Gabriella Vera Vassallo - Luxury Alpaca Designs
Gabriella Vera Vassallo is a creative director of VASSALLO Corporation. She is a strong, independent, stylish and well-travelled woman. Her father was a UN diplomat, that travelled and lived abroad frequently, which allowed Gabriella exposure to various parts of the world. Her journey started in South America; she was born in Peru, raised in Brazil and Chile and more recently she lived in South Korea. But Canada is where she decided to make her permanent home. She has a Bachelor in Hotel Management and is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English. These international experiences have shown her varying cultures, traditions — and, of course, fashion. Moreover, it was International Fashion an inherent love and affiliation she had had since childhood, that truly resonated with her. Over the years, she developed an exquisite and critical eye for style in her designs.
24FASHION.TV: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a fashion designer?
Gabriella Vera Vassallo: Fashion has been an inherent love and affiliation I had since childhood. I have been sketching since I was a little girl. My father was a UN diplomat, and we were fortunate enough to travel and live in several countries growing up. This international exposure to varying traditions and cultures allowed me to develop a critical eye for style. In 2002, I opened a bridal boutique that was very successful, until we moved to countries and also shortly after my daughter was born, who is now 17 years old, and has just been admitted to University, hence I am now able to pursue my passion full force.
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I love the creative process. I get inspired by anything my eye catches anywhere and everywhere. Furthermore, I will pick parts and pieces that I fall in love with to develop my designs. I am on constant lookout that may bring ideas to my mind. Also, seeing the final product come to live, it's not only very gratifying but quite rewarding as a designer. And finally, seeing other women fall in love and wear my designs is the cherry on the top.
Where do you usually find creative inspiration for your new collection?
As stated above, my creative inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. From someone walking down the street, to an image I see when browsing online, or something a friend is wearing, and many times I will combine fragments of these into one final design. I will take pictures of clothing I see on TV, movies, ads, magazines and even on the streets. I will later pick parts and pieces to develop my own designs. Other times I might be getting dressed and find I need a coat to match it with and will start imagining what it needs to look like in order to perfectly match and run to my sketching table to draw it.
What inspired you to start Alpaca designs, and why did you choose this niche?
The alpaca industry is the pride and joy of Peruvians. I was born in Peru and therefore have been wearing alpaca garments since birth, as of its noble and unique properties, that have become known worldwide in recent times. My family and I moved to Canada in 2006, and from our first winter here, I knew that Alpaca garments would be perfect for the Canadian winter. Also, I met at a private sale event, a lady that visited Peru and had fallen in love with Alpaca Outerwear and was bringing them to Toronto with huge success. Being Peruvian and knowing the industry closely, I believed strongly that I could do it better and beyond. However, my daughter was still not old enough, so I had to pause my vision for a few years. In 2018 our first brand was launched, and since we have taken the opportunity to evolve and better serve our customers by aligning our refined value proposition and vision, which led to the creation of our new brand VASSALLO.
What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
Social Media plays a huge factor in today’s fashion industry. I actually dedicate a significant part of my time in creating content that will allow us, not only to connect with potential customers and followers, but also to engage with key players in the industry that could help bring exposure, open doors, and expand our business as a result.
How was your brand affected by the Covid-19 lockdown?
Covid-19 and the lockdowns brought a serious impact on our business. Given our high-price point it was important to carry-out sales in-person, our customers want to see, try and feel our pieces before investing on them. For this reason it has been very hard on us given events, fairs and brick & mortar have in the most part been closed this last year. We used to have a Showroom we had to close given people were hesitant to make appointments for fear of Covid-19. We had to completely shift our efforts to online shopping to recoup sales, however our customers are still holding back. Furthermore, we have been hearing clients are waiting for next year and are able to flaunt their new coats/jackets. People aren’t going out much, and it’s mostly just for essentials where most wear sweatpants. The loungewear market actually has had an important uptick on their sales. Unfortunately it's not my niche.
What do you think about sustainable fashion? Should fashion be more sustainable?
VASSALLO focuses on ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly fashion. My designs are manufactured and hand-finished in Peru by skilled and experienced alpaca craftsmen, and we only use Peruvian Alpaca, because to this day ancient traditional techniques are used by the herdsmen on the High Andes to breed the alpacas with dignity and respect. Alpacas roam freely on the Peruvian Altiplano and their fleece is a sustainable resource harvested every year before summer, they’re sheared by hand using ancestral techniques where the animal isn’t distressed or harmed. Additionally, their padded feet don’t cause damage to the land, their fleece is lanolin free thus hypoallergenic, and it doesn’t need to be washed with chemicals making it eco-friendly. I also want to point out that the fur used on our designs comes from the 10%-15% of Alpacas that perish every year for natural causes. In Peru Alpacas are never harmed, it's very regulated and controlled by authorities, and for these reasons it's very limited and challenging to source. VASSALLO proudly supports the Andean Communities, alpacas are the only valuable resource they have to sustain their way of life, and we strongly believe that through our business we are contributing to improve their quality of life and preserve their ancestral practices.
How do you want women to feel when wearing your clothes?
My goal is to make women feel empowered, elegant and very importantly comfortable. And you will see that reflected on my designs. I personally dislike clothes that are made for perfect or unrealistic bodies, that make us feel the need for “shapewear” or that we can hardly breathe or move in it. I design for every woman to not only look gorgeous but to also enjoy themselves in our pieces!
Can you shortly describe your brand?
VASSALLO is a Canadian fashion brand, inspired by the High-Andes of Peru, a country embedded in the authenticity of their ancient culture, traditions, and heritage.
The alpacas known as the "Gold of the Andes'', they have been bred on the Peruvian Altiplano for over 6,000 years. Their fleece was once reserved exclusively for royalty of the Incan Empire, given its unique and rich characteristics. In Peru, alpaca herders called 'alpaqueros' to this day use ancestral techniques in the harvesting process to not harm the alpacas or the environment, and to sustain their way of life.
Alpaca wool is a natural fiber used to make one of the most elegant and luxurious textiles on earth, and is also sustainable, biodegradable and hypoallergenic. Therefore, it has a positive impact on the environment, and also it is ideal for sensitive skin and allergies.
Alpaca remains a rare luxury, that is softer than cashmere, stronger than most natural fibers, lightweight because of microscopic air-pockets that develop as of the extreme temperatures on the high-andes, which regulate body temperature accordingly and makes it the warmest on earth. It's also water and flame resistant. It truly is a miracle of natural fiber that is used to create textiles of enduring beauty and delicacy, that we carefully select to create our luxury alpaca collections.
We are committed to bring to Canada the finest and highest-quality alpaca garments. We design our pieces in Toronto which are then manufactured and hand finished by experienced and skilled alpaca craftsmen in Peru.
VASSALLO also collaborates with other prominent Peruvian Designers, in order to bring the best alpaca garments Peru has to offer to Canadians.
What comes next for Vassallo?
VASSALLO is looking into consolidating our presence in the Canadian market and expanding into the US market. We have many ideas in mind; such as opening down the road new niches for knitwear collections, men collections, house decor pieces and also garments for kids.
We are also currently working in the creation of an innovative wear that has never been done before with alpaca, I would be the first person to have ever attempted to make this happen. It has been very difficult to find an alpaca supplier willing to join me on this idea, but I have, and despite the challenges we have joined forces. I don’t want to give away too many details, I just hope I succeed in this goal, and if I am it will be announced on our social media channels accordingly. Stay tuned!
Finally, COVID-19 has been quite unpredictable and continuing to be and overcoming its challenges through innovation and enhanced online presence is one of our focuses right now.
By Galina Antonova,
Editor-in-Chief, 24Fashion TV