It Girl | LISBETH ARIAS
It Girl Kristine Sloan introduced me to Lisbeth and I am so grateful. I immediately creeped on her and found that she is behind an amazing clothing brand based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. The brand is called Descalza and Lisbeth was able to get funded on Kickstarter to launch her brand. Meeting Lisbeth when I did was exactly what I needed. She has such a beautiful and humble spirit that shines through everything that she does! I love that she keeps it real when it comes to what her journey looks like and how she is working other jobs while building her brand. I am so excited for you to meet her!
Name: Lisbeth Arias
Job Title/Company: Founder of Descalza
Education Background: BS in fashion textile design with a minor in Italian Studies from North Carolina State University
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I was born in San Salvador, El Salvador but my mom brought me here when I was 2 years old and we lived in Sanford, North Carolina. I didn’t move to Raleigh until I started college. I majored in Fashion Textile Design because my mom has been a seamstress all of my life and I picked up sewing from her. It was something that finally she and I do together because other subjects in school always had a language barrier, but not sewing- that was universal.
I went through college and created a lot of opportunities. One of them was working with artisans in Guatemala where I had an internship. That is where I started to see these woven fabrics for the first time. I saw a reflection of myself in them and I knew that somehow I was going to come back to them.
After I graduated college, I went to New York and got design experience just like everyone advised me to do. When I got flustered with New York life I ended up coming back to North Carolina in 2016 with the intention to start my company and get back to those textiles, bringing them to people that look like me and that I knew would appreciate and value the hard work that the people from Latin America do.
2. What sparked your interest in starting Descalza?
Seeing my friends and how they would try to incorporate their culture into their style. I saw a lot of my friends wearing bracelets and purses and scarves from Latin America but they never wore clothing for the same reason why I never wore clothing from El Salvador. It is because the quality plus the silhouettes look super old school. I saw those textiles and artisans and the community here in the United States that could appreciate and value what they were doing. I wanted to create Descalza as a bridge between the community that is here and really takes pride in their heritage but also create a market for the artisans because they are extremely talented but don’t always have a reason to make these fabrics.
What also pushed me was the political climate that we are in right now in terms of society and trying to move forward. There is a lot of fear that people are exposing because we all have so many ways to showcase and highlight our voices. I saw Descalza as a way that you can create and spark those crucial conversations that we need to have with each other in order to reduce that fear that for some reason people have when they see someone who doesn’t look like them.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
Number one is my mom, by far. Other people would be my friends. I am creating this clothing line for them. I am always having these conversations with them to see how Descalza can fit into their lives and ease the pains that they might be going through. I also really respect companies that are already doing what I am doing. One good example is Carla Fernandez from Mexico. She does that exact same thing that I am doing but everything is born and raised Mexican. I love her work and definitely admire what she does and hope that one day Descalza can be similar to what she has been able to do. Her stuff has been worn to the Oscars which is amazing. She is definitely one person that I have been influenced by. And of course Michelle Obama!
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
My very first job was when I was sixteen. I was a gymnastics instructor. I started doing gymnastics when I was nine. I started spending a lot of time at the gym just working on my own stuff and when I turned 16 I was like, you know what? I should get paid to be here! I was there for a year and then it was time to do college stuff. I liked it. I got to play with little preschoolers all of the time.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
When I graduated from NC State! I am the first one in my family to graduate from college and I got to speak at my graduation. I told my family and my mom was so proud that homegirl got the whole family to come mad early. You know the stereotype of Latinos being late… NO! My mom was like, "not today!" My college was predominately white and I added the color to a white space which was cool. I didn’t mind. So when I got up on stage, I saw that my family had filled up the front row. My aunts were there from Texas. The priest from El Salvador was there from my local town, my cousins… Every single brown person was there and in the front row for me. When I started my speech, I looked up and made eye contact with my mom. I started speaking about her and my voice got very broken and I started to feel like I was going to cry. I turned and looked at my dad because I knew he wouldn’t make me cry. It was one of my proudest moments because I got to go up on stage and see my entire family and to see my mom’s expressions.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
My first goal was, to see if people want this or if it is just me. I knew that in my friend group, I am always considered the stylish, quirky one. I wanted to see if I created a company that worked with these textiles with very bright patterns and colors, would other people wear this too? Last year with Kickstarter, we succeed that goal because people wanted this. My next goal as a brand is continuing to build brand awareness and really find a way to bring Descalza to the people that it encapsulates. Our goals are still evolving. One of my first goals was to be able to do this full time but its going to have to wait because as I am learning about business, there is so much embedded in there and I need to make sure that the business can take care of itself before it can take care of another person.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through starting your company?
I would say having grit. Starting a company takes over you physically, mentally, and emotionally. A lot of your time is consumed because you are so passionate about this one thing. I think that at the end of the day when you are starting a company, you have to be passionate about it because if you don’t work on the company that day, no one else worked on it. It is going to take some time until you have employees and other people that are just as passionate as you are but more than likely, you are going to have to pay those people. You are the only one that is willing to put in all the time and effort and energy for “free,” so you definitely have to have grit to do that. We all have the potential to create and start something, but a lot of us don’t live up to it and I think the difference is having grit.
8. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
In five years I hope I am working on creating a brick and mortar for Descalza. My goal is to establish myself as a physical brand with a physical location in downtown Raleigh. I want the experience in the brick and mortar to be one where people feel like they went to Latin America with me. I want them to feel like they went into another world, a very humbling world and the product of that world that they can take home is the clothing pieces. How am I gonna do that? I have no idea. I know now a days retails can be 'bleh' because you can do everything online so that is why I am trying to create an experience that you can’t have online. It is only through human connection.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
I usually wake up around 6 in the morning. I get some good breakfast, mostly eggs and toast because I can’t really cook. Once in a while I will throw some avocados in there that I stole from my mom and dad. Maybe I will make plantains but it has to be a reaaaaally good day for me to cook up some sweet plantains. I do that, I shower of course. I am out by 7/7:30. I try to do all of my digital stuff in the morning so I’ll usually go to a coffee shop. I know lots of coffee shops in Raleigh and I am pretty sure they know me too. I basically chill there for like 5 hours just working on everything digitally, sending emails, working on the website, generating ideas, maybe sketching a little bit. From there, I go back to my apartment and if I need to work on stuff more, like making, then I’ll start working on sampling things or whatever. Right now I am mostly just having meetings with people. I do a lot of driving. Around 3-4 PM I have to go to my job that pays. That will either look like as a server at Centro, a really good Mexican restaurant here, OR as an ESL teacher in Sanford, NC where I teach computing class and English to adults. If I am at the restaurant, I usually get home around 11:00, if I am at the school, I get home around 9:00. If I am working at the restaurant when I get home I go to sleep, if I am in Sanford then I play with the dog and then go to sleep.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
Crucial conversations and confrontation! I am not the person that likes to have tough conversations with people. I can’t confront them! But I am learning that I have to do it because now I am not just representing myself, but I am my brand’s voice. When someone attacks or does something wrong to the brand, I am the only one who is going to stand up for it. I have had to unfortunately have those conversations with people that I never expected to have. There are times when I felt stepped on and taken advantage of so I had to stand up for myself and say hey, that’s not right and this is why. In order to move forward, I have had to create contracts and stuff like that where I outline “this is what you are allowed to do with my stuff, this is what you are not allowed to do with my stuff,” and just take care of the intellectual property that comes with having a clothing brand that is so visually interesting and also visually accessible. It sucks and I know it is going to get harder and worse because as the company gets bigger, these details are going to get more significant but I am already having to learn this now at a very young stage.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
This is regarding health… Don’t sacrifice your sleep. At the end of the day things are going to get done, problems will get fixed. The whole 'you’ll sleep when you die' phrase… NO. Please don’t do that. I have learned that if I don’t get sleep, at least 7 hours a day, I spend the whole next day creating mistakes. And then the next day I have to work backwards and take care of the mistakes that I made because I thought that I was being efficient by staying up late at night trying to fix something. Your sleep should never be sacrificed. You should always have and maintain a good health, a good diet and don’t sacrifice sleep. For me I know that is something that my body really needs and I think it is a great piece of advice that has nothing to do with business but everything to do with running one.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
I am definitely a morning person. I get lots of good ideas in the morning usually when I am sitting near daylight listening to really good music. Another time I get really good ideas is working through obstacles with someone else because I am an extrovert. They may have no sort of background in what I am talking about but it is the conversation that we are having and where it is going that I get ideas from.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
I have applied for several grants to help fund Descalza and bring it to the next stage. One of them was a $10,000 grant and I made it as a finalist competing against 20+ people. I didn’t get it. That has happened to me several times but my mindset is, I can’t do anything about it right now, let me move forward. Let me figure out another way to make this work. When I feel failure, I call my mom.
14. How do you unwind?
That is something I am struggling with. The more you work on your business, the more you fall in love with it over and over again. And every moment that you are awake you want to spend working on it. That is good because it is what is going to push your company forward, but bad because you start taking time from yourself. At the end of the day there are two people, your brand and yourself. In order for your brand to succeed you have to take care of yourself. That is something I struggle with but my friends help me a lot by inviting me to movies, going on coffee dates with me, exploring new restaurants and cities… What I try to do everyday is at the end of the day, I will watch an episode of FRIENDS. I just want to come down from the day and I know FRIENDS will help me do that.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
Good luck! Go back! Save yourself! Don’t do it!
Just kidding. Welcome! I would say definitely have a support system ready because you are going to need those people when it gets extremely difficult and all you want to do is quit and cry and go back to mama. They will be there to pick you up and turn that lightbulb on you and remind you that no one else is capable of doing this but you. They will keep you grounded. At the same time, you will have those moments of success. As an entrepreneur, a lot of the time you are alone and so those moments are going to come and you are going to be by yourself. You want to make sure that you have your support system on deck so that you can share those moments with them and you don’t feel alone even if you may be the only one right now. Physically, you might be the only one working at the company but you have an entire squad of people close to you that will back you up at the end of the day because they love you.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
I am just an example of what happens when you live to your potential or when you really work toward your dream. It is not easy. It is not pretty. It is very difficult and really changes you. You are outside of your comfort zone for the longest time because everything that you are doing has a learning curve. You are alone most of the time because you don’t have a team of people yet. I want people to see my story and realize that I came into the world where the system wasn’t going to favor me. My family for the longest time, did not speak English. I was the only one. I was the translator. I represented a lot for my family. I was the first one to come to college. I picked a career that a lot of people say don’t do because it is hard work in the arts but I am making it happen. I am putting it together, and making it work. I want people to know that even when the odds are against you, even when the system does not favor your side and wasn’t built to help you, there is still a way to make it happen.
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
If you want to start something, and it has been on your mind for the longest time, don’t wait until everything is perfect. It is never going to be. You are starting something that hasn’t be created so obviously you aren’t going to have all of the answers. It is a matter of testing it out. Brainstorm with people and have friends hold you accountable. You can’t wait for it to be perfect, that is never going to happen.