Natalie Arribeno, 33, was at a music concert when she spotted an indigenous woman at a booth selling guayaberas and dresses and was immediately drawn to her. She tried to engage with the artisan who seemed taken aback by her approach and Arribeno soon realized she was being used as a prop to sell an image of authenticity.
This interaction fueled the fashion designer’s desire to give artisans a platform and she founded Nubia Natalie, an activewear line inspired by authentic indigenous designs which launched September 24.
“I was determined to find ways to authentically elevate indigenous communities, celebrating their artwork and not just appropriating it,” she tells HipLatina. “I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create something balanced, a blend of the new world and the world of the indigenous”.
While working full time, Arribeno, 33, studied business and began learning from other entrepreneurs for two years before she launched the eco-friendly line. Their fabrics contain Repreve recycled performance fibers sourced by recycled water bottles and the printing process consists of waterless dye sublimation at Pop Click Design in Eagle Rock, Calif. It’s produced in small batches and cut and sewn at BB&S Cutting Services in LA.
The brand’s unique partnership with the indigenous community is made possible through its collaboration with the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts in Huejuquilla el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico. Arribeno connected with its founder, anthropologist Susana Valadez, after researching indigenous cultures in that region since her family is from Nayarit, a state that’s close to the Sierra Madre mountains region.
The Huichol Center is a haven for the local indigenous population offering educational opportunities, employment, food, clothing, and medicine.
Three Huichol-inspired designs are a part of the first collection: El Camino, the Spiritual Mirror, and Mystic available in pink, blue, and black. These designs are available with the “Lupita”racerback bra, the “Susana” leggings, and the “Valerie” string shorts, named after her late mom, Valadez and her sister, respectively.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled for this partnership with Natalie and her socially conscious activewear company. Our combined efforts will undoubtedly bring resources back to The Huichol Center. We know that Nubia Natalie’s aim is to empower our community to continue to preserve our way of life with dignity and pride for future generations,” Valadez said in a press release.
For every purchase, a portion of the proceeds go directly to The Huichol Center, specifically to support the elementary school at the center. In addition to promoting indigenous art, her vision for the clothing line goes beyond dressing women, it’s about creating bonds through storytelling.
“I had this really dreamy thought: diverse people from all walks of life casually connecting during a yoga class, complimenting each other on their ‘Susana’ leggings, discussing the unique stories and traditions associated with the prints, forming new bonds of friendship through exchange and storytelling,” she says. “All the while, putting aside personal judgments and other prejudices, in the spirit of sisterhood.”
Arribeno graduated from California State University, Los Angeles double majoring in business and fashion merchandising. During that time she interned at local fashion company Trina Turk where she was later hired as a retail buyer. She also worked for Splendid and Ella Moss before deciding to pursue establishing her own fashion line.
During that time she learned the ins and outs of fashion but also realized just how much clothing is tossed. While she admits creating fashion is counterintuitive to helping eliminate waste, she’s determined to use a different business model for sustainable fashion.
Hence the decision to produce only small batches from eco-friendly materials in local manufacturing sites. According to EcoWatch, 84 percent of discarded clothes winds up in an incinerator or landfill in the U.S.
When Arribeno learned this during a recent sustainable forum discussion, she knew being environmentally conscious would always be an integral part of her company. Though her experience began mainly on the business side of fashion, her desire to pursue her own line was partially inspired by her mom’s hustle in the clothing business.
When she was about eight, she remembers watching her in their living room reselling clothes she bought from Santee Alley in the fashion district in LA which is known for its bargain retail prices. That experience taught her about “merchandising, buying, and ‘ganas’.”
Her dad was also an entrepreneur who built his own print and mailing company. Through their examples she learned how to “pair the science and art of business and fashion.” At the core of her company is a desire to champion the artwork of indigenous artisans, specifically those whose art is appropriated without representation.
“We are building an activewear brand where women can feel confident that their purchase is making a difference by empowering other communities,”Arribeno says.
As a Latina entrepreneur, she’s also hoping to inspire and empower fellow burgeoning and aspiring entrepreneurs.
A 2017 Economic Status of Latinas report found that the number of Latino-owned businesses in California grew 111 percent since the beginning 2007. While the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report found that there are an estimated 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. Arribeno was the first in her family to earn two degrees and acknowledges that she still faced challenges breaking into the fashion industry despite her educational advantage.
“With my knowledge and experience, I now want to make room and ensure others like me know how to claim their seat at the table,” she adds.
It’s evident the company itself is an extension of what Arribeno values: family, her roots, sustainability, and community. In retrospect, she sees a part of herself in that indigenous woman from the booth recognizing that she too wasn’t telling her own story and now she credits Nubia Natalie with giving her that chance.
“I created Nubia Natalie for the next generation. Yes we are in the business of designing activewear, but mostly we are selling activewear with a social impact,” says Arribeno.