While political relations between the U.S. and Cuba might be chilly, the Havana-based Clandestina drove into the U.S. market by launching e-commerce.
Despite the barely month-old travel warning for American citizens and allegations of sonic attacks on staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Clandestina founder Idania del Río is trying to cozy up to the American market. Started in 2015 with Leire Fernández, the company is now the first Cuban fashion brand to sell online. While importing goods from Cuba remains challenging and costly due to U.S. legislation, independent designers in Cuba can provide their design services to American customers. Del Río and her team design all of the six styles that are offered online in the company’s studio. They are then digitally uploaded to American manufacturers that print, produce and ship the finished product to consumers in the U.S. and abroad.
Unreliable Internet and phone service, limited resources and distance from global markets are some of the factors that have deterred Cuba-based entrepreneurs from going global. To that point, a phone interview with Del Rio required numerous attempts due to the spotty phone connection “Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse. In the rain, it’s even more terrible,” she said.
“During the Obama administration, we saw a few steps toward improved relations. For examples, design services or art from Cuba are not forbidden. So a few things are getting through,” del Río said. “We decided that our brand would be global and we wanted to give it a shot. The U.S. is close enough, big and we have a lot of clients there,” adding that 50 to 75 percent of Clandestina’s shoppers in its Havana store are American.
Along with the Internet, the logistics, production, legal issues, and setting up e-commerce took some wrangling, according to Del Rio. T-shirts with such sayings as “Resist and Overcome” and “Actually, I’m in Havana.” Although the designer declined to comment on annual sales, she said the company has grown from four employees to 25 in two years.