Yours Sustainably talked to fashion and jewellery designer Liz Cardenas. Yours Sustainably is the exclusive UK retailer of Liz’s stunning ‘Tawah’ jewellery collection. Liz also produces her own clothing line, which she sells through her own showroom and various outlets in Egypt.
You currently live in Cairo but tell us a bit about where you grew up
I grew up in Manta, a beach town on the Pacific Ocean in Ecuador. Growing up at the beach led me to develop my first collection of swimwear at the age of 20, there was nothing else available like it at the time and it was very successful. Manta is a harbour town so we got a lot of beautiful fabrics coming in from New York which was exciting and a great source for my creations. I went on to study fashion design in Quito, Ecuador and Florence, Italy.
What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
I always wanted to be a fashion designer and was drawn to texture, colour, pattern and shapes. I would say that my mother was an important source of inspiration. She was always perfectly dressed and would make new clothes with her tailor nearly every week. I remember playing with fabric leftovers at the tailor; I was very creative from a young age. My parents had a very social lifestyle so I was always surrounded by glamorous people.
What did you do after you finished your degree?
I had already started my own business before studying fashion, first my swimwear line and then a semi-formal cocktail dress line which I produced with local tailors in a small workshop. After university I opened my first boutique ‘Euro Trash’ in Quito in 1997. I had a business partner who would bring things from London like music, wigs etc so we offered something edgy and very different from what was available in Quito at the time. Sadly the economic crisis which happened in Ecuador in 1998 led us to close the shop in 1999.
You were named as one of the ‘Top 10 Emerging Latin Designers’ in 2000, how did that happen?
After we made the decision to close the boutique I was invited to participate in Miami Fashion Week with about 40 other emerging designers from South America. Oscar de la Renta was the main star and it was a great opportunity. I was invited again the following year in 2001, both times were a very positive experience for me; I got a lot of great press in the States and South America and was also invited to exhibit in Colombia.
After all this success what made you move to Egypt?
I really enjoyed my time in Miami, the social scene and fashion shows were a lot of fun and I had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people. However, it was very fast paced and I felt after a time it would be draining and actually have a negative effect on my creativity. On returning to Ecuador I was faced with a dilemma; to be commercially successful I would have had to compromise my style and aesthetic to conform to the conservative tastes of the majority of people there, which was something I didn’t want to do. I wanted to travel so when I was invited to Cairo on a business trip I took the opportunity and eventually moved there in 2005.
When did you begin your jewellery collection?
I started making tagua jewellery in 2006. I had been hesitant about developing the line whilst in Ecuador as it is a commonly used material but once in Egypt I knew I could do something really special and unique with a material that people were unfamiliar with.
For those people who are not familiar with tagua, what is it?
Tagua is a nut native to Ecuador and is often referred to as vegetable ivory due to its very hard and durable properties. It is peeled, carved, dyed and polished to make a unique organic and sustainable material suitable for jewellery design.
How has your jewellery line progressed since you started in 2006?
In 2007 I exhibited in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Cairo and at Pret a Porter in Paris. My initial designs were quite complex and used a lot of different sized nuts. Although I love these styles, I developed a more simplistic, classic line to sell in Cairo. In 2011 I introduced a new tagua jewellery collection with a more eclectic feel that combines other elements such as roses, skulls and charms. I select the nuts for each necklace and employ a local jeweller to construct the pieces for me. By making each piece by hand I have the flexibility to be constantly exploring new colour combinations and styles; each piece is totally unique, from the size and shape of the nut to the charms and other accessories that I add.
How would you describe your overall design philosophy?
I prefer to be on the perimeter of fashion, as I feel I see things differently from those immersed in the centre of the industry. I want to live a balanced life and I feel lucky to have found a great place to live in Cairo, somewhere that allows me to enjoy life, have time to develop my inspirations and be creative.
We feel your philosophy fits well with the new ethos of ‘slow fashion’, how do you feel about that?
I’m very happy to be an advocate for slow fashion; as a designer I am following my own creative path of non-competitive design that comes from the heart. Those of us (designers) who live on the creative periphery, who are not situated at the centre of the fashion business, we see the world of fashion with different eyes. We are not so contaminated by the fashion establishment; we don’t feel obligated to develop a collection just to be a "sales hit" or to compete with other designers/brands. We are aware of what is going on in the industry but we follow our own path at our own rhythm, we look inwards from the outside and it is this distance from the fashion’s mecas what allows us to remain true to ourselves, to be independent creators and to have a unique, personal contact with the people who buy/use our designs. It makes fashion more human, less frivolous.