Featured Image: Justynn Roque and Alec Boyle
Five years ago, a determined young woman from Colombia moved to Canada with large aspirations and a drive to make a difference in our world. She thought the very idea of becoming the next Vivenne Westwood was such an out-out-pocket and unrealistic career option, and after considering her fashion ambitions nothing but a mere dream, she promptly opted for a future in politics instead. Who could have imagined that that same young woman has now founded her own brand and debuted her very own fashion collection at Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) 2022. Hyla Golden Del Castillo has proven that with perseverance and dedication, even the journeys that seem the most impossible can be attainable. Golden Del Castillo tells all; from her journey of moving to Canada at just seventeen years of age to how she found herself creating and executing one of the most enthralling shows in FAT 2022.
. . .
Swetha Sutharsan: Hyla Golden Del Castillo… Behind your name lies the fierce identity of a woman who would like to make a change in this world. How did your journey begin, and how drastically has it changed since the beginning?
Hyla Golden Del Castillo: Well, I am actually from Bogotá, Colombia. I moved to Canada five years ago, when I was only seventeen years old. I came here for university, and I didn’t initially get accepted into the fashion program at Ryerson University [currently known as Toronto Metropolitan University] right away, but I did get into the politics program. I had convinced myself that there was no way I could make money out of fashion; I would have to be a Vivenne Westwood, Alexander Mcqueen type of person in order to actually be successful. I convinced myself that politics was the way to go. In Colombia, it was very important to be aware of policies and laws as it would affect every single individual. I went into politics thinking that I can save the world, and apply all my newfound political knowledge back home in Colombia. I was in the program for two years, and during that time I would always dread going to class. We only learned about Canadian politics and that didn’t really serve any purpose to me. So, really what inspired me to pursue my own brand was the feeling of wanting to make a change, but I realized that through politics this goal would’ve been very difficult. I decided to go in another direction.
SS: After deciding to pursue fashion as a full-time career, how did you initially begin your brand, H.Y.L.A? What made you take the sustainable route, when a mass-produced, fast fashion route is, unfortunately, what seems to be most convenient and profitable in today’s society?
HC: The fast fashion route can be enticing for some, but I always had the mindset that “If I am not doing it sustainability, then what am I even doing?” In the beginning, my brand was actually called Saints. I didn’t think it was good enough for me to put my name on it. Once it got more attention, and people really began liking the stuff I was putting out there, I decided to do a whole rebranding. In the beginning, I was only selling tank tops for raves. I incorporated chains in order to make all the garments adjustable, so that everyone can wear and feel comfortable in the clothing. At this time, it was very small and we would only shoot with my phone. I have always tried to be as zero waste as I possibly can be. I wanted to make one-of-a-kind stuff because I was so inspired by the materials, but because I was only reusing scraps of fabrics, it was a really big challenge at first.
For my first photoshoot, I worked with all my friends in the politics program, and worked with people from various marginalized communities who never got any visibility or representation in the fashion world. I thought that was so messed up, so I decided that we would all get dressed, go to Young and Dundas and just do a photoshoot. The reaction from the people who saw the photos, but also the models themselves, was so moving to me.
SS: As your brand continues to become more established, what would you name as your biggest inspiration(s) for your designs?
HC: I really align myself with my brand motto, “match yourself to your surroundings.” Match yourself to the environment in a way that’s not disruptive, yet still significant. I always try to be in tune with my surroundings, even if they’re only virtual. During peak pandemic time, I decided to make gingham face masks and I called them “Pixel Doll Face Masks.” They were inspired by the Windows 95 screensaver. So, even in such an uncertain time, I managed to find inspiration in my surroundings. Always match yourself to your surroundings, even if they are virtual or imaginary. I find a lot of inspiration in nature, the people, and the sense of community they have back home in Colombia and Panama. The idea of being so in tune with nature, and all the things we can learn from it, is extremely powerful. I strongly believe in the power of nature, the power of community, and the power of women. I would say, women inspire me the most.
SS: Your Latin American ethnicity and culture can be seen represented throughout your brand. How important was it for you to incorporate those aspects of your identity into your designs?
HC: I was hesitant to tell people where I was from when I first came to Canada. There are a lot of negative stereotypes that people believe based on the way Latin Americans are portrayed in the media. I realized quickly that I had to find ways to uplift my heritage and start putting a different light on my ethnicity, because I feel like that’s one of the biggest burdens that we, as Colombians, have. On the runway, I made sure to incorporate tembleques (traditional Panamanian headpiece), as they are a part of the traditional dress worn in Panama. Traditional Latin American jewelry were also worn and the majority of my runway team were members of the Latinx community. So, for me, that’s always a priority: to uplift everyone from my community. If I continue to design with that intention in mind, then I have no doubt that everything will just flow naturally afterward.
SS: At FAT 2022 , you debuted the new collection by H.Y.L.A, Una Vuelta al Sol. What inspired this collection, and what vision did you have in mind when creating garments for this new line?
HC: I think nature was my main inspiration for a lot of the garments for Una Vuelta al Sol. The nature of Colombia and Panama inspired my designs, but there wasn’t a direct link with the actual clothing. It was more generally inspired by the nature and community back home. But I definitely have to say, my biggest inspiration for all the garments I make are the Latin women I used to see when I was younger. Their sensualness mixed with elegance and fun has always stood out to me. I really wanted to incorporate that. I also got a lot of inspiration from the models themselves. Working with the model’s bodies and seeing what worked for them. There was a lot of white in the collection as well, and I love to use white in the cotton eyelet material. That’s something that’s very popular on the coast. Many Latin women would wear these beautiful white traditional gowns and go about their day looking so pristine, almost like tropical princesses. I basically just wanted to make everyone look like tropical royalty.
SS: Your show at FAT 2022 kept the audience captivated and fully immersed into the show at all times. How did you manage to successfully direct and execute your first fashion show, and what was your thought process throughout the event?
HC: My goal was to include as many people as possible, which is why some garments were very simple while others were more elaborate. I always saw clearly that if this was my first runway show, then I wanted to make sure that people know where the brand comes from, where I come from, and understand the true essence of H.Y.L.A. After the show, somebody said it [the fashion show] was almost like a poem to Latin America, and that really resonated with me.
SS: Your show included a multimedia performance, complete with a traditional Latin American musician and dancer for the closing event. What made you go above and beyond, and not just put on a fashion show, but in fact put on a spectacular performance for the audience to enjoy?
HC: I wanted to make sure there was a reason behind everything I did. In the beginning, when I danced around the runway sprinkling flower petals across the stage, that was my way of opening the runway as a safe space for the models to walk on. The skirt I was wearing was a variation of the traditional Panamanian skirt that we wear for galas. Also, it was a last-minute decision to include the traditional dancer and musician. The dancer at the end, Tammy Martinez, was from Colombia and I call her my “fake mom.” She helped me a lot and gave me a solid foundation when I first came to Canada. The drummer, José Auzoategui, was from Panama. Both of them
came ready in their own traditional outfits and were more than happy to support me. I thought it was the perfect way to signify my two home countries coming together.
The show itself was the highest form of homage I have ever done, and it makes me so happy to see the way it came out. At the end when I walked out with my models, the music that was playing was the carnival music played in Panama, and specifically, it’s the music that plays when the Queen comes out at the end of the parade. I wanted the crowd to feel that energy. People tend to take themselves too seriously, especially in fashion shows, and I’m like what’s the point, they’re just clothes, it’s okay to have fun!
One thought on ““A Poem to Latin America…”: An Interview with Fashion Designer Hyla Golden Del Castillo”
Such a wonderful profile on a powerful up-and-comer in the fashion industry <3 I love how Hyla created her own path towards success while staying true to her values. Keep it up!