ROCIO GONZALEZ: “MY SUCCESS AND THAT OF MY PRODUCT COMES FROM BEING VERY TRANSPARENT”
Name: Rocio Gonzalez
Star sign: Cancer
LATINNESS: Rocio, we met over 10 years ago, when I was at Vogue and you were just starting off. What were those early days like for you?
ROCIO: Yes, 14 years ago… It was around the same time my son Paco was born. In fact, I ordered a baby bag with a lady in the countryside who worked with leather ties. In Argentina, far from the cities, where the horses graze and run, there are many artisans. I asked her to hand stitch a round bag for me, and then I painted it on the outside.
In the past, I’d failed with these types of endeavors several times, and I was totally frustrated. I thought: “Soon I’ll be a mother; I’m not going to do anything else. I’m just going to create this bag for myself.” But the typical thing happened, when I wore it, all my friends asked me for one. So I started again. First, I painted a few for my friends, and later I started selling them.
LATINNESS: Since then you’ve been extremely successful in Argentina with clients such as Juliana Awada. You’ve also collaborated with Hawaii Polo Life and now Johanna Ortiz.
ROCIO: Everything happened through polo. I began with the brand 14 years ago; I made my first bag and it went well. Then, I designed a camisole, the one with seashells, as the only thing to wear… and many more bags.
Sales were going great because in Argentina there isn’t really a product that’s rustic, but luxurious, which is why in the polo environment they were super successful. When I traveled for polo, I sold them internationally, for example, in the United States. Americans thought they were cheap for hand stitched crocodile wallets. To me they were very expensive.
LATINNESS: How did you manage that growth?
ROCIO: There came a time when I was doing Instagram, taking photos and answering emails. I couldn’t handle everything, it was too much! I asked my best friend Leonor Tanoira if she wanted to partner with me because she loves the whole numbers part. We’ve been together eight years now.
LATINNESS: How did the collaboration with Johanna Ortiz come about?
ROCIO: I met her through Georgette, a friend I made through the sport. Her youngest son had gone to play polo at her house and came to visit them one weekend. He took a photo inside the trunk of a car that was very familiar to me; it said Wellington. I forwarded it to Georgette and asked: “Do you know Johanna? Give me her address so I can send her some samples.” We sent her a box full of shell tops and handbags. That was in September. Then she answered our call. She said that it was too pretty, and that she wanted to do a collaboration. And so it happened!
LATINNESS: When you sent those samples, did you expect it to result in a collaboration?
ROCIO: I wanted her to see my work. I always felt like our designs go very well together. She’s Latin and very elegant. In Argentina we don’t often dress as elegant as Colombians do. When you get together with them and see them all with their dresses, the hair, the earrings, you can’t help but compare. My partner and I looked at each other and said: “We’re a mess!” Argentina has another vibe, nothing to do with theirs, but I knew that the shell tops went perfectly with her prints . It was a good marriage.
LATINNESS: When I saw your designs on the runway I thought: “This looks familiar!”. Finding out that it was in fact you behind it, made me smile.
ROCIO: It feels like a dream come true to reach Matches and Bergdorf. For us, as a young brand, it’s difficult. We had a lot of success on the first order. In the first round of orders, they asked for about 46 pieces of this shell top.
When they arrive at Moda Operandi and already have them in their hands, they will do it again. More people will come! The truth is that we don’t have as much capacity to take on very large orders. We’re very small.
LATINNESS: Right, because you work with artisans from Argentina for your collections?
ROCIO: Yes, particularly with the craftswoman who made the baby bag, as well as with her brother and son. When he started with us, he was very small; now he’s grown up. It’s a family of artisans.
The same with the clothing pieces: the sister, the uncle, and the families that make the shell tops and the handbags.
Later, we found communities from the north of Argentina, from Formosa, the Pilagas and the Wichi. They are natives who work with vegetable fiber and weave it, dye it with natural pigments and make these tops. Johanna had chosen one for winter and then took it down from the collection, but they are all natural things and very original.
LATINNESS: Looking past the materials, your pieces are timeless, which makes them somewhat sustainable in terms of wearability and lifespan.
ROCIO: We don’t have seasons, nor winter, nor summer. We create pieces that we consider timeless. If you bought it ten years ago, you probably still use it because it’s a basic, like a t-shirt with a blazer that you find new ways to wear, like putting cashmere underneath, layering with a dress, etc. Sometimes I’m selling sweaters and it’s 40 degrees.
They’re garments I’d like to have in my wardrobe that I use every day. Many of them were born from my insecurity with my legs and behind. Suddenly it occurred to me that to be able to wear tight pants, I could add fringes on the sides of a leather top. If I remove a bit of length, then you can see some legs.
They’re flattering pieces for a body that’s not necessarily two meters. They’re things I do for myself, or thinking of us, of the life we live amongst horses and boys who get dirty. They’re rustic.
LATINNESS: That’s exactly the lifestyle your brand transmits to us.
ROCIO: I just can’t invent anything else! I live in a field with horses and boys who play polo: my husband, my father and my brothers. I don’t know much else. And it’s not polo you see in the Hamptons with hats and heels, but that of the Argentines who live inside a trunk, watching our children or husband practicing or at a match. That’s why you’ll see mate and the matera, because they’re part of our daily life.
LATINNESS: You were talking about the differences between the style of Colombian and Argentine women earlier. Something I really love about the latter is its timelessness. Where do you spend your time?
ROCIO: We’re in Pilar, one hour from Buenos Aires, which is where the polo is. We live in the country. We opened our offices and workshop near Tortugas, in the Country Club of Tortugas.
The truth is that we have a large number of clients who live close to where we are. For me it was a lot of luck, a lot of work, sending samples and giving gifts. It’s been a long road of ups and downs, and thinking of the amount of things that were never even delivered, but, suddenly, by having a little faith, like with Johanna’s box, things change.
Everything is very homemade. It’s word of mouth, like when a very good friend helps us and tells us: “I met so and so”. It’s all like this, with all our effort.
Sending the box to Johanna I said, “Chao! She’ll probably never answer. Who knows! Let’s send it anyway!” But she answered.
LATINNESS: How wonderful! What do you think is the key to your success?
ROCIO: Having gotten together with Loló, who is a crack. She organized us on the numbers side, which helped us grow. I’m like water, but she structures me, hires people. Without that leg, it wouldn’t have evolved into anything. Today, there are about twenty people working on the brand. I alone wouldn’t have been able to.
My success and that of my product is in being very transparent. My Instagram is my life, it’s me. The same photo I might post of my dad, in the back you can see the kid or the horse that I’m raising… sometimes I think I sell more the lifestyle. When they buy your bag, they also want to buy your horse, the flower, the trunk. Since I’m basically posting my life, I don’t have to invent it. I couldn’t go out and make up a story!
And well, Instagram is very spontaneous, no? I take photos with my phone, except for the productions in which we hire models or a photographer, but the daily is from my phone: me, on a beautiful afternoon with my mate in hand. It’s not very professional, but fresh and real.
LATINNESS: Authenticity is what people look for anyway.
ROCIO: I did it that way without meaning to. Besides, it was the only way to do it. When I started, the boys were little, and you know how it is. You don’t have time to take a million photos! You do what you can between naps. There’s something that people want to see, which is to feel identified and find things in common. It’s good.