Words by Allyna Wilson
Bold colors, contemporary designs, and ethical practices are some of the pillars that Selva Negra rests upon. Friends and business partners, Kristen Gonzalez and Sam Romero, founded their brand, Selva Negra, in 2016 shortly after graduating from their respective universities. Their unique pieces truly look like works of art while still being casual enough for any occasion. This spring, TRIBUTE is introducing Selva Negra to our collection! We believe in the importance of amplifying different narratives through fashion and design. Being able to represent culture and stories is one of the many reasons why TRIBUTE wanted to work with Selva Negra. Their designs are inspired by the two founders Latina heritage! Kristen and Sam gave us a deeper dive into their brand and how they use their platform to empower and inspire.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves!
Kristen (left in photo): I am the co-founder and creative director of Selva Negra. I hail from Riverside, CA and grew up in Phoenix, AZ and Orange County, CA. I like to garden, cook, eat, read, and dance like nobody's watching. Sam (right in the photo): I am a co-founder of Selva Negra. I grew up in Miami, Florida and both of my parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Since leaving Miami at 19, I’ve lived in La Romana (DR), New York, Chicago and now LA. I’ve learned so much from all these places and enjoying what life in LA has allowed me to do so far.
How did you both meet, and what was the journey like starting a brand together?
Kristen: I am the co-founder and creative director of Selva Negra. I hail from Riverside, CA and grew up in Phoenix, AZ and Orange County, CA. I like to garden, cook, eat, read, and dance like nobody's watching. Sam: I am a co-founder of Selva Negra. I grew up in Miami, Florida and both of my parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Since leaving Miami at 19, I’ve lived in La Romana (DR), New York, Chicago and now LA. I’ve learned so much from all these places and enjoying what life in LA has allowed me to do so far.
How did you form your vision together?
Kristen: We melted our design aesthetics together, which was in a way very similar and different at the same time. We both had a girly and tomboy side and we allowed ourselves the creative freedom to capture this vision. Sam: We have very different perspectives and somehow we manage to bring these facets of one another to make design that really fits well in the same space. From a design perspective, we are usually quite in tune and discuss how we envision those designs to come to life through fabric and color. It’s my favorite part of our process.
How did you bring the brand to life?
K: It was a happy accident since we didn’t initially plan to “build a brand”. Instead, we were sketching at bars in Brooklyn and decided to release what we had been working on when I decided I was moving back to California. We spent the next month sewing the collection and put together a collection release by scraping together resources with a little help from our friends. From there, we received our first order and didn’t stop building the brand over time.
What is the meaning behind the name Selva Negra?
K: Selva Negra translates in Spanish to “Black Jungle”. We wanted the brand to represent our Latina heritage and we thought this name sounded interesting and would teach non-spanish speakers something new.
Ethical production and sustainability are core to your brand, is there a message you're hoping to convey to your customers about how they shop for clothes?
K: We are hoping to set a standard for the fashion industry by holding ourselves accountable and ensure we are putting people and the planet first. The fashion industry is the third largest industry that contributes to water waste and tends to pay their workers the least. By setting a precedent for paying fair wages and using sustainable practices, we want to educate our customers about holding all companies accountable for their ethical practices.
As two Latina women, you both use your brand to invite your customers into your culture, how do you go about expressing your culture through your designs?
K: Our collections are representative of our Latina heritage through our textile colors and style names. We also introduce initiatives such as Somos Humanos, our sweater in collaboration with United We Dream, a non-profit that creates resources and community for Daca recipients and undocumented immigrants. In addition, we support community-driven efforts to introduce legislation to protect Los Angeles sewers against wage theft. Our conversations are built around our Latina community and how we can better bring representation to the industry that falls short to pay proper homage to our community
What are you hoping your customers and the fashion industry will learn from the space you created for fashion and Latin culture?
K: We hope that we can educate those around us about the multi-faceted layers of our individual experiences as Latinas, how we can be better for our community and how it is represented. S: Representation is everything. Kristen and I talk about this all the time, but we always say if we saw ourselves represented in fashion as kids, we probably wouldn’t have felt like becoming business owners of a fashion brand was such a far-fetched idea. Perhaps maybe even remove self-doubt at times. Of course, as with all cultures, race and ethnicity – the Latinx experience is not a monolith and we hope we’re just adding to the many different ways we can exist and take up space in the world.
The pandemic affected small businesses in many different ways, how did it affect Selva Negra?
K: It has been a rollercoaster ride for us. There will be days where we will be drowning in web orders, and then periods where we’re not sure how we’re going to make it through the month. It’s been a huge learning curve.
As business owners, were there any important takeaways from this period?
K: I personally have learned to have more patience for the business and learn to pace myself in my workload. I have also been able to heavily lean our small independent design community for emotional support, which has helped greatly.
I love your womanism platform, I think it’s such an amazing way to amplify women’s voices , especially women of color. What was the intention behind starting this platform?
S: Originally, the idea of the platform came as a way for us to connect with other women, even if they worked outside of fashion. Embedded in our brand is the celebration of the nuance in our lives – that even though we are creating clothes, people will take the same exact item and wear it in their own way. Similarly, I feel like this platform serves as a way to hear individual experiences that may or may not be so far off from our own and just learn from them.
Finally, what are each of your favorite pieces from your newest collection? I know it’ll be hard to pick because they are all so beautiful!
K: My favorite pieces are the Ribbed Set (Ezra Crop and Sabi Pant) and also our new embroidered linen set. So excited about that! S: Oof! That’s hard. I think I'm also in love with the Ribbed Set, especially in the two-toned Matcha/Seaside combo. I’m also in love with the Rita pant and can’t wait to add it to my closet.
🌹 THANK YOU 🌹
(all photos courtesy of Selva Negra)