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Behind The Brand..Recreo San Miguel

We met with founders Michael and Lisa Coleman, of Recreo San Miguel. To speak about sustainability and their journey behind the brand.

What inspired you to launch Recreo San Miguel?

A few factors all contributed to our inspiration: 1) a fateful vacation in what’s become the most celebrated colonial town in Mexico, 2) a “for sale” sign in front of a centuries-old ruin of a building, and 3) a chance encounter with a local history book. Here’s the story of how it all came together…

Long before San Miguel de Allende became the world-famous artistic, cultural and equestrian center of Mexico, it was known in the 18th and 19th centuries for its ponchos and serapes, and also for the fine fabrics (“shot with gold and silver, fit for a queen,” according to a Franciscan friar writing in 1780) intended for the nobility and for ecclesiastical vestments.

In 2010 – shortly after having moved to San Miguel – we happened upon a book that described these two aspects of San Miguel’s history…we were simply trying to learn a bit about our then-newly-adopted hometown. When we read about serapes – and also refined fabrics for the churches – we made a simple creative connection with the idea combining those two thoughts…re-creating the serape by reinterpreting it in fine fabrics and with a more contemporary design aesthetic. A year and a half later, the brand’s first collection was launched in one of San Miguel’s landmark buildings – a former ruin that we had purchased on a whim – luxuriously renovated as our new label’s flagship boutique.  Even our name – Recreo – traces back to the Spanish word for re-creation, because that’s what our brand is about. Hopefully we’ll never stop recreating; it’s what keeps us, and our collections, fresh and compelling.

And thus, Recreo San Miguel was born, marrying these disparate aspects of Latin American heritage, and wrapping them in a bit of high fashion. In a sense, therefore, one could say that Recreo San Miguel sprang – literally and figuratively – from the pages of history.

Since those early days, the collection has broadened to include not just serapes, but a wide range of wraps, vests, skirts, blouses, jackets, kaftans and more – statement pieces and versatile separates – loosely inspired by historical forms, while designed to appeal to contemporary luxury consumers across the globe. Lots of our pieces don’t literally look like a poncho, but they do share the practical versatility and ease of wear of the poncho. So as you can see, our original inspiration is still a guiding principle that drives our business.

Your motto is tradition reinterpreted, luxury reimagined. Please explain more about your vision behind the brand. 

Simply put, we took the timeless versatility and roomy lines of the the iconic Latin American serape, and re-imagined the spirit of the garment in a more contemporary vein so that our pieces would appeal to a broader range of luxury shoppers across the globe. That addresses the “tradition reinterpreted” notion. For us, the second part of the statement – “luxury reimagined” – speaks to a new vision of luxury. In the past, luxury was about about exclusivity and prestige, driven by limited access and high prices. 

Today’s consumers have different values. Quality is more important than exclusivity. The narrative of the brand – the brand story” – is more important than the perception of prestige. Consumers today are looking to align themselves with brands whose values and behavior match their own values. Today’s consumers put more emphasis on the brand experience than projecting an outdated image of “fanciness.” To be desirable to the current generation of luxury shoppers, brands must be responsible, sustainable and socially aware. Brands must tell a story that is interesting, engaging, motivating and congruent with our clients’ values. That is what we mean when we talk about “luxury reimagined.”

We love craftsmanship and your collection is made by skilled artisans in San Miguel, please tell us more about the production process and why you came to choose them. 

Recreo garments are produced in our own studio workshop, which we established in a nearby village to provide economic opportunity and career training…reinvigorating a century-old tradition of garment making in this region of central Mexico. 

We have worked with the same highly-skilled team of artisans since we launched the business nearly ten years ago. We are gratified to be able to work with this family-based team…and we’re pleased that we are able to offer them career training, advancement and employee benefits, all of which have transformed their lives. 

What is your favourite material to work with and why? 

Oh, goodness…that’s like asking us which child is our favorite! Each fabric has its own marvelous qualities…cashmere is rich and luxuriant, wool is sturdy and versatile, cotton and linen wonderful for summer garments, along with silks which we often use for caftans and dresses. We also do a lot with goatskin, lambskin and other leathers, including some amazing new vegan leathers that appeal to a wide swath of our client base. 

What is your favourite piece of the collection and why? 

We launched Recreo with just one style, based on the traditional serape or poncho. Though, of course, we had a variety of fabrics and trims, the silhouette of all our garments was consistent.  Happily, people loved the look, the practicality, and the fact that Recreo offered unique pieces that couldn’t be found elsewhere. As time went on, though, some clients expressed their desire for a garment that didn't go over their head, to protect their coif.

When we mentioned this to Alejandra, who leads our production studio, she suggested an easy solution…simply opening up the front of the poncho would create an equally authentic, traditional wrap, as has been worn throughout Latin America for centuries. 

With that small alteration in the pattern, we created our second silhouette, which has since become our most popular, iconic style. Since we name each of our garment styles after important partners, collaborators and friends, we named this wrap the "Alejandra," (or, for men, the “Alejandro”) to honor our production partners. The Alejandra wrap is extremely versatile, timeless and universally flattering, and is, without question, our favorite style. It can be worn loose and open, over one shoulder, or folded vertically to style as a scarf. 

Please give us five tips to live a more sustainable everyday life. 

We’ll never claim to be experts on sustainability – and we think that’s the only way to approach the subject – with humility and with a clear understanding that we can and must improve, poco a poco, over time. It is daunting to think that you have to be “perfect.” Since one of us IS perfect, we simply try to practice responsible, thoughtful production so we can minimize our footprint where possible. That said, here are five approaches that we believe can be applied to most people’s lives:

    1. Buy locally when you can. This is of course more easily done with commodity consumables than with luxury products, but the notion of supporting your local economy…your friends, neighbors, and local businesses, has real benefits and is a key motivator for enlightened consumers. We used to buy luxury fabrics from all over the globe, then ship them to our production studio for manufacture…adding to our carbon footprint at every step of the way. Today, we buy the majority of our fabrics locally, saving time, money and precious earth resources.

    2. Consider travel carefully….whether for business trip or even a quick grocery run. Look for opportunities to combine trips to minimize unnecessary travel, thus reducing your resource utilization. 

    3. In a related step, Zoom when you can (or FaceTime, or Google Meet, or any of the other platforms) instead of scheduling in-person meetings. It’ll save time, costs, and improve your efficiency.

    4. When purchasing products, carefully consider their “sustainability profile.” As companies and brands become more transparent about how their products are manufactured and shipped, this information is more accessible than ever before.

    5. Buy less and buy better. As a “slow-fashion” brand (as opposed to the fast-fashion behemoths that seem to dominate the fashion scene these days), we advocate purchasing products that will last because of their quality, and that won’t go out of style with the next season. Well-made clothes should last years, or longer!

    Discover their collection here

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