This brother-sister design duo will inspire people of color to launch their own fashion brand
Blame it on an odd obsession with the letter “V,” but I’ve had my eye on the Valas accessory brand for some time now. The brand’s striking V logo on their bags is just so simple and perfect. (Fellow minimalists know how hard it is to find a splurge-worthy bag that isn’t drowning in hardware.)
Valas creates premium leather bags, shoes, and accessories (for now.) Their miniature bags? Adorable. Their phone-charging “Rockefeller” backpacks? Bad ass. Beyoncé has one! Other fans of the brand include 5-minute makeup master Jessica Alba, Sofia Richie, Lady Gaga, Diddy, and Justin Bieber.
You know the feeling when you meet someone IRL and you have to act like you haven’t been Insta-stalking them? Such was the case when I happened to meet Karina and Kenneth, the geniuses behind Valas.
The sister-brother duo has an inspiring story that will a) get your creative juices flowing and b) make you shoot your sibling a text to say wassup.
I decided to take the short leap from admirer to full-on fashion geek and get Nicaraguan-born and Bay Area raised Karina Salmeron and her brother Kenneth Villagra to do a formal interview. Aspiring creatives of all kinds, consider this your daily reminder to go out there and GET IT.
HG: Tell us about the path from aspiring designer to building your own brand. Did you attend college? Was there a time you had to make a huge leap and quit a 9-5?
Karina Salmeron: After working in the industry under other fashion houses, I started to realize creating my own line was something I was really interested in. I began designing a few shoes with two friends, but we all had full-time jobs and it was just something we did on the side.
A few months into designing together, one of my girlfriends passed away. This great tragedy made me step back and really take a look at my life and where I was going. I knew I needed to take all we had learned together and do something with it, so I quit my job and started to focus on designing my own line of shoes and bags.
HG: What were some challenges you faced in the early stages?
KS: The first thing I learned about the industry is that the production side is dominated by men. Men who, for the most part, didn’t want to take me seriously. I had to prove to them that I had something legitimate to make. I had to make them see that this is my dream and there is no room for failure.
HG: Valas is a brother-sister duo, are people surprised by that? Tell us a bit about your working relationship.
Kenneth Villagra: I always assume people know we’re siblings. Come to find out they don’t. In regards to working with one another, it works out pretty well. We both respect each other’s lane and purpose within the business. We pick each other’s brain and build off each other. If there is something to be said, good or bad, we bring it to each other’s attention and move forward. Respect and trust has been key to our working relationship.
HG: Now on to the good stuff! Your bags are exceptional quality. Let’s talk about your design process and inspiration.
KS: I wanted to create the perfect bag for the person who is on the go, for the person who appreciates wearing pieces of art, and wants it all in one functional, luxurious package. I am very inspired by military shapes, and it comes across in a lot of the designs.
HG: Any advice for aspiring designers and business owners, especially POC?
KS: I think the best advice I can give is to be grateful to yourself for having a dream and wanting to take action to make it a reality. If you understand from the beginning that it will take so many people to accomplish your dream, so much work, and most of all, a lot of patience, you are on the right track. It is very important to know that you are on the right path even if you aren’t creating your own line yet. Every job you have, every experience, you can learn from and take with you to help you along your way. So don’t take anything you are doing for granted. Most importantly, don’t let your color or gender or anyone else’s words stop you from accomplishing your dream.”
KV: Always remain confident within your own skin and product. At times we can become timid within certain doors due to their prestige or cultural perception of being untouchable. At the end of the day, once you get to know them, you quickly realize that they’re just like you just on the opposite side of the table.