El Salvador makes a fashion statement with its handbags

December 2020

By María Luisa Hayem, Minister of the Economy of El Salvador, San Salvador

After launching her brand in 2015, Eva Innocenti
(above), one of a growing number of successful female
Salvadoran designers, has showcased her designs
at both London Fashion Week and Panamá Fashion
Week. (Photo: Courtesy of Eva Innocenti)

El Salvador’s handicraft sector stands out for its exceptional creativity and beauty and for being the main source of income for many Salvadoran families. The sector is replete with talent, creating pieces in which history is hidden and innovation is revealed.

El Salvador is a country of some 7 million people covering an area of 21,040 square kilometers. The country’s expanding and youthful population is a major asset. It has an exceptional tropical climate, idyllic ocean, mountain landscapes and a population density of around 316 people per square kilometer. It is a country full of determined, resilient and creative people.

Women-led fashion startups gain prestige

In recent years, El Salvador has seen a rise in the number of fashion startups led by women. Highly talented female designers have come to the fore, gaining prestige at home and abroad with their clothing and accessory lines. Some have injected innovation into traditional artisanal processes and products to create original designs with Indigenous characteristics. Aside from their outstanding aesthetics and quality, these products are generating employment and helping to keep certain traditions alive.

Eva Innocenti takes much of her design inspiration from women, after whom she has named a number of her collections.

Tradition meets luxury

Eva Innocenti is one such designer and entrepreneur. Ms. Innocenti designs luxury handbags, made mainly from the highest quality Salvadoran leather, embellished with gold-plated elements and other materials. A number of her handbag collections are named after the women who inspired them.

The designer launched her brand in 2015, and has been carefully managing her intellectual property (IP) since. In addition to a registered trademark, the designs for her original collections are registered with the National Center of Registries (CNR), the national IP office of El Salvador.

"It all starts with a dream. That is what the Eva Innocenti brand is for me – my lifelong dream," the designer says.

Thanks to a range of government programs, recognition of the importance of IP as a business tool has grown in El Salvador in recent years.

Today, Ms. Innocenti has a workshop that creates jobs for a group of Salvadoran artisans, a retail outlet in a prestigious area of the capital city and an online shop that ships goods all over the world. In 2019, she participated in London Fashion Week and Panamá Fashion Week.

IP and women’s empowerment

Forging emotional bonds to support women is central
to Raquel Arana’s work. She recounts narratives
of women’s empowerment through her illustrations.
(Photo: Courtesy of Raquel Arana)

Raquel Arana is another noteworthy Salvadoran designer and entrepreneur. Ms. Arana is a storyteller who uses figures and colors instead of words.

The designer got her start in the creative industries at the end of 2014 with a very successful handbag design, which set her on an unexpected path. Ms. Arana learned along the way that IP can be very useful in supporting her business goals and her commitment to empowering women.

Ms. Arana has a passion for illustration, and when designing a product, she aims to forge emotional bonds to support women: each handbag tells a story and each story is one of women’s empowerment.

By combining these two loves – design and women’s empowerment – Ms. Arana has helped other Salvadoran women to further their entrepreneurial ambitions, namely through the Velasco Program, which mentors aspiring female entrepreneurs.

“It’s important to continuously innovate the products one sells, and it’s okay if not all of them sell. The point is to keep creating and testing the market,” Ms. Arana says.

To share her success, Ms. Arana opened a store, “Hecho en Casa” (“homemade”), with her two partners. The store is a marketing channel for her creations and products as well as those of other artisans.

Over the last five years, El Salvador’s average annual handbag exports have generated more than USD 630,000.

Ms. Arana has expanded her product lines to include other personal accessories and home decor items. The registered trademarks “Raquel Arana” and “Hecho en Casa” have gained broad recognition both locally and internationally. There are now two “Hecho en Casa” stores in San Salvador. The designer’s products can also be purchased via Facebook or Instagram and may be shipped internationally.

IP is helping Ms. Arana to raise her professional profile as a designer. It is also bolstering her business and enabling it to grow. But, like many other popular designers and artists, her work is now being copied by unauthorized third parties. It is in this context that Ms. Arana has come to recognize the true importance of IP rights in protecting her creations and safeguarding her business interests.

Raquel Arana (above left) uses her handbag designs as a vehicle for visual storytelling, replacing words with bold color palettes and detailed illustrations. The success of Ms. Arana’s designs has led her to expand her product range, which now includes personal accessories and home decor.

IP awareness in El Salvador yields dividends

Over the last five years, El Salvador’s average annual handbag exports have generated more than USD 630,000. Export markets include the United States, countries in Central America and Latin America, as well as in Asia and Europe.

El Salvador’s handicraft sector stands out for its exceptional creativity and beauty and for being the main source of income for many Salvadoran families.

Thanks to a range of government programs, recognition of the importance of IP as a business tool has grown in El Salvador in recent years. Various governmental institutions offer programs to support businesses, especially micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, in their use of IP to support business growth. These institutions include the Ministry of the Economy; CONAMPYE, which supports micro- and small-sized enterprises; and the CNR, the national intellectual property office.

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