WOW: Vanessa of WASI
Vanessa Acosta is a visionary. I use that word sparingly and with intention. I remember coming across the Bolivian-American designer’s brand Wasi on Instagram and feeling my jaw drop open. I mean hello, have you seen the Frida Pant Set?! Vanessa infuses every design with her passion for Latinx culture, sourcing materials from South America and paying homage to her Bolivian roots. This Women-Owned Wednesday, I spoke with Vanessa about all things Wasi, the realities of being a Latinx entrepreneur and how she’s coping with the COVID-19 crisis.
BC: Tell us about the vision and inspiration behind Wasi.
VA: I was working in the fashion industry for a decade and it just became too toxic of a work environment for me. That experience inspired me to start my own business that really felt inclusive, diverse and empowering to women. I wanted to create a brand that I felt I could get behind from a moral standpoint—from representation to ethical and sustainable ways of production. Wasi became that and more.
"I wanted to create a brand that I felt I could get behind from a moral standpoint."
BC: Why is celebrating your Bolivian culture important to you?
VA: Growing up as a minority, you don’t feel represented. You create your own inspiration. And being a Bolivian, oof, that's being more of a minority among the Latinx community. It’s important for people to know my existence, my magic, my culture. Celebrating and representing my culture is so important because people are seeing something new and fresh that's been underrepresented for so long. It’s important to girls, to other Bolivians, to my community.
"Growing up as a minority, you don’t feel represented. You create your own inspiration."
BC: Can you tell us about your design process?
VA: I usually start off by hopping around from image to image on Pinterest, social media and magazines for inspiration. Then I get to the drawing board of what colors, silhouettes, prints and textiles I'm gravitating towards. When I design new tees, that's most often drawing from my personal life more than anything else. Once I pick the fabrics, that's when I start finalizing the patterns and what I want to create with it! It’s my process, but not everyone works that way.
BC: What do you think is the biggest hurdle facing Latinx businesses?
VA: People don’t invest in Latinx businesses. They don’t see the value that's staring at them in the face. Latinx businesses have to self fund and compete with white brands that are being funded to culturally appropriate our culture and market it to more white folks. It is a frustrating cycle that all Latinx creatives have to deal with. But with time, these challenges and hurdles are improving. We're taking matters into our own hands and our community is building companies that now fund specifically women of color businesses. The industry is changing—because of us.
"People don’t invest in Latinx businesses. They don’t see the value that's staring at them in the face."
BC: Can you tell us about an obstacle you’ve faced and how you overcame it?
VA: Fitting question given the current situation! One obstacle I'm currently dealing with is the COVID-19 crisis as a small business owner. Day by day I'm overcoming different obstacles. As a bootstrapped business, you gotta stay busy and you gotta get creative. You HAVE to make income because it's your livelihood. It’s a difficult time and many of us are in the same boat. I may not be able to overcome this obstacle for another couple of months, but I know I will. We all will. I'm still creating and even taking this time to expand in ways I never had the time to; putting more work into the business and making plans for the future. Overcoming it one day at a time.
BC: What advice would you give to aspiring Latinx entrepreneurs?
VA: It’s okay to have a full time job and still run a small business. It’s okay if your business doesn’t burst into success the first few months or year. It’s okay to do it alone and not hire anyone. Everyone has a different path and pace in their journey. There’s no right or wrong way to create your dream business and no shame in doing it differently than others. Keep doing you and do good for the world.