Image: Portobello Tote bag, SCALO502

Finding a niche in the current fashion world seems like an incredibly difficult task. What makes a new brand special? How does the collection solve a problem o bring something new? Raquel Valladares, founder of the luxury bags label SCALO502, tells us about how she turned her passion for Mayan “Huipiles” and Italian craftsmanship into a unique niche product. 

1. Can you describe that ‘aha moment’ that led to SCALO502’s creation? At what point were you certain this would have a great appeal?

It was in 2011 when I was in a riding safari with some girlfriends in Kenya. I had brought a Guatemalan bag that I had bought in the market and kept looking at it and imagining how much more beautiful it could be if it only it had the right leather and hardware. I thought a lot about the movie the Darjeeling Express, and the beautiful Louis Vuitton luggage with the unique animal pattern created specifically for that movie. I thought of creating a bag that could represent the spirit of travelling and that could celebrate cultures and artisans from around the world. A bag with a soul that would carry all the memories of your past trips and the desire for new ones.

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Image: Eaton Eccentric bag, SCALO502

2. You combine different cultures in each piece: premium Italian leather mixed with a vast selection of vintage Mayan textiles. What interests us most are these intricate colourful patterns, can you tell us about the process and history behind them?

For centuries the Mayan women of Guatemala have worn the colourful embroidered blouses called “Huipiles” and skirts called “Corte” as a badge of identity. It is through their dress and weaves that the Mayans have preserved their beliefs and culture from generation to generation. Each village wears a specific dress, with specific colours and patterns that link the individual not only to their current community but also to their ancestors. Most of the garments are made using a backstrap loom and it can take up to 8 months to complete the most elaborated ones. Unfortunately, this is a dying art, due to the civil war, discrimination, impositions by evangelical Protestant sects, economic reasons (it is cheaper to buy fast fashion than to weave a huipil), etc. The making of traditional “huipils” is an important cultural and economic activity for Mayan women. Girls begin learning the craft when they are very young. The weaving is an important source of income as agriculture is not enough to meet most families’ needs. Providing a market and demand for these weaves helps the community and encourages them to continue passing on the craft to the younger generations.

These weaves are then sent to Florence, where Italian artisans using the best materials create our Scalo 502 bags. I like to define the brand and the style of the bags as modern global as it links the talent of artisans from different parts of the world.

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Image: Mayfair Flirt bag, SCALO502

3. Growing up did you realise that you had an entrepreneurial soul? Were you interested in fashion? 

I don’t think I thought much about it growing up. I have always loved art and culture, and beauty more than anything. I think fashion is a form of art, so yes, I guess in that way I was interested in fashion from an early age. The Mayan garments are a clear combination of art, culture, beauty and fashion. I however, studied economics and finance and was more interested in politics and finance than anything else. I worked on the trading floor of Goldman Sachs for almost 7 years, and it was a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, but I was not entirely satisfied. I wanted to do something more creative; something that would allow me to explore my Guatemalan roots and combine them with our modern global lifestyle.  

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Image: Eaton Eccentric bag, SCALO502

4. We assume you have a lot of favourites. But which handbag or model are you particularly happy with and wear frequently?

I love them all. Each of them has a unique patterns carefully handmade that would be impossible to replicate in the exact same way. I normally wear the Chelsea Chatter because it is big enough to fit most of the things that I carry during the day, and it can look quite formal if needed to be, or cool and relaxed, depending on whether I wear the strap or not. The Eaton Eccentric is great for those days when I leave home and I am not coming back home, as I can bring my laptop, gym clothes and an extra outfit or an extra pair of shoes. It really fits all. 

scalo502 luxury bags interview with founder raquel valladares

Image: Sloane Squeeze bag, SCALO502

5. Eaton Eccentric, Mayfair Flirt, Portobello Tote, Sloane Squeeze…Is naming the models after iconic areas of London a statement towards your Guatemalan roots and international upbringing? Or perhaps you desire to promote artisanal work through contemporary design?

Scalo 502 is a British brand and it is based in London. I think London is one, if not the most, cosmopolitan city in the world, and our handbags are for cosmopolitan people who appreciate culture and good quality. The names are also fun and playful just like our colourful patterns. I think it was important to link the names back to London, as it emphasises, as you say, the international essence of the brand. London is yet another layover in the life-long journey of SCALO 502, where the Mayan culture marries Italian craftsmanship.

scalo502 luxury bags interview with founder raquel valladares

Image: Mayfair Flirt bag, SCALO502

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Photos: Lugermad