The interview of Cinthya Guerrero, the designer

Cinthya Guerrero is a sunshine. As soon as she comes in her Parisian showroom-boutique at 51 rue de Turenne, the atmosphere brightens up. The designer agrees that optimism and joie vivre naturally runs in her blood thanks to her Peruvian roots. And that’s exactly the way she wanted her brand to be: joyful, hopeful and benevolent. With her own words, she tells here the genesis of STELLA PARDO.

01 You called your brand STELLA PARDO, from the name of your maternal grandmother. Why?

I wanted the name of this brand to be a symbol, that echoes strength, empathy, generosity, joy and hope. My grandmother Stella Pardo perfectly embodies those values. She raised alone her ten children, and fought to give them prospects in life. She managed to finish her studies and to become a school teacher alongside with her mother duties. Today, she is proud to see her name used for such a benevolent project, which aims at women empowerment.

02 You were born and raised for some time in Peru. What memories do you keep from your childhood there?

The first thing that comes in my mind when talking about Peru is my family. I grew up in a family of strong women, who have all raised their daughters alone. As my mother had a job and had to keep an eye on me at the same time, I used to spend a lot of time in her workshop. She ran a uniform factory with a lot of employees. I particularly remember the moments when her merchandise was ready to be shipped. There was an incredible energy in the room, everyone was happy, cheering themselves for their hard work.

03 How old were you when you arrived in France?

I was 10. My mother offered me a trip to France. I remember the cold when we landed. It was the end of autumn, and I was amazed by all these vibrant colors in the trees. It was raining a lot too. Lima is located in a desert, where it never rains. So, this pouring rain was an extraordinary thing for my mother and I. I remember hiding under a bus stop in Metz… We came out the shelter just a few minutes, to feel the rain drops on our cheeks. It was one of the most beautiful moments of our lives. We were just happy to be there, in this country so different from Peru, halfway around the world. And we never left France! Just like that, we decided to start a new chapter there.

04 Did you dream of being a fashion designer at the time?

Not at all… For a very long time, I wanted to work as a humanitarian aid or for the United Nations. It came progressively. As we decided to start a new life in France, we had to deal with limited resources. I was often dressing up in second-hand shops. My favorite pieces were 70’s costumes! I felt gorgeous and unique with these clothes.

05 When did you decide to launch your own brand?   

After working a few years for media companies and for LVMH, I felt that something was missing. I wanted to create a collection that would match my three core principles: offering job opportunities to marginalized people, helping single mothers and preserving cultural heritage. I realized that the Peruvian alpaca wool is a fantastic material and that Peruvian women have an amazing talent for knitting. When I left my job at LVMH in 2009, no one had the idea to launch a handmade production with this material yet. So, I took the leap, deciding to make alpaca wool jumpers with skillful women from slums, who knit with ancestral techniques inherited from their mothers.

06 How did you set up your network of knitters over the years?

When I set up the production line of our brand, I went directly in Lima’s slums with my aunt Beldad to find knitters by ourselves. Peruvian women distrusted us. They thought that we wanted to exploit them to earn money. But they were still intrigued because at that time, it was quite rare for a fashion designer to walk in slums to recruit artisans. After a while, they understood that I trusted them and believed in them. We started with two knitters. We told them “if you have sisters, cousins, or friends who are looking for jobs and who know how to knit, tell them we recruit.” And that’s how we got more knitters. By word of mouth. In 2020, we had more than 80 artisans working for us, and there’s even more of them today since we opened a new workshop in Cuzco.

07 How did you learn fashion design?

I never applied to a fashion school, I’m self-taught. When I created my first collections, I mostly relied on my instinct, and it worked. I’ve also learned a lot from our artisans, especially because I’ve spent hours watching them knitting. It even enabled me to develop a quirky talent: if my knitting skills are not amazing, I can guess in advance how to technically improve the knitting stitches.

08 What inspires you when you draw your collections?

I am mainly inspired by people I’ve met, by materials and by traditional know-hows. I need to see hands knitting, I need to touch wool and to talk with my artisans. It really boosts my creativity. I am also inspired by nature and the 70’s. I am mesmerized by this “flower power decade”, full of freedom and women empowerment. And I still love thrift shops, I keep hunting for fashionable treasures! This idea to recycle clothes has also pushed me to fight against waste. I down-cycle and upcycle every unsold piece from our collections.

09 How do you organize yourself when you create a new collection? Do you spend some time in Peru?

Yes, I fly to Peru to develop my prototypes and oversee the production of each collection. I stay with our knitting groups’ leaders in their workshops during the whole process. Most of our knitters work from home. Peru is an emerging country, so there aren’t any nurseries for their children in the slums where they live. Single mothers have to find solutions to look after their children and work at the same time. I quickly understood that these women had to be entrepreneurs, not employees, so they can organize themselves as they want, and decide themselves of the cost of their knits. We ask them to come at least once a week in their group leaders’ workshops so they can check the quality of their production and socialize with other knitters.

10 How does your French DNA fit into STELLA PARDO?

When I launched STELLA PARDO, I wanted to combine the incredible Peruvian know-how and materials with a completely different style, sophisticated, elegant and refined. This mix reflects my dual nationality - French and Peruvian. I wanted to work around the beauty that surrounds me since I arrived in France aged 10, and to create exclusive pieces, which took a lot of time and attention. You can feel the French luxury through the cuts and the styles of our handmade garments, and through their finishing touches.

11 In 2021, you launched a new responsible production line in India. Why this country in particular?

I discovered India 10 years ago and I immediately fell in love with this country. Colors, traditions, spirituality, markets... India has a lot to offer but it still suffers from poverty. I’ve been really moved by the plight of many Indians. As I already had in mind to put forward Indian craftsmanship on the international scene just like I did with the Peruvian craftsmanship, I settled a new sustainable production chain near New Delhi, which pays homage to Indian ancestral techniques such as tie and dye and embroidery. Fair trade is not only a priority in Peru. Once we will have offer better prospects to our Indian artisans, we will start a new chapter in a new country where people need help. This is STELLA PARDO’s driving force.