Alejandro Pe (@esemismoale)

CultureFashionWe See You

#afropunkweseeyou: carolin williams is spinning gold

May 6, 2019
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As an artist and activist, fashion is a commanding piece of my everyday life. It offers a physical space to express my own personal style and can be a political statement in a world riddled with arbitrary rules about who can wear what and why. Rules that often discriminate against people “othered” by categories of race, gender, class, size and more.

This spring I spent some time in the caribbean with Carolin Williams, owner of La Maleta, a socially conscious clothing brand specializing in up-cycled fashion in Santo Domingo. Throughout my travels I have found young black people, particularly women and LGBTQI+ people, to be creators of some of the world’s most innovative movements in fashion, politics and beauty. In collaboration with photographer Alejandro Pe, and with the translation work of Nikola Santiago I worked to illuminate one of those creators exclusively for AFROPUNK. I caught up with Carolin, fresh off of the success of her two day pop up shop in Zona Colonial, to discuss the importance of mindful consumption and changing beauty standards in the Dominican Republic.

For people just getting to know you, who are you? And what is La Maleta?

My name is Carolin Williams I’m 26, a style archeologist, and I’m Dominican. I run La Maleta, a second hand clothing store, whose primary focus is to raise awareness about the excessive use of clothing and the repercussions It can have at a social, economic and environmental level.

By your definition, what is a style archeologist?

For me a style archaeologist is a person who studies fashion, delves into the origin of a trend, has a connection with textures and prints and could easily recreate different styles and outfits.

What inspired you to start a fashion brand focused on reusing and up-cycling clothes/fashion?

The need to get clothes at an affordable price was the first step. As time passed by I became really passionate about it. It became an exciting experience going out and digging in big buckets for clothes, very different from a conventional store. I started documenting my time in second hands stores, and realized that the world of “fast fashion” or simply buying and selling clothes wasn’t for me. I wanted to make it a lifestyle. Knowing more about the matter and how it works gave me the power and inspiration to talk about it and raise awareness for others.

We’ve spoken previously about your frustrations with cultural norms regarding beauty in the Dominican Republic that unfairly target women of color for being themselves. In what ways does La Maleta challenge these norms?

For this, I have a very important and personal story. One day I was talking to a    

photographer about collaborating for La Maleta. I told her I wanted to be the face of my own project, to which she responded: “honestly, I don’t think that’s a good idea, there is nothing wrong with you, but your audience is ‘white jevitas’” (in the Dominican Republic, ‘white jevitas’ means young, rich white girls). From that moment on, I’ve been my own model. I organize the entirety of La Maleta’s pop-up marketplace, and openly welcome people of all shapes, colors and sizes. My way of challenging these stereotypes is personal, starting with me and delivering a message of resistance and pride to my community.

If you had unlimited power to change or re-shape the beauty/fashion industry, what would it look like?

I would definitely make the industry more human, more empathic to people’s feelings and reality. Though it sounds impossible I trust it can be done every time I see that more brands are supporting and believing in the inclusion of all beauty types.

How can people from across the world get involved in your movement for sustainable fashion and mindful consumption?

I think everyone who wants to participate needs to know, that they must start working from within. It’s important to recognize that we do not need that much to be happy. I also encourage people to support other projects that push forward the change of sustainable fashion and mindful consumption. To support my project, you can follow us on Instagram at @lamaleta209 and spread the word. I welcome you all to join the ride so we can learn together!

Photography: Alejandro Pe (@esemismoale) | Translation: Nikola Santiago (@nikolasantiago)