Bringing Mexico to the World
Each month I’m interviewing rising stars, entrepreneurs in different industries and sectors to share their inspiring stories as well as help us understand what it takes to carve your own path in life.
Last month we heard from the Collyer Twins about their quest to become social media influencers, as they explained the importance of social media in the world today and what it takes to hack it. This month I met with the amazing Erika Alvarez, who is promoting socially responsible fashion and home products from Mexico around the world.
Erika Alvarez grew up in Mexico dreaming of a career one day in fashion. For a while it was just a dream, as life threw its many obstacles in her way, until she decided to make it happen and founded two brands, Koua fashion and Mexzik home.
I first came across Erika through Instagram, where I fell in love with her handbags. What struck me was the unique combination of modern, London-esque totes with these beautiful, bright-coloured Mexican embroideries. It was when I clicked through to her website that I saw what a wonderful brand she is creating and decided I had to get the rest of her story.
Erika designs, sources and promotes a range of fair trade products from clothes, jewellery and handbags to home decorations – including the iconic day of the dead painted skulls – all exclusively handmade by local artisans in Mexico. I already have a few painted skulls bought on a trip to Mexico City and now thanks to Erika, you don’t have to travel all the way to Mexico to get your own!
Erika works with several different indigenous communities around Mexico that have passed down their artisan methods for generations. But without someone like Erika to help create and sustain a market for their work, these traditions are dying down. Hand embroidery cannot compete with machines, so it’s important that buyers value the craftsmanship behind each piece.
In our globalised, disposable world, Erika not only sees the importance of social responsibility, she is also doing something about it. She works hard to ensure that every product is fair trade, and that she can continue to sell their work to people all over the world. In the Discover Mexico section on the Koua website you can read more about the artists and where they come from.
Erika has big plans for the future. She is working towards elevating Koua as a high-end Mexican fashion brand and is also about to launch a travel blog focused on her favourite, trendy as well as off-the-beaten-track Mexican hotspots.
Nice to meet you Erika! What brought you to London?
Hi, thank you! It’s so nice to be part of this entrepreneur series. I am from Mexico City, born and raised. I moved to London when I was 25 years old after being accepted for a Master’s degree in Fashion Marketing at GCU London. I quit my job working for a telecommunications company, took a plane and arrived in London without knowing the city or anyone!
It was a big change in my life. That was when I first decided to follow my heart and start doing what I had always dreamt. London is the perfect place to build brand reputation. All my fashion network is here now and there are so many brands that inspire me that were born here.
People in London really appreciate this kind of art, they love Mexican culture and they are into knowing more about the story behind. Of course, I still miss Mexico. All my family is there, so I try to go back about twice a year, depending on how busy the year is.
You strike me as someone who really knows who they are and loves what they do. A real #girlboss! How did you get started?
Thank you very much, that makes me smile. Since I was a child I always knew I wanted to do something related to fashion. But it was hard because I come from a very traditional Mexican family. My dad wanted me to study towards a more ‘normal’ career, something that would ’secure’ my future in terms of financial stability. So that is what I did, even though I wasn’t too happy.
In my early twenties, I started to realise that freedom is worth more than anything, that time flies, and there is nothing more important than enjoying life everyday. Then I received some advice that changed my life.
The advice was, instead of earning money and not being happy, to try to be happy even if it doesn’t earn any money! So I gave it a shot. I finished my Masters and completed four non-paid internships in London in digital marketing, fashion PR, wholesale and within a luxury concierge agency where I picked up lots of knowledge of how to start my brand.
So after you took the decision, how did you get from there to here?
After finishing my internships, I came back to Mexico to start this project from zero, looking for the brand name, creating the concept and visiting the local communities, learning the history behind, etc. It was a lot of work and took me around a year until I could finally come back to London.
It was definitely not easy to start, I experienced so many challenges but I’ve also been so lucky to meet people who helped me, trusted my project and believed in the idea. I know it will take time to reach the big goal but I’m enjoying the journey.
I also work with other small brands in Mexico that are also working with the ethnic communities under fair trade schemes to promote their brands in London. At the end I do believe that this life is a chain, and that the more we give, the more we become.
Tell us about your plans! What’s next?
At the moment I’m keeping myself busy with the brand’s blog, #KouaStyle where I share my outfits from my favourite brands mixed with Koua items and other Mexican accessories. I’m also planning to launch a travel category in my blog full of advice and recommendations for the trendiest places to visit in Mexico.
I want to involve and engage my audience more. I want to tell them a story and so in the future I can be this huge platform that helps small Mexican brands to promote their work and pushes some others to start working with local communities in Mexico too. I hope to inspire designers in London and around the world to use our textiles to create their collections and help elevate Mexico in the fashion industry.
Aside from the occasional promotional pop-up, I sell everything online, which has the advantage of being able to sell everywhere. Besides the UK, I regularly sell to other European countries, the USA, Asia and of course, Mexico.