Everything about Gabriela Guaracao's fledgling women's wear brand, Americae, is a nod to her South American heritage: the tropical print on fitted, tailored pantsuits; the way the crochet sheaths hug women's curvy silhouettes; and the raw emerald, gold-plated, and cow horn statement rings, natural resources of Guaracao's native land, Colombia.
Yet the 31-year-old entrepreneur stresses Americae is for any woman who likes pretty things. The current collection also boasts striking floral jumpsuits, gleaming envelope clutches, silk scarves, and several straw fedoras.
Guaracao says it's for fashionistas who appreciate a bit of South American culture infused in their everyday lives. Think Theory with a dash of spicy salsa, and prices that range from $100 for a ring to $900 for a sheath.
"We are creating a handcrafted, luxury product that is feminine and strong," Guaracao told me one afternoon as the sun caressed the delicate pieces in her Center City office. Guaracao leads a staff of seven women, some of whom have worked at contemporary fashion's highest-profile companies, like Urban Outfitters and lululemon. "In this way, we are including Latin America in what we do, but we aren't leading with Latin America."
Guaracao is the daughter of Hernán Guaracao, founder and CEO of Al Dia, the city's news platform that speaks to the Latino community. She was born in Colombia and moved to Philadelphia when she was young.
Her sense of style is spectacular. Her wavy hair is streaked white-blond with dark roots that are more chic than in need of color. She's wearing a tuxedo — complete with silk lapels and daring black stripe crawling up the leg — splashed with turquoise flowers and green vines. She totally looks the part of high-powered fashion executive, yet she doesn't have a fashion background.
Fifteen, 10, even five years ago, that would have been a rarity. But today, many of fashion's most interesting emerging brands, like Philadelphia's custom-suit label ModaMatters and the company that might rival Diane Von Furstenberg when it comes to the perfect wrap dress, Truth BE Worn, have former corporate 9-to-5ers at the helm. Like Guaracao, they have turned the city's always popping-up coworking spaces into their businesses/showrooms, where they are confidently carving out niches for themselves.
It's an exciting time because not only do these new entrepreneurs understand the spreadsheets, their take on fashion matters is more practical than it is fabulous — Guaracao is designing for the business woman she is. Through social media, these savvy business people are speaking directly to their markets. And they are not beholden to the whims of department store buyers or fashion editors who have traditionally given their blessings to brands rooted in Eurocentric ideas of beauty.
Guaracao launched Americae in July. Since then, she's hosted several Instagram-friendly events, including a kickoff that featured a 10-foot-high wall of imported Amazon River flowers arranged by local florist Liz Barrella, and an exclusive shopping event at the Ritz Carlton featuring live models, wine, and music with Latin flair. Next week, Guaracao will host a private dinner to introduce dozens of industry influencers, like well-connected consultant and man about town Alexander Hankin, to the brand.
All of this groundwork has converted to quite the buzz in the fashion industry, a database with more than 5,000 potential customers, and hundreds of sales on Americae's glossy website, which features a cluster of fair-skinned, racially ambiguous women living their best lives against a tropical backdrop. "The Americae woman is globally aware," Guaracao said. "She loves to travel. She loves to express herself through clothing, regardless of her profession. And she loves color."
Guaracao earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Villanova University. After graduation, she started working at Al Dia. She became the company's director of media operations before leaving in 2014 for George Washington University, where she earned a master's in security policy as part of the school's international affairs program.
For her course work, Guaracao's studied abroad in 2016, visiting several Latin American countries, among them Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina. She found herself taken with the handcrafted work of local artisans. She thought it should be in the same high-fashion lane as pieces by Italian and French makers: the delicate embroidery, the expert weave in hats, the use of polished oak in clutches, and the supple leather jackets aren't just luxe, they speak to the souls of the many people around the world with indigenous heritage.
"There is this idea that we look at Latin American countries as if they are poor," Guaracao said. "But our culture is rich. I come from a rich continent with a lot of different cultures that influences and inspires the entire world. This is about empowerment."
Back from her trip abroad, Guaracao immediately started to research ways to work with Latin American artisans to create a brand infused with color and kick. Now was the time, she reasoned. Other major brands were focusing on India and China for manufacturing, but Latin American countries not only had skilled laborers, they also were part of the culture. "Our decision was to make Latin American products in a Latin American country because we want to honor the inspiration of the people," Guaracao said.
Financially, the timing was wise, too. President Trump's tariffs threaten the ability of Americans to manufacture goods in China. Many fashion brands are looking at other places to make their goods. At the moment, products made in Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina, where Guaracao is doing the bulk of her manufacturing, are protected from tariffs, thanks to free-trade agreements.
Guaracao settled on the name "Americae" — Latin for "North and South America" — because it represented the brand's inclusive style. She wrote a business plan, or several. She raised $300,000 through angel investors, and she's in the midst of a second round of fund-raising.
Right now, there are 11 artisans from abroad making and manufacturing Americae products. But Guaracao says she plans to whittle that number down so her collection is more cohesive. She already knows the emerald rings and tropical prints on the pantsuits — that I believe have the potential to become part of the signature of the brand — will likely stay.
"The Americae woman doesn't get swallowed by her femininity," Guaracao said. "She stands completely and totally firm in it."