Jacopo Janniello had a vision.
Unisex fashion. High-quality, artisan-made pieces, inspired by nature that could be worn in multiple ways, and made from natural materials such as cotton, leather and jute.
This is the unlikely story about an Italian living in Mexico, who turned his vision into a successful retail and wholesale brand. The company, Caravana, was born in Tulum, Mexico, and sells products through tents, permanent thatched-roof structures pitched on sandy beaches, and temples or stores.
The tents are located in Tulum and Holbox, Mexico, and Mykonos, while stores can be found in Valladolid and Jose Ignacio, Mexico and a recently opened unit in Miami’s Design District.
“I don’t want to do franchising,” Janniello said, “we’ll go full-on concept. We’ll open in completely new locations no one has heard of and international locations that are already popular.
“Bali I love,” he said. “I’m looking into Marrakech and Punta del Este, Uruguay. We’re doing a bigger project next summer that will have the same vibe as Mykonos.”
Janniello is investing in Caravana’s factory to ensure capacity for a new wholesale collection, Rainbow Wave, launching for spring on Net-a-porter. Already, more than 10,000 pieces have been sold at the Mykonos Caravana tent.
Caravana is sold on Farfetch, where products include a fringed leather top, $546; a wrap top with fringe sleeves, $362; and a Bulkabal fringed dress, $665.
The success of Caravana seems remarkable, given Janniello’s admission, “Since Day One, I haven’t made any business plans. We’re living without shoes, putting on a poncho and going to the beach, la playa. It’s this lifestyle.”
Janniello comes from a textile manufacturing background; his grandfather made blankets, and he himself worked for various fashion brands. But, Janniello, a free spirit who was trained in architecture, was restless.
“I was collaborating with the brands,” he said. “I worked with institutional fashion brands. I was going to see the factories for shoes for Ferragamo. Italian factories were doing the shoes for Celine. I always worked in the industry, but I always wanted to jump from one place to another.”
In the Nineties, Janniello decided to pack up and move to Bali. He opened a workshop there and began laying the groundwork for what would later become Caravana, although he didn’t know it yet. When a friend invited him to the Coqui Coqui Hotel in Tulum, he left Bali to check it out and never left.
“I went back to Bali three years later, and picked up my stuff,” he said. “It’s been 12 years. I had lived in Bali, a universe that’s so special. When I put my feet on the sand in Tulum, I got a huge shock of energy in terms of feelings and emotions and knew it was the place. At the time, we were only a few people in this corner of the world.”
Caravana’s success led to what Janniello laments as the destruction of Tulum. “Caravana was the first store born in Tulum,” he said. “Tulum is changing so drastically. I don’t want to be negative, but there are terrible downsides to how human beings are so greedy and how they’re destroying this planet.
“Because of social media, people discover places so fast and so easily,” he continued. “Caravana started what is now known as the Tulum look. All of Tulum is copying Caravana. About 20 stores are selling typical Mexican dresses. I was angry. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’ The knockoffs help me to push more every day. I’m challenged to do more beautiful stuff with my inspiration.”
Caravan works with about 200 people, including artisans in the Yucatan peninsula. “We only have four or five machines,” Janniello said. “The rest is done by hand. Our way of creating our aesthetic is not about what’s popular for the season. The magical hands of artisans aren’t spoiled by the fashion industry. They have amazing imagination and the skills of their grandfathers. It’s the future from the past.”
Janniello has matured, either by necessity or by choice. “I’m getting to the stage of the company, where I’m in charge of everything, which is so challenging,” he said. “For what we need to grow, I have somebody from London helping us in a more structured way. We have to grow in a more structured way. In the process of growing, how do you keep Caravana magical? I don’t want to grow the company too fast. Of course, I don’t want to lose opportunities.”
It’s not a bad conundrum.