Baliza is more than just a resort wear fashion brand. They do fashion with a cause. Inspired by Bali and Ibiza, their designs are timeless, comfortable and elegant. Not only do they design sustainable resort wear, but each purchase is also supporting women and children living in poverty.
A tailor grandmother and a mum who loves knitting, Gema Santander’s childhood was surrounded by textiles. Growing up, her grandma made her clothes. Now she’s making her own sustainable resort wear. A big move from banking to fashion, Gema Santander shares the real struggles and motivations behind her brand Baliza.
Mother Nature would be screaming. I’m just so worried about so many things, plastics especially. We are changing the way we’re packaging things. We are recycling fabrics and finding other ways to avoid plastics completely in our production.
– Gema Santander
In this interview, we speak to Gema about:
> Her passion for fashion and work with Ladli
> Process of producing a Baliza piece
> Her struggles as a fashion entrepreneur
When did your passion for fashion begin?
My grandma was a tailor and used to make me and my sister’s clothes since we were little. I’m used to having fabrics around the house. My mother also knows knitting and taught me how to make my own clothes as a teenager. When I moved to England, I didn’t love what I was doing in JP Morgan. I’ve always had this creative passion inside me and decided to change my career completely. When I moved to Singapore, I joined different groups of women who were supporting different causes and one of them was the Street Child Project that was supporting I-India. That’s how I found out about Ladli.
What are you doing with Ladli?
My neighbour, who works with Ladli, came to find me one day to ask me to look at the prototypes that they were making. She asked me for some ideas so I went to look at some blanket and cushions that had beautiful stitching and pom-poms. I then sent a few designs to Ladli, and from there, we also decided to make kaftans.
Why did you place a priority on environmental impact in your brand?
We first started producing with cotton, until I started to learn more about how growing cotton pollutes the environment negatively. I wanted to change that, and use materials that were not contaminating. Hence, I started finding out about organic materials and I wanted to continue the line but improve the materials we were using.
We are so disconnected from the process behind fashion. Bring us through the process of making one Baliza piece.
From the cotton being organically grown in the fields, it is then produced and herbally dyed and you only get the fabrics after 4 weeks. After which, they are cut, stitched, and then the beadings and embroidery are added. This can take about 8 weeks depending on the design of the piece. We also do block printing, and it has to be done on the organic fabric and then left to dry for a few days. Each bead and tassel is hand-stitched and now we also get our makers to sign the labels to show the customers who made their clothes. This helps to add a personal touch to our clothes.
Fashion is competitive, and it is not easy. How do you stay motivated?
If it wasn’t for the social impact, I don’t think I will be doing fashion as it is very difficult. I have a strong motivation to help them more, produce more and give them more work. I also want to give them more opportunities by making different things that require different skills. You cannot focus on just the profits, you must focus on your values, what you are trying to achieve, who you are helping and what is your motivation. They can get so much out of Ladli as well, not only get skills and work, they also get a financial education. From learning to be independent to saving money for difficult times. Their kids also get to go to school as part of the program support.
What are some #LittleGreenSteps to help us become more conscious consumers?
- Be aware of where the clothes you wear are made
- Look at the labels. If it’s cheap, someone is being treated unfairly.
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