Apparel News

Nubia Natalie's Approach to Activewear Reflects Appreciation for Indigenous Artisans

By Dorothy Crouch 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Not simply another activewear line, Nubia Nataliecelebrates the artisans of Mexico’s Huichol community, located in the country’s Sierra Madre mountain region. 

After two years in the making, Natalie Arribeno’s activewear line launches Sept. 24, following a presale on Sept. 15. For Arribeno—who has enjoyed a career in fashion working with companies including Trina TurkSplendid and Ella Moss—the project is a reflection on past experiences that shaped her life and a future defined by helping indigenous artisans around the world. 

“I started brainstorming regarding how I could give a voice to the artisans,” said Arribeno, who is the company’s chief executive officer. “The reason I chose activewear is because it’s a vehicle that is very close to me. I believe a healthy lifestyle is very important.”

After researching the region’s indigenous cultures, Arribeno connected with anthropologist Susana Valadez, who 30 years ago founded the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts in Huejuquilla el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico. The organization not only offers food, clothing and medicine to the local indigenous population but also provides opportunities through education, agriculture cultivation and employs artisans known for their colorful yarn paintings and beaded artwork. 

“The reason I started with the Huichol is because my family is from Nayarit,” Arribeno said. “I wanted to start somewhere that was close to my heart. My family is from the location close to the Sierra Madre mountains, where the Huichol still continue to live and continue their culture.”

For her launch, Arribeno will release three silhouettes: leggings, a sports bra and drawstring yoga shorts. While the patterns are based on traditional Huichol artisan work, Nubia Natalie includes features accommodating modern active lifestyles. The leggings offer two pockets—one in front and another in back for a key and identification. The shorts were designed with diagonal drawstrings and the sports bra features a wide back and crisscross straps. 

Three different Huichol designs—El Camino (the pathway in Spanish), the Spiritual Mirror and Mystic—will be part of the first collection. Carefully considering every detail during the development process, she wanted to recognize the important women who were integral to the collection’s launch. Leggings are named “Susana” for the Hui­chol Center founder, the sports bra is called “Lupita” to honor her late mother, and the shorts are named “Valerie” to recognize her sister. 

“My sister and I started doing yoga 10 years ago right after my mother’s passing,” she said. “For us, it was a mindful, spiritual exercise. Going through that journey 10 years ago with her was how I fell in love with yoga.”

As a Los Angeles–based fashion professional, Arribeno is familiar with different methods of apparel production, but after learning about the significance of nature in the Huichol culture she was determined to create a collection that would reduce environmental impact. 

“Diving deep into their culture as I started the project made me realize how important Mother Nature is and how to respect that,” she recalled. 

Using Repreve fabric sourced from recycled plastic water bottles and doing sublimation printing at Pop Click Design in Eagle Rock, Calif., Arribeno’s apparel is cut and sewn in Los Angeles at BB&S Cutting Services. In addition to adhering to production practices that reflect the ideals of the Huichol people, Nubia Natalie will be manufactured in small quantities. 

“We are doing low minimums,” Arribeno said. “I didn’t want to create excess inventory and be harmful to the environment.” 

The partnership between Nubia Natalie and the Huichol Center is more than a business venture. Through creating pieces with an authentic connection to the culture of indigenous people, Arribeno wants to show the difference between appropriation of culture and appreciation. Before choosing designs for her activewear, Arribeno consults with Valadez to ensure certain patterns will not be interpreted as disrespectful to the community. 

“The designs could get distorted and making activewear is different. Having recycled water-bottle fabric is different than a cross stitch on muslin,” Arribeno explained. “The mission of the brand is to champion artisans and be very aware of not distorting their culture.”

While an exact dollar amount has not yet been determined, a portion of Nubia Natalie sales from the inaugural collection will be donated to the Huichol Center. In addition to these proceeds, Arribeno will donate her size run, or the preliminary run of samples for each size, to Galeria Tanana, Valadez’s gallery in the surf town of Sayulita, Mexico, which supports the Huichol Center. 

With leggings retailing for $88, the sports bra for $58 and the shorts for $68, the Nubia Natalie collection will begin as a direct-to-consumer venture through www.nubianatalie.co, but Arribeno hopes to eventually expand her business to include retail partners.

NATALIE ARRIBENO