Havana– Dador is arguably Havana’s hottest and most contemporary fashion brand with a boutique that looks like you have just stepped off the streets of Paris or Rome. Customers enter through a beautiful white wrought iron gate and a restored wooden door with large glass panes that opens with heft.
Inside the energy is creative, the design perfectly on point, and the vibe welcoming. Art adorns the walls in rotating shows that support Cuban artists from painters to photographers. In the back of the shop a small kitchen used for making coffee for lingering guests blends in next to an aubergine colored couch and pink chair. Lauren Fajardo and I sit down here over a strong coffee, of course. She begins to tell me about her journey of creating a brand that is both contemporary and quintessentially Cuban.
Lauren, and her co-founders Ilse Antón and Raquel Janero, are some of Cuba’s newest, high-profile entrepreneurs. The likes of Martha Stewart and Susan Sarandon have stopped by the store for a unique item and a photo op since the opening of Dador in late 2018.
Like many entrepreneurs working in Cuba today, Lauren and her co-founders saw a great deal of hope and possibility when the US and Cuba announced they would begin to thaw relations in late 2014. “I was living abroad for years and I came back to Havana for the Biennial in May of 2015. There was a buzz in the air and a hesitant but growing optimism on the streets. I felt like there was a possibility of building a business here and also being a part of what was happening and being connected to what I valued.”
Licenses for private businesses had expanded even more in 2011, and there was space in those laws for a private clothing shop. Lauren and her co-founders were classmates at ISDi (Instituto Superior de Diseño), the fashion design school in Havana, but upon graduating the career options were slim. Reconnecting again years later and building this brand was a way to create the work they always wanted to do and expand the opportunities for women on the island in this area of work.
All clothes are designed by the owners. In the boutique, a contemporary staircase winds up to a mezzanine where Cuban seamstresses work at sewing machines. Fabrics are sourced from Cuba when possible, or they are brought in from travels abroad. It took the trio two years to refurbish the building on Calle Amagura. “We were lugging materials, negotiating, and managing the construction workers,” she tells me. “And when the woman is the boss and is telling male workers that they did it wrong, there is more confrontation than if she were a man.”
She describes how even though Cuban women have a strong sense of who they are and a lot of confidence, they still butt up against typical gender role expectations. “It is a universal thing to face challenges as a woman, and it is the same here. Women were always working in Revolutionary Cuba and there are a lot of female-run businesses now too. But on the majority, she is also expected to cook, take care of the children and look good.” At the end of all that, then a woman has time for herself. “But I believe in what we are doing and there are so many of us now,” Lauren says. “When you create a sisterhood like we have among the three of us and the other female entrepreneurs here, you have a support system of those who are in the same situation. We are taking steps together.”
Photos: Top, the founders of Dador from left Ilse Antón, Raquel Janero and Lauren Fajardo/Courtesy Dador; second and third, inside the shop in Havana. Photos courtesy Kay Whitchurch
Kay Whitchurch is an American painter and entrepreneur who lives between Havana and Chicago. She and her husband, the musician Norberto Guerra, are the co-founders of Otros Ojos, a culturally immersive travel group that opens doors into Cuba’s creative enclaves. @kaywhitchurch.