Meet Two Latinas Making Fashion Sustainable

Two Latina entrepreneurs are working to make sure that the entire lifecycle of their clothes are sustainable

The process of creating trendy, affordable, and disposable clothing comes at a huge cost to the environment. An estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is produced annually, according to the environmental news and data platform, with fast fashion responsible for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions. Fast fashion, a phrase referring to the process of creating cheap, quick-turn clothing for consumers to sample ideas from celebrity culture, isn’t meant to last. Yet the fabric fibers, including the clothing that eventually ends up in a landfill, do last and take a long time to decay. 

Two Latina fashion entrepreneurs— Cindy Castro and Dani Rodriguez— are separately paving the way for a more ethical approach to fashion that consumers can feel proud to wear. These are their stories: 

Clothing From a Human Perspective

Originally from Ecuador, Cindy Castro came to the United States to study fashion because of her immense love to play with shapes and forms and learning new cultures. Her career choice gave her insight into sample rooms —factory rooms dedicated to making samples—where she met immigrant sewers from Latin America. It was in the sample rooms where she saw the enormous amount of generated waste from fabric and excess stock. 

“The sample rooms were where I felt my community was at,” said Castro. “They were immigrants like myself and our culture, warmth and language brought us together. Meanwhile I’m a Latina designer and no one looked like me outside those rooms. Those sewers became my community and I knew I had to start a company with my community. ”

After nine years of working in the fashion industry at big brands, Castro founded Cindy Castro New York, a contemporary luxury brand focused on slow and sustainable fashion that also seeks to empower women and communities while creating timeless pieces. Her clothing is geared towards the “modern woman who wants to embrace their curves and be part of the change.”

“My customer is someone who’s not only buying with her eye, but also seeing clothing from a human perspective,” said Castro. “I have a sustainable line that’s mostly silks, linens and organic cotton, so they don’t end up in landfills. I always wondered who makes my clothing. And my mission now is to be able to share a transparent journey of my clothing from development to production. From sourcing our natural dyed certified fabrics, to the people who make them (sewers, patternmakers, photographers, models and artisans), to our ecological packaging and to our clients. There’s more information to offer consumers about the garments themselves.”

During the pandemic, part of Castro’s clothing line was made in Colombia and Mexico, where she traveled over there to make sure the working conditions were safe and provided equal pay. In 2022, Castro opened her own atelier in New York City’s Garment District where half of her clothing is currently made by Latino immigrants.

“As an immigrant myself it’s important for me to give back to the community,” said Castro. “Every collection a certain percentage of proceeds go to foundations advocating towards women’s rights. When I talk about providing safer jobs, it goes beyond providing a safe environment. It’s also making sure the sewers in the sample rooms have the ability to go see a doctor or attend their child’s event.”

Castro is one of a handful of Latina entrepreneurs who were featured at this year’s We All Grow Summit’s Latina Makers Market presented in partnership with Capital One. Created in 2016, the Latina Makers Market aims to celebrate the entrepreneurs who are helping to drive the country’s economic growth. The summit highlighted and offered Latina founders the opportunity to vend and showcase their products to summit attendees. The #WeAllGrow Summit focuses on connecting a thriving and impactful community of Latinas driven to elevate their unique power and reclaim their joy. In addition to sponsoring the summit, Capital One Business hosted a pitch competition where Latina entrepreneurs were invited to share their business pitches on video for a chance to win one of three grants. Later this fall, three finalists will be selected to share their mission, vision and their business plans for a chance to win $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000. 

“These grants could mean so much for small businesses like myself,” said Castro. “A lot of dreams and ideas die in the sample rooms because Latina entrepreneurs don’t have that financial backing.” 

Custom Jeans That Provide Self-Empowerment

Dani Rodriguez is another Latina fashion entrepreneur and #WeAllGrow Summit participant who uses sustainable means to create her clothing. Through her custom denim company Neems, Rodriguez designs jeans that use sustainable deadstock denim to fight the battle against textile waste. Her jeans are then custom made to the unique measurements of each customer for a guaranteed perfect fit. 

With a voice and opera foundation as well as a business consulting background, Rodriguez’s journey into sustainable fashion has been anything but linear. Yet it was her desire to find a pair of jeans that fit her body type that got her thinking about starting a business rooted in sustainability. Similar to Castro, Rodriguez said that her clothes are ethically handcrafted in Los Angeles by a team of fairly compensated workers.

Neems launched in March 2020, which in hindsight seemed like a fortuitous birth under tumultuous circumstances. The company had a soft launch during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone was locked down at home, which provided Rodriguez the ability to test products and find out what customers truly wanted in a pair of jeans. When a popular news network featured her product, her business took off. In a size-exclusive industry, Neems’ mission to give women and men the power of confidence is something that Rodriguez is deeply proud of. 

“The denim industry is notorious for using fit models with bodies that are representative of less than 10% of the population,” said Rodriguez. “Apple-shaped bodies, pear-shaped bodies, amongst many other body types are so underserved in the denim industry. I want our jeans to give folks of all shapes and sizes the confidence they rightfully deserve. I also want Neems to make a lasting impact in an industry where so many social and environmental issues continue to exist.”

Through the #WeAllGrow Summit, Rodriguez has been able to connect with other women who understand the Latina entrepreneurial mindset. 

“Sharing my experience with other #WeAllGrow Summit attendees has been so invaluable because everyone wants to support and uplift each other,” said Rodriguez. “Part of the reason I loved going to the #WeAllGrow Summit this year is because many of the attendees are facing similar challenges within their own ventures, so there’s a certain level of comfort and understanding between all of us. The pitch competition that Capital One hosted also helped me feel supported. That means a lot for a small business owner like myself where it can get frustrating and lonely to work alone.” 

Capital One believes in celebrating diversity and amplifying the achievements, triumphs, and contributions of underrepresented communities, including Latino and Hispanic communities. In their roles as professionals, entrepreneurs, and students, Latinas are defining themselves and paving the way for the next generation’s success and Capital One recognizes that and wants to support it. As part of our mission to Change Banking for Good, Capital One invests in communities to help create products and experiences which further the vision of a world where everyone can flourish. 

Later this fall, Capital One will continue our commitment to supporting businesses nationwide, from budding entrepreneurs and growth-stage companies to more established, high-revenue enterprises. We are proud of our partnership with the #WeAllGrow Summit as we build on our commitment to support diverse, small businesses that are the cornerstone of communities. Small businesses drive innovation for both local economies and our national economy, and employ nearly half of the country’s private workforce. 

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