Fashion / Style File

A Houston Entrepreneur Clears the Way for Unknown Designers, Giving Fashion Fresh Voices

BY Steven Hempel // 05.04.16
photography Ana Hop

Entrepreneur and Houstonian Araceli Graham is on the hunt for the next great Latin American designer, treading the path first established by Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera, as well as the more recent work of Colombian Esteban Cortazar. Graham’s website, Cooperativa, gives emerging Latin American designers a platform to show their work and tell their story.

Graham, a former corporate exec with Coca-Cola, Pegaso and GlaxoSmithKline, has been mining the under-appreciated Latin fashion scene for years. Based in Houston, she travels regularly to both Mexico and Colombia for her new company. Emboldened by her work with established designer Olga Prieto, she connected with designers Carla Forte of NYC and Milan-based Mario Buccellati to bring their Predilleto collection to the American market.

Thus was born Cooperativa. Graham saw opportunity and served a need. Here are highlights from the journey, in her own words:

Cooperativa creator, Araceli Graham, wears apparel by designer Sandra Weil.
Cooperativa creator Araceli Graham wears apparel by Sandra Weil.

Many Americans identify Latin American culture with ponchos and sombreros, Cartagena, or Cinco de Mayo, but there’s another side to our Latin culture — a more refined, sophisticated and cosmopolitan culture.

Our mission is to serve as the gateway for new, unknown and emerging designers and to tell their stories while shining light on their talents. The designers we represent are more than just a label; they have a face, a story and unique personalities that complement what they have to offer. There is strong use of artisanal techniques in the collections, showcasing their culture and history in their craft.

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I often feel a sense of repetitiveness when it comes to fashion and style with established brands and labels in the U.S. and in Europe. Sometimes it’s hard to find something new and different, and working with new and emerging designers fills that void. It’s exciting, because I finally see and feel a sense of uniqueness and variety that was missing.

Mexican designer Carla Fernandez. Growing up with a historian father and a fashion-first mother, she learned to appreciate her country not only for its traditions and culture, but for its rich history, especially in regard to design and textiles. Fernandez learned to look at apparel with an anthropological eye, and her ready-to-wear label reflects the historic process of creating indigenous clothing — through the use of weaving, considering geometrics in designs, working with dimensions by hand, and preserving the cultural techniques.

Children of Our Town creators, Natalia Ferriz and José Alfredo Silva
Children of Our Town creators Natalia Ferriz and José Alfredo Silva

I could never pick a favorite, but at the moment I’m really loving Children of Our Town and Yakampot from Mexico City, as well as Liza Echeverry and Olga Piedrahita from Colombia.

Cooperativa hosts a pop-up shop at Tomo Mags beginning Thursday, May 5. Click here for all the details.

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