Ethical Designer Carolina K On Slow Fashion, Famous Fans, And 15 Years In Business

by Freya Drohan

Over the past 15 years, Carolina K has become something of the unofficial outfitter for style-savvy and eco-conscious globe trotters: not least, the likes of Beyoncé, Helena Christensen, and Tyra Banks. The brand is a lifelong passion project for founder Carolina Kleinman, whose desire to fuse Latin American traditional heritage with music, dance, art, and travel—and her family’s experience in the textile industry—resulted in her namesake ethical fashion venture. Kleinman tells The Daily about the divine new Resort ’21 collection, which is chock full of tiered maxis, animal print robes, ruffled overalls, and more. We can’t book a flight to an exotic destination right now, but at least we can step inside the ‘Carolina K Universe’.

Were you always in fashion? What did you do before you launched Carolina K in 2005?
Yes, I’ve always been in fashion. I grew up playing around rolls of fabric at my mom’s clothing store in Argentina. When I turned 21, I moved to Los Angeles and started assisting a fashion designer while I studied acting and music. A few years later, I designed my first collection and took it to New York—it sold out in just one weekend.

Amazing! What was the impetus for launching an ethical lifestyle brand?
I knew the business well, having grown up in fashion. Early on, I had a very clear understanding that if I ever started my own label, it would have to be done in an ethical manner. It would have to have a much bigger purpose than just having a successful brand for the sake of making money. I wanted to create something that involved culture, history, and art. Unique pieces that people would treasure and keep, all while helping others. With that in mind, I began my journey, I traveled to the north of Argentina, then to Bolivia, and fell in love with the native culture, the colorful textiles, their ancestry, and their crafts. I discovered that many of their ancient techniques were fading away, so it was right there and then that my love story with artisans began. I created my first artisanal collection while I was in Bolivia. I continued to travel to remote regions in Peru, later moving to Mexico where I lived for many years. Eventually, my collections became a reflection of my daily lifestyle.

Carolina Kleinman (courtesy)

How do you come across these artisan cooperatives around the world that you work with?
I usually find them throughout my travels, as I’m visiting markets or attend regional festivals. When I see something that catches my attention, I approach the artisans and we begin a collaborative relationship. Over the last 13 years, we’ve built working relationships with over 200 artisans. For some, this is their only stream of income and how they make their living.

Hand embroidery is a signature of Carolina K garments, how long does it generally take to make each piece?
It can take about a week or more for a single style when the garment is entirely hand-made. The home collection pieces, such as our signature ottoman, can take up to a month.

Tell us about your zero-waste policy, has this been integral to the brand since day one?
The idea of the zero-waste initiative came to me on one of our trips to India while we were sourcing prints for one of our collections. I was visiting one of the factories and saw bags full of left-over fabric; that’s when I realized I had to do something about it. I had to make sure the textiles didn’t end up in landfills. Since then, we’ve been creating unique, one-of-a-kind ready-to-wear collections and swim.

What are your other non-negotiables?
I would never derail from my ethical point of view as it relates to the people involved and the business itself. Fair trade is a must in the way I conduct my brand.

You have many high-profile fans like Beyoncé, was this recognition a major moment for Carolina K?
Many celebrities have bought my clothing throughout the years and, as much this serves the brand and as happy as it makes me, I personally feel just as much joy when I see our non-celebrity clients wearing our collections.

What do you imagine your day-to-day customer is like?
Since I know so many of them personally, I can tell you that our customers are eco-conscious. They love to support sustainable brands and artisans. They choose to wear comfortable clothes and still feel special in them—and they love to travel!

Tell us about the Resort ‘21 collection, what was the inspiration behind it?
From sky constellations to desert animals and to rain forests, this collection is all about prints and textures that convey our desire to connect with the natural world. Key sustainable and notable materials for the season include: organic cotton, cupro fabric, recycled polyester, and Ecocean across swim.

What’s your favorite piece from the collection and how are you styling it?
My favorite piece this season is the Magdalena Dress, named after the artisan who made it. The dress is made in Mexico with organic cotton and is hand crochet assuring that electricity, chemicals, and pesticides were not used.

What’s next for Carolina K?
We are currently working on expanding our home collection inclusive of a special collaboration with artisans in Colombia, as well working to next steps for a new studio and store.

See selects from the Resort ’21 collection below:

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date on all the latest fashion news and juicy industry gossip.

You may also like

Leave a Comment