Sep 18, 2015
Colombia's Amelia Toro: designer and teacher
Sep 18, 2015
Colombian designer Amelia Toro doesn't just dress elegant New York women. In her homeland, she is committed to training and employing single mothers in a bid to give back to society.
During New York fashion week, she presented her latest capsule collection at her immaculate store in Manhattan, summing up the line as English schoolboy meets Renaissance.
"I use a lot of plaids, I use Swiss cottons, all my fabrics are European," says the designer, who divides her time between New York and Bogota.
She specializes in meticulous red embroidery that finishes off white separates and which is influenced by indigenous Colombian artistry, or using delicate floral brocade to elevate a plain white pocket.
But her attention quickly turns from fabrics to her other passion: "making a meaningful contribution to society through fashion," which she sums up as helping single parents get trained and get a job.
Everything began when she worked in India and saw women sewing the same article of clothing for hours and hours, says the designer, who trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Parsons in New York.
"I wouldn't be able to do it. I admire them," she said.
"I went back to Colombia after working in India, and I started my little atelier and I decided I wanted to change the way I work," she said.
That was nearly 20 years ago.
Instead of setting up an assembly line, she set about training her staff on how to make a single piece from start to finish. Seamstresses then sign their name on the inside of the label of the garment they have made.
"It's important for me to know that I give something," she said in a soft voice. Her training and employment, she says, allows her staff to provide a better future for their children.
- 'Meaningful contribution' -
Toro says it's not always easy and that the training can take years.
"In the industry, a lot of them would come with very little notion on (how to make) a full piece," she said, calling it "a commitment on both ends."
"We train them. They have to work very hard" because of the high level of quality involved, she said.
In total, Toro employs around 50 seamstresses and some male tailors in her atelier. "A high percentage," she says, are single parents. Some of the women have been there from the beginning.
Toro also sells creations made by artisans from indigenous communities in her Manhattan store in order to promote the heritage. Few appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into them, she says.
Colombia is home to a diverse mix of ethnic groups, but Afro-Colombians and indigenous people have long suffered significant discrimination.
They are the hardest hit by poverty, marginalization and the country's internal conflict.
The silhouettes in her Manhattan boutique are elegant but comfortable.
"Femininity is very important to me, it is our weapon," smiled the former flamenco and ballet dancer, who changed her career path after suffering a serious traffic accident in adolescence.
"There is also a lot of movement in my clothes. You see a woman walking in the street, it's so beautiful."
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