Dapper Scouts - Clandestina

By Kirrin Finch
Dapper Scouts - Clandestina

The brainchild of founders Leire Fernandez (she/her) and Idania del Rio (she/her), Clandestina is an independent collective of female-forward artists and designers that bring the Cuban spirit of "resolver" and sustainable design to the world. Clandestina emerged 9 years ago, revolutionizing Havana fashion through the Cuban design lens of producing from what exists while championing representation for LGBTQ+ Cubans! Despite challenges, Clandestina continues to shine as a beacon of resilience and empowerment. Discover how this queer-owned, women-led brand transcends boundaries with their signature humor and colorful, graphic prints!

What inspired you to start Clandestina?

There weren't any independent fashion brands when we founded Clandestina. If you wanted to buy a t-shirt you only had Che Guevara or Havana Club as options. Only tourists were interested in buying these brands. Everything else, such as rainbow tees, were mere symbols of “outside capitalism”. There was nothing for Cubans and even less for queer Cubans. Some people would settle for bringing in items they found on their travels. Outsiders could assume that there were no designers or artists in Cuba, or that Cubans are not into style, but there were plenty of designers and artists, and Cubans are the most stylish people in the world, even without the resources for it.

When we started to dream about Clandestina in 2013, it looked possible, so we went for it! It’s better to say I’m sorry than to ask for permission. Now, the scene is very different. There is a growing market of Cuban fashion and Clandestina is a solid brand. We're proud to be Cuban, queer, female, and ready for the world!


Leire and Idania brought our Sage and Mauve Georgie suits to life with their graphic t-shirts! In honor of pride month, Clandestina is offering our customers 20% off through the end of June by using the code "BachataDelNorte"! Happy shopping! 
What is queer life like in Cuba?

We have built a very strong community around us. It's an island inside of an island. This protects us from many uncomfortable issues and reactions and keeps us safe from a very machista society. We have built our barriers but everybody is very welcome in our pride kingdom.

Clandestina proudly states that 99% of your products are printed by Cuban women. What inspired this commitment to female empowerment, and what impact has it had on your business and the community?

Our print team is pretty famous in Havana! It's one of the signature things about our brand!  Clandestina is a graphic brand, which means that all of our products pass through our printing facilities. They are more than a team, they’re also a key part of our creative and production process! This means that Clandestina is a very safe workplace for women and, in particular, the queer community!



How do you ensure that the garments produced in your workshop reflect the values and vision of Clandestina, particularly in terms of quality, sustainability, and inclusivity?

Clandestina has a very particular creative process. It's very organic and led by the collective. When a new design comes the entire team gives feedback. This feedback is very important for our designer and is one of the most sensitive parts of the creative process. These values are important to us not only in design but across the business, so all of us become guarantors of them.  

Graphics are such a significant aspect of your brand. Could you elaborate on how you incorporate graphics into your garments and products, and how this sets Clandestina apart from other brands? 

Our background is graphic design. We're a brand who loves to talk to our community and graphics are a very efficient channel to send messages. When we opened in 2015, having a different opinion was kind of politically incorrect. We're proud to say we're in a historical moment where diverse opinions and ways of thinking are showing up in the Cuban public arena. Our work has and continues to contribute to this dialogue and promotes diversity of thought, ways of life and opinions. This aspect makes Clandestina unique! 



What are some of the unique challenges you face being a queer-owned brand in Cuba? 

Many and none, it really depends on the day! We have learned not to take anything for granted. Business is tough and if you’re a woman, it’s even harder. There are many subtle challenges on top of the more visible, crude discrimination. Sometimes it’s inside your own team. Patriarchy has deep roots and even the people you work with can become part of the problem. It’s constantly learning on how to trust and support each other. 

How do you express yourself through fashion? 

For us fashion is a statement. A very powerful tool to express your identity and thoughts. Leire’s ways are very much linked to intellectual statements that say, "I am who I am". She does fashion in her particular way, despite the trends, and leans towards sportswear garments, old tees, second hand hoodies, and jackets. Dark blue is her color, and flip flops her best asset. Idania’s style is also simple but more eclectic. Sometimes she wears crazy shoes, silver cuban link chains, glitter, and sparkles. Her favorite clothes are second hand t-shirts reprinted with Clandestina designs.



How do you celebrate Pride in Cuba and at Clandestina?

Pride is time for our community to shine. We concentrate on generating a safe and joyous space where we can celebrate who we are. It's also a time to reflect about what we need to fight for and to connect to our allies and spread the message. 

Clandestina just celebrated its 9 year anniversary! What is the biggest lesson you have learned along the way? What do you picture for Clandestina’s future?

Clandestina is our baby girl. So, 9 years means our child is growing! We are accumulating many lessons. Our biggest one is that energy is the most precious thing that people and entrepreneurs have. The most critical thing is knowing how to use it along the way. 

In Cuba the future is unclear, but one thing is certain. We will always overcome! The new generation is showing up. The future of Clandestina is a new generation of designers and managers taking the brand further and further!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published