"For us, family is everything," says Natalia Acevedo, one of four sisters behind Colombian shoe brand Kaanas. The company, which her younger sister Liliana (Lily for short) started as a small line of espadrilles in 2012, feels somewhat like destiny: footwear has always been fundamental to their family and heritage. Growing up, their father, Jaime, owned a number of shoe stores and their mother, also named Liliana, had a shoe factory. "They've always been so passionate about shoes," Lily says of her parents. "I've absorbed that same passion doing what we do today."
The first iteration of the line—which now includes heels, boots, sandals and sneakers—started with material typically used for making hammocks. "I wanted to experiment with espadrilles," Lily says about Kaanas' origins, "so my dad took me to a handwoven fabric factory here in Barranquilla," she says. "It was this incredible, colorful fabric—handmade, very intricate material from Colombia," remembers Lily. "This was the beginning of it all, and then it started to evolve into sourcing new materials like leather from Colombia and later from Brazil and just finding new artisans in my country that could possibly add something special to the line."
"From the start, we've always tried to incorporate artisan-based details into our designs," says Natalia. "Currently, we are working with women from a small town called Usiacurí." Adds Lily: "I love working with them. They are just unbelievable—what they do is incredible. I go to our head artisan Frida's house, and we sit in her living room and we just start talking," she says.
"We've made it a point whenever we work with artisans that we don't negotiate pricing because it's so labor intensive—[we pay] whatever they tell us that it costs," Natalia explains. "Lily visits them so much and has seen all these improvements they've been able to make in their lives and lifestyle."
The word Kaanas is derived from a weave designed by the Wayuu, a matriarchal tribe of indigenous people who inhabit the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia. "The women are really the ones who provide for their families," explains Natalia. According to legend, a spider taught the Wayuu women how to create the Kaanas weave, which was then used to produce textiles. "We are such a [female-oriented] family in a way because we're four sisters plus my mom and then my grandma who passed, but she lived with us our entire life," Natalia says. "When we were trying to come up with a name, we wanted it to be something special and that spoke about us."
Even from different parts of the world, the Acevedos work as a team. In Colombia, Lily and her mother work on the design and creative aspects together, the youngest sister, Juliana, manages production and their father runs the factories. Internationally, Natalia heads the U.S. operation out of Miami and travels back to Colombia every month and a half or so, and while the eldest sister, Adriana, lives in Tanzania, she still continues to be peripherally involved, adding input and talking shoe samples through a family group chat.
The family feel extends to the production line as well. "Our factory is mainly a lot of people who have worked in the shoe manufacturing business all their lives," says Lily. "These are shoemakers that have known Nati, Juli, Adri and me since we were like, two years old, so they've seen us grow up, they know us, and it's like a family. We treat every shoemaker, everyone on the team, like they are family to us. It is very important to us, and we learned this from our parents."
"It's amazing to make our mom and dad proud," says Lily. "They see us continuing with the passion they've worked with their whole lives—this is the best part of it."
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15.