Josefina felt drawn to translate her knowledge and passion into a unique, sustainable luxury brand. A brand that would take her back to her roots and closer to the places she enjoys the most.
And wow, are we ever so glad she did.
You were born in Buenos Aires, Argentina - what was it like growing up there and what are your most vivid memories of your childhood?
Growing up in Buenos Aires was very special. You only realise how lucky you are to be raised in a place like this when you move away. For me, it cemented a true respect for family bonds, friendships and simple luxuries. I look back on my youth with fond nostalgia as I think of the typical Argentine Sunday rituals where everyone gathers with their families and friends to have a barbecue which we call an Asado. Sharing food amongst your family, sharing stories, sharing experiences, enjoying the sunshine but mostly enjoying each other’s company is essentially what growing up there is like. Café culture is strong in Buenos Aires, I think of days where I would meet my father for coffee at his favourite place and watch football together, spending hours at the same table just watching the world go by. I also think of my summers in Uruguay. This is the place where my love for the beach was born, and where the seed of inspiration for Casa Raki was planted.
You’ve worked for Net-A-Porter and Matches - what inspires you about these company and what did you learn about building a fashion brand?
Working for both these companies was a privilege. Since leaving I have thought a lot about how lucky I was to have the opportunity to be part of their vision and to learn from inspiring people. The learning curve was great in both places and I could gather a lot of insight on the customer perspective. You learn who these woman are, what drives them and what they are after in a garment. I learnt how important it is to pin down a good customer journey, from the early stages of what garments are made of, how they fit, to the last part of the journey where you have to think of packaging and the overall delivery experience.
Fashion is becoming more and more competitive. What inspired the launch of your swimwear brand Casa Raki and why is it unique in the market?
Fashion is changing, the customer is changing as well. 10 years ago everyone was buying quantity and trying to have as many garments as possible in order to follow the latest trends, encouraged by the rise of Instagram. I believe now the world is slowly becoming more aware of the impact that the fashion industry has on our planet and are looking to change the way they shop. It is important that brands such as Casa Raki are there to support this. Everyone is asking questions, demanding more transparency and traceability.
When I decided to launch Casa Raki, I thought about how there weren’t many brands doing sustainable luxury swimwear. With my close connection to and love of the sea I wanted to ensure my brand benefitted the ocean rather than harmed it but still stayed true to my definition of luxury. I thought of it as a challenge, to find alternative fabrics that would help the environment and change the conception the world had about recycled materials. I also wanted to bring my South American influences to this side of the world. Fit is extremely important for us, and it’s what we believe is one of the aspects that makes us unique. The Brazilian cut has been interpreted to be slightly more European friendly but it is very much present in the design.
Bikini or one-piece - what’s your favourite?
Tough one! I would probably say bikini. I grew up in bikini paradise. I love the sophistication and elegance around a swimsuit as well. But I have to say I’m a bikini girl. I know sun exposure is really bad for your health, but I grew up admiring golden skin and woman of all body shapes wearing the smallest bikinis, I always have a sort of nostalgia towards it and I rarely pick a swimsuit over a bikini.
Talk us through your approach to sustainability - how are your pieces made?
As a brand, we try to be as sustainable as possible. This means that if we have a sustainable option to go for, we will go for it. Our pieces are made in Portugal, in a small factory run by woman, they are amazingly talented and true craftsmen. We choose sustainable fabrics which cost more but for me are the only option. We use Econyl for most of our swimwear, which is a yarn made from plastic waste in our oceans. We also use a fabric made from castor bean, a renewable source. Being fully sustainable as a brand is not easy but knowing you are creating a beautiful product that is changing the perception of eco and encouraging consumers to turn away from fast fashion, it is worth it.
Advice to women out there looking to launch a fashion range?
Build a thorough business plan. This is one of the most vital things I have done and it continues to serve me well. Unfortunately, beautiful designs are not enough by themselves. A realistic plan will make you realise if there is a need for your product. If you find there is a need, then nothing should hold you back, as if it’s not you doing it, someone else will. It is scary to think about everything you need to do before launching a brand, but once you sit down and start ticking the boxes it becomes less challenging and easier to approach. Believe in yourself and your capability of doing something fabulous.
What have been some of your biggest learnings since launching Casa Raki?
The process behind the creation of a garment and the importance of fair trade. As a customer, before launching my brand I never thought about who made my clothes. I have now learned how important the whole process is, and how many people are involved down the line. We need to restore the connection to the people that made our clothes. Having distanced ourselves too much we are blindly consuming the wrong products. I learnt how hard it is to make a competitive product and be fair to all the people involved, but the important thing to note is that the right decisions are there. This also made me realise that when a brand says cheap clothes are fairly made, they are lying to you.