CRISTINA MANTILLA AND DUDA TEIXEIRA ON WORKING AS BEST FRIENDS: “THERE IS NEVER A PERSONAL GAIN IF IT’S NOT A COMBINED THING”
LATINNESS: Cristy and Duda, how did you meet?
DUDA: I moved to the United States when I was seven and Cristy was in my first grade class. We both grew up in Key Biscayne (Florida). So we’ve known each other since then, but we didn’t become close until around sixth grade…
CRISTINA: We were in the same school, in the same class for years, but we got really close and started this soulmate friendship we have in about sixth grade. I have this famous picture of her and I at my seventh birthday party.
DUDA: It was my first birthday here! Our brothers are the same age too, so they went to school together. Our weekends were spent by the whole family hanging out together.
CRISTINA: And her poor mom had to deal with the both of us!
LATINNESS: Was there always a creative link between you two?
DUDA: Yeah, before we started the jewelry line, before we started WCP, which is a creative agency, we worked with each other at Alexis. We’ve been working together since we were 16.
In college, we started making these shorts, but even prior to that, Cristy and I ran a little store out of my house. We would open on the weekends and people would come and shop. That was our first business venture together. We were always very crafty, more so because we couldn’t afford to buy things, so we would just make it for ourselves.
CRISTINA: So we started making these distressed shorts and people would ask for them. Then we started selling them to stores in Miami. We were super young, just upcycling vintage, stepping it up, dyeing it, etc. I turned my entire backyard into a factory. My dad bought me all the stuff. He saw me as this little businesswoman, and was so excited.
Point being, we found each other, became friends and it’s wild seeing where we are now, just looking back at our friendship and all the different things that led us here.
LATINNESS: As best friends, soulmates and business partners, what’s your advice on how to manage a business/friendship relationship?
DUDA: We love each other so much, so when there’s a disagreement, we agree to disagree, and go from there. We always meet in the middle. If not, then I’ll say “Ok, cool. If you really believe in this, then let’s go with your idea,” and vice versa. It never feels like I’m fighting for something because she’s always on my team.
CRISTINA: In the beginning, when I would mention to anyone what we were doing and explain that I was getting into business with my best friend, if they didn’t directly know us, they would always ask: “Are you sure you want to do that?” And I’d always say, “Trust me, it’s going to be fine”. Sometimes they would continue to insist.
Now people always tell us things like: “you’re so lucky to have another person by your side” or “you’re so lucky to share this with someone and not hold the weight alone”.
We get asked this question a lot and if you were to bring it to a one liner, the reason why it works and why I feel very strongly about this is because before she was my business partner, she was my friend. That comes first. We do everything together— we share the same titles, we help each other, we stay late nights together. When one is on a project, the other one assists to help move things forward. There is never a personal gain if it’s not a combined thing. She’s my friend first and business partner second.
LATINNESS: What’s your creative process like?
DUDA: We’re at a place where we’re growing quickly. The good thing is it’s two of us. Right now I’m focused on design and Cristy is focused on the business portion of it— on production and operations.
It’s just for the time being. We’re both very creative, so it also feels weird for me to be on the creative side alone since we’ve been doing this together. At this moment it’s more like, “I’ll take this over and present it to you, and vice versa”.
CRISTINA: No decision is made without the other person approving. We’re growing so quickly that we had to divide, but I do hope that in the future I’m able to just join in the creative.
LATINNESS: Back when you started in Miami, it wasn’t necessarily a city that launched global fashion creatives. How do you feel Miami has influenced you?
DUDA: I’m very proud of growing up in Miami. I think it’s made us that much stronger because it was a city that didn’t offer everything you needed. You had to work that much harder to get anywhere. I’m proud of that because it stands for all these hurdles that we were able to overcome. Also, we live by the beach, which is a huge source of inspiration for us in terms of what the brand is. I’m from Brazil, and it’s very relatable. It’s a part of who we are.
CRISTINA: There were so many times when leaving Miami was in a conversation– a lot of it was work related, but we ended up staying here. So many creative people are from Miami and they leave, so the city gets kind of like a dry spell of creative people.
We were forced to learn all these different roles and skills because we couldn’t find a creative person to do it locally. That started when we were really young working as stylists. Of the million jobs we’ve had, one of the biggest before this was as art directors and stylists, but we could never find a brand that had a great creative direction. So we started doing their branding, creative direction. We had all these ideas, but then we couldn’t find a local photographer that could actually capture the shots we wanted.
So Duda picked up photography, and she was amazing at it. She started doing photography, and together we learned graphic design. Now we’re incredibly prolific in Photoshop and in all the graphic design world. Duda knows how to use a camera like a master now. Now we have all these traits that have helped us so much, and we can do anything. I mean, that’s how I feel.
LATINNESS: Duda, you mentioned you’re Brazilian. Cristy, what’s your background?
CRISTINA: My father’s Cuban and my mom’s American.
LATINNESS: Cool, I’m viceversa. My mom’s Cuban and my dad’s American. How has that background and your family heritage influenced both of you?
DUDA: Well, for the most part, even the brand just being as colorful as it is and how much life there is to it. I feel very tropical. I feel it’s very much like Brazilian culture and Cuban culture, as well. These are very lively people, and the brand is an extension of that, like deep rooted in the inside.
With ready-to-wear it’s been a huge game changer for us. We’ve produced everything in Brazil, which was beautiful, and my whole family is involved. I feel like there’s that Brazilian aura to it, so we’re very inspired in terms of the color and the names of the pieces.
CRISTINA: Also, both of our families are from very warm, temperate environments. My family is Cuban, Duda´s family from the beaches in Brazil, and we live in a warm, tropical place here in Miami. Our entire life, from our heritage to our life right now is surrounded by the tropics.
When I look at our collections, whether it’s our jewelry or our clothing, I see now how naturally it kind of happened. It’s an extension of us— we’ll have a tropical flair mixed with an exciting contemporary direction. That is our mold, from our Hispanic heritage to our American heritage, and just bringing that together. A lot of color, light fabrics, light jewelry, colorful jewelry, shell jewelry, yet shot and styled in a contemporary way that feels more in tune with the United States and Europe.
LATINNESS: Tell us about the name éliou?
CRISTINA: When we hit that pivotal moment where we had to decide that this is not a side project— because it was for a while— we needed to trademark and find a name. We were operating under another name before when we were just selling to our friends. Duda was on a road trip. I was sitting in my parents house on the kitchen counter, and I was just throwing in vowels and words that we like, trying to come up with a name. We knew what direction we wanted…
DUDA: On this road trip, I’m getting all these images on my phone. She’s asking “what about this font, what about this name? What if we add an accent to the é?” And then I suggested adding a u.
CRISTINA: I had all these styles, and we started shifting and moving them around. We were very inspired that year by the movie Call Me by Your Name. The cinematography, the styling, the direction, the setting of a European summer— we were just so inspired by it. One of the character’s names was Elio, and we always thought: we love this name. We added all these vowels, and we came up with the name éliou. It completely hit that note of: “It could be a boy’s name, it could be a girl’s name, it could be a beach town in the south of France or on the beaches of Italy, or a little island”. It could live in so many different ways.
DUDA: A big thing for us was that you could pronounce it wherever you are. No matter where you’re from, it’s easy to pronounce.
LATINNESS: What was that moment that made you guys want to make it official?
CRISTINA: The coolest part about our story is that we’re so happy to be here and everything here feels so great. This is where we are meant to be, but it was never planned or expected. We didn’t have a formal business plan with branding, package or anything. We had our job, we had our business.
DUDA: We were also very passionate about what we did before, and that was the direction we wanted to go. That’s where we saw ourselves. We had dreams about growing the agency, so this happened naturally and organic. We were making jewelry and accessories for all our clients at the time, and every time I would leave a shoot, somebody would ask “Hey, where can I get that?”
I tell the story every single time because I feel it’s so important. I remember us having a conversation and saying “This will not turn into a thing. We’re going to do this as a side hobby for extra cash. It’s something fun and we’ll do it on the weekends.” At the time we were selling through Instagram.
CRISTINA: We started making jewelry by playing around with shells. We’d been doing it for little things, but started making shell based jewelry for us and then friends began asking for it. We had an overwhelming amount of pieces, and it was cathartic and fun, like another creative expression. We opened a social media account and sold through there, but then the demand started growing.
We were going to launch our website, and then Net-A-Porter sent us an email asking if we were going to be at Paris Fashion Week. We didn’t even have a website! To this day, I don’t even know how they found my email.
DUDA: We were still under another name at the time. It was so surreal. We were juggling the agency and the amount of orders we were getting. It was kind of crazy. We had one employee at the time, and she would go from editing images and creating logos and graphics to making jewelry. We were all in this crazy world of back and forth, which was already overwhelming, and then we got this email.
CRISTINA: Oh my God, I started crying. I was like, “Why do you want us?” We ended up having a two season exclusivity with Net-A-Porter.
LATINNESS: Did you make it to Paris that season?
CRISTINA: No! We didn’t have money. We didn’t have a collection. We didn’t have a season. We also didn’t have experience, and we had to find money.
DUDA: Which is a whole other thing because the creative portion, we can do it. We put a band together, we know how to make things look beautiful and how to sell it, but then we were like: “Alright, now produce this piece”.
LATINNESS: Wow, Net-A-Porter significantly changes your business…
CRISTINA: So that was kind of that moment. We said “Okay, we need to legalize our name. We need to get a lawyer, open a bank account… that’s when everything changed. It was very organic, not intentional, but now it feels very right.
LATINNESS: You’re clearly creative tastemakers. What shaped this creativity?
DUDA: My mom was always very creative. She was a designer also, so I was always in this world of creativity. It felt very normal.
CRISTINA: My friendship with her extends onto her mom, having known her for so long. I come from divorced parents. I grew up with my dad, and Duda’s mom was a mother figure for me, really. Her mom was a designer and Duda was always very stylish because of this.
Our friendship kind of sucked me into that world, and from there, it was something that I didn’t know I had in me. I was only able to unlock it when I became friends with you and entered into your family. From there, we just started making things, and a lot of that expressive flow came from wanting something that we were too young to afford or didn’t have for whatever reason.
DUDA: It also reminds me of Halloween. We always made our own costumes. Our school projects were insane, and while I might not have passed, my projects were the most beautiful visual thing. For me, it was always inside. I can’t really pinpoint what turned me on to this, it was just already part of me.
LATINNESS: Big celebrities have worn your designs including Harry Styles, Dakota Fanning and Gigi Hadid. Which has been your favorite and how has that helped your business?
DUDA: Harry, we just couldn’t believe it. We found out along with the world. It was a big shock for us the first time he wore it. I remember we had just come out on the cover of Elle in Denmark. It was our first cover, and we wanted more of this editorial world for éliou. I reached out to a couple of stylists that I admire.
Coming from the creative agency background, I thought “I love these stylists, it would be a dream if they ever have an éliou piece”. The only one who got back to me was Harry Lambert, Harry Styles’ stylist who’s a genius. This man is creating trends. He DM’d us, and said “I would love a piece, I have a project coming this Friday. Can you make this, this and this?” We didn’t hear anything back until two months down the line, when Harry Styles is in a music video wearing éliou.
CRISTINA: We found out because our Instagram went crazy. We thought “What’s going on?” Then we see Harry Styles wearing our jewelry in one music video, which segues into a really strong point that I always like to mention: We don’t have a press agency, we didn’t work outside.
Hailey Bieber bought it because she wanted it and Justin borrowed it from her. So, they wear it, and Kendall Jenner bought it on her own. Dakota Fanning, Dakota Johnson… These moments we didn’t know about until someone tagged us on social media. We never pushed for that many celebrities, we didn’t pay anybody. It was all organic, which I think is insane.
When it comes to our favorite celebrity, it’s hands down Harry. When Harry wore éliou, it solidified and amplified the voice that we’ve always tried to extend from our brand, which is that it was never for one person, it was for everyone.
LATINNESS: Your tagline came to life, éliou for all.
CRISTINA: Now it feels like, “Oh, of course, Harry Styles wears it”. Men wear jewelry too, or not, whatever gender you identify with. But we were pushing that well before he wore it, and so when he did, it was finally seeing where the brand is supposed to be, somebody wearing it as we intended, and opening the door for this type of genderless trend of self-expression through jewelry.
DUDA: Finally world you are hearing us! The way we think about it is that genderles is ageless, as well. Cristy always tells a story of how her boyfriend wears her pieces, but then his mom will come into town, and all of a sudden, she has the same piece that she wore, and she’s like, where are my earrings?
CRISTINA: I’ll be at their house in a sleepover, and I don’t know where my jewelry is. Either he’s borrowing it or his mom grabbed it or his sister’s using it. It’s just an honor whatever age you are, if that’s your style…down to the dog, put it as a collar!
LATINNESS: You just launched ready-to-wear. What are your future plans for éliou?
DUDA: We’re so excited for the future of éliou. This is just just the beginning. We’re for sure going to be getting into shoes, eyewear, home decor, this is just the beginning.
CRISTINA: There are so many things we want to do, it’s just a matter of time and execution. Right now, ready-to-wear is live. Now it’s about designing another season while also designing another season of jewelry. So we’re going to get really good at that while we absolutely start expanding into other categories, but we always talk about how cool an éliou home would be.
LATINNESS: Would you ever open a physical store?
CRISTINA: We want a retail store, and maybe now that we have clothes it makes more sense. It feels like we always have a five year plan that gets squished into a six month plan. We’ll definitely do something… maybe it’s next month? I don’t know.
DUDA: Definitely pop-ups. We want to do the traveling pop-up, which is also something we talk about all the time. I’d love a physical store, and it’ll happen eventually. We’re only four years in. It still amazes me sometimes when I walk into our office and think: “This is our office. This is our brand.”
Images courtesy of éliou.