Tribu May Be the Fashion Industry Connector Latin Americans Haven’t Had

·5 min read

Tribu aims to create the fashion community that the long exclusionary industry never offered.

The digital networking platform, a brainchild of the leaders behind the Latin American Fashion Summit — and whose name translates to tribe, clan or community in Spanish — connects key fashion players from Latin America to one another, and also offers those who aren’t Latin an opportunity to diversify their connections and collaborations.

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In short, its goal is to make inclusion a much greater reality for many Latin Americans in fashion.

“We saw a lot of talent coming out of the region — not only designers but graphic designers, stylists, writers, editors — and we noticed that when we talk to all these entrepreneurs there was a lack of inclusivity, diversity,” Estefania Lacayo, cofounder of LAFS and Tribu, told WWD, noting the difficulties these entrepreneurs often faced in accessing many fashion people and spaces because of the limited diversity and lagging attention to improving it. “They never had access to the decision-makers or the real leaders, so for that reason they were constantly allocating their money in the wrong places, constantly being ripped off by trade shows, showrooms in New York, PR firms all over the world promising them sales when they didn’t even have the right line sheet in place. And that’s how our company grew.”

The network-building physical event for Latin American designers and entrepreneurs that is LAFS has been bringing the community together live since 2018 and Tribu is its need-necessitated, members-only digital spinoff that allows connection to happen anytime, anywhere — and beyond Latine Heritage Month.

“In my 20 years working in the fashion world until now, I’m constantly being contacted by Women’s Wear Daily, by Elle for their September issue asking me what swimwear brands should I highlight for my story on Hispanic Month? I mean, this is the type of conversation — which I’m super happy that they’re happening right now, right? — but how great would it be that you could just log into the platform and find so many of these people?” Lacayo said.

With Tribu, when a designer from Chile is sourcing new production for her handbags, she can find a leather manufacturer in Monterrey, Mexico, whether trade shows remain virtual or not. And, equally, when a luxury European label wants to authentically produce a collection of basket-weave bags by commissioning artisans in Colombia, they can do that, too.

While Tribu launched late in 2020, the membership-based business platform is now offering a free component, letting anyone create a profile at no cost, meaning any member in the platform could discover them and their offering. If no-cost members want to search the platform’s directory, however, or connect and network with other users and gain access to the educational and professional programming Tribu provides, they’d have to opt for the paid membership at $295 for the year. The membership cost can also be paid on a monthly basis, making it more accessible for any budget.

Currently a 500-member strong cohort, Tribu could see triple-digit growth in the next year, according to Lacayo. Buyers from brands like Intermix, Nordstrom and Matchesfashion are already counted among the Tribu tribe.

“I think our physical [Latin American Fashion] Summit in March in Miami is going to be a key factor of growth for us in this whole growth strategy that we have of giving one component of creating the profile for free, so I would think that by end of next year we should be in the 3,000s [of members],” Lacayo predicted.

But the aim, above quantity, is to build a quality platform that creates greater access to opportunities in fashion for people of color — even beyond those from Latin America.

In two weeks, Tribu will partner with designers from Lagos, Nigeria, to connect their communities.

“We think there’s a big opportunity of synergy between African designers and Latin designers,” Lacayo said. “We’re about to do a webinar in two weeks with all the designers of Lagos Fashion Week to try to incorporate them into the platform and hopefully we can start doing that also with American designers.”

It’s about building bridges that were either never there or damaged when the pandemic paused movement across the globe.

“We have a lot of synergy with India and Asian designers as well because they really want to know what’s happening over here,” said Samantha Tams, cofounder of LAFS and Tribu. “Because of COVID-19 and all the manufacturing that once left Latin America — specifically Mexico and other countries in the manufacturing process — and went back to Asia, now it’s kind of coming back. They’re really seeing opportunity to reconnect with this part of the world.”

And with smaller designers and even bigger brands embracing smaller production runs, whether for capital limitations in the case of the former and for reducing inventory risk and waste in the latter’s case, there’s an even greater opportunity for manufacturers across Latin America with lower production minimums.

Though platforms like Shop Latinx, which recently secured $1 million in pre-seed funding, are evidence of increased attention to Latin American creators and what they’re bringing to fashion, Tribu isn’t looking for a financial infusion. They’re looking for those committed to increasing opportunities for Latin Americans in fashion.

“Collaboration is the key aspect,” Lacayo said. The mission one day, she added, is “of being this big platform where the entire industry could be connecting — and not necessarily only the designers and the editors and the buyers. Because that’s an aspect that has been very isolated.”

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