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When Samantha Tams was working as a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue Mexico, she was hounded by Latin American designers desperate to sell in the store. “The product was beautiful, but the majority of them didn’t have a structured business model in place, so I had to turn them down,” she says, regretfully. “I realized there was a need for education on key strategies in order to better prepare them for opportunities.”

Fast-forward a few years, and Tams teamed up with entrepreneur Estefania Lacayo to launch the Latin American Fashion Summit (LAFS), an annual conference and networking community that aims to bridge the gap between emerging designers and industry leaders and introduce Latin American fashion to the rest of the world on a global stage. “We noticed there was a lot of undiscovered talent in our community that needed access to resources that would allow them to grow, and a platform to allow their voices be heard,” Lacayo says.

What initially began as a 350-person summit in Mexico—promoted solely via Instagram—has since morphed into a multi-platform organization that supports brands, executives, retailers, stylists, and miscellaneous fashion insiders year-round, boasting attendance from all Latin countries and 52 percent of Hispanic people living in the States. “Our mission of being united is becoming more of a reality every day,” Lacayo adds. Here, five designers and recent attendees of this year’s LAFS—from Clarissa Egaña to Alexandre Birman—sound off on what it really means to be Latin American in fashion right now.

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Clarissa Egaña, Founder of Port de Bras

“Being a Latin American in fashion is a true privilege as we have the ability to bring our vision, tradition, and uniqueness to the world and bring hope, pride, and jobs to our home in exchange. I believe that true sustainability comes from breaking free from the traditional way of doing business and focusing more on teaching trades and searching for genuine sources of artistry, materials, and passion. That’s how we bring about change and educate through our work in pursuit of a true positive impact.”

Alexandre Birman, Designer and CEO

“Being Latin American in fashion means I have a responsibility to celebrate and educate our rich cultural influences and the talented artisans that make up who we are. I am honored to represent my Latin American heritage whenever possible to pave the way for progress among my peers. These roots offer an undeniable energy that is deeply considered when we design our collections. We want women who wear our creations to feel our Brazilian spirit with each step they take. I take pride both personally and professionally knowing that Brazil has a place on the map when it comes to luxury fashion, and am constantly working to find ways to give designers and artisans the recognition they deserve.”

Carolina Kleinman, Founder and Creative Director of Carolina K

“​​My heritage is something I carry in my heart as well as my DNA. I’ve always felt proud of my culture and try my best to convey that through my designs—it’s a powerful tool that has allowed me to stay connected with the communities we work with and give them a voice. Getting to work with artisans all around Latin America and getting to know them on a personal level makes you realize how much they devote to their craft. That empowerment and pride they feel in providing support and a better opportunity for their families comes to life in each piece and lives on through generations. That, to me, is priceless. Also, authenticity is very important—first, to help preserve heritage, because a lot of these techniques are disappearing; and second, to respect the artisans’ work and process. Being Latin American in fashion means hope: hope for more inclusivity, diversity, and community empowerment. It takes much more than a map to understand our history—one that should be celebrated and explored.”

Sofia Tcherassi, Ready-to-Wear Director of Silvia Tcherassi

“Silvia Tcherassi the brand was born in Colombia, and we are proud that our designs capture the rich history and culture of Latin America. Sometimes this approach is more evident, and sometimes it’s more subtle, but it’s always there. The most important thing to us is that our Latin fashion sense translates internationally, making something local universal, because, for us, fashion doesn’t have a nationality. For years, our headquarters have been in Miami, where the talent and hard work of Latin Americans is evident at every corner. Today, the city is a cultural capital and a key player in the fashion scene—we are proud to have been a part of that.”

María José, Designer of María José Jewelry

“My work is best known for emeralds, and I source them directly from the mines in Colombia—so everything I make has bit of the Latin spirit imprinted on it. All of my pieces are inspired by its culture and beauty and are a beautiful addition to my design process. I have found an amazing community of creatives, the highest craftsmanship, and the most detail-oriented men and women that elevate the industry.”

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