Four sisters, who grew up running their mother’s shoe factory in Colombia, have revitalized it into a Nordstrom loved brand, Kaanas. The sisters grew up attending trade shows, diving into suitcases of shoe samples and eventually running the factory. In 2013, they saw factories closing down as cheaper, lower quality products flooded the market so they founded Kaanas to help their family keep the shoe factory open. Kaanas produces high quality and socially responsible products in playful, feminine designs with classic silhouettes. The shoes have bold prints and quality craftsmanship, defining their collections and setting them apart from other footwear labels. Each style is also designed by hand through a network of artisans in South America, Central America and Africa. The family collaborates with these artisans to develop unique designs, and gives back to these communities by providing jobs and ensuring fair compensation. Kaanas is available for purchase online and in stores with major retail partners like Nordstrom, Shopbop, Revolve, Anthropologie, Everything But Water, ASOS and 500+ specialty boutiques nationwide.
Adriana, Natalia, Liliana and Juliana Acevedo now run Kaanas alongside their parents. Liliana and Natalia share why they decided to revitalize their mother’s shoe factory.
Kaanas Mules.COURTESY OF KAANAS
Yola Robert: What made you decide to continue with the shoe making business vs. dabbling into another industry?
Lilliana and Natalia Acevedo: We all gravitated naturally towards it, fashion in general and shoe manufacturing/design specifically comes as second nature because of our upbringing. We always enjoyed spending time at our mother’s factory, traveling with them to trade shows or spending the busy retail times at our father’s shoe stores. When they started downsizing and my dad’s stores went out of business we immediately jumped in and made it our life goal to bring back the family business to its former glory. Family is everything to us and it was not a hard choice to leave former jobs and dedicate ourselves to helping with the family business. It was an easy choice really, it allowed us all to pursue our collective dream of creating a fashion brand using the manufacturing resources and know-how we had at our disposal. The company was built from our own savings and collective hard work, so every little achievement is a family celebration.
Robert: Where does the name Kaanas come from?
Acevedo Sisters: The “kanaas” is the weave used by the Wayuu tribe, a centuries old matriarchal society from the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia. Legend has it that a spider taught the women their signature weave, which they use to create textiles and support their families. Coming from a female dominated and entrepreneurial family that has been working with and supporting multiple generations of local artisans, the name seemed fitting.
Robert: What were the most important things about entrepreneurship that your parents taught you?
Acevedo Sisters: We learned that entrepreneurship is a hard path, sometimes it is discouraging, but at the end very rewarding. Running your own company takes a lot of time, and a lot of hard work. Our family taught us to make your team your family, because you won’t be able to get to the finish line by yourself… choose a handful of great people who can join you in your dreams, and with whom you share values and a strong work ethic. Ill never forget my dad saying, “fashion and inspiration is found on the streets. Just sit down and watch people walk by, and you’ll figure out what the trends are and will be.” They also taught us to treat your employees as you would like to be treated. To this day, our parents encounter former employees who always have the best things to say about their time working for them. Not everyone will be a good fit for your team, but for those people that are, we like to develop life long relationships. We have shoe-makers in the factory that have known us most of our lives.
Robert: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who want to continue the legacy of their family’s business?
Acevedo Sisters: Always appreciate and value your parent’s wisdom and experience. They’ve already traveled a long and rocky path filled with knowledge and experience. There’s nothing more rewarding than coming home from a long work day and knowing you’ve given your all for your families well-being and that you should continue to give it your all each and every day.
Robert: What can we expect from KAANAS in 2019?
Acevedo Sisters: In 2019 we are definitely pushing our B2C (business to consumer) channel. Wholesale is a great distribution channel to gain volume and momentum, but in the end our customer relationships are key. We plan on investing more on the growth of our e-commerce and developing a closer relationship with our customers. We would like to learn more about what they think, what product categories they like best, comments in regards to our fit, etc.
Robert: Now knowing everything you know, what advice would you give your 21-year-old selves?
Acevedo Sisters: Trust the path, don’t rush it. Trust your decisions. Just be passionate along the way and face big dreams with determination. I’ve always read this quote to myself when I’m about to mark a rough or scary decision; “Courage: To dive into uncertainty and have faith in your ability to fall… Gently, Naturally, into your own place in the world.” I would continue to repeat this to my 21 year-old self.
Robert: What is one failure you have been able to turn into a success?
Acevedo Sisters: Our first six months at Kaanas were definitely difficult and far from a success. I remember reaching out to so many stores and no one would reply to my emails. We had stocked up on close to 2,000 units of merchandise in preparation for the Spring season, with no confirmed orders to back them up. We sold 36 pairs of shoes within the first six months. We had visions of having to donate all of the extra pairs if we weren’t able to sell them after two years. We kept reaching out to accounts until finally one day we finally connected with Calypso St. Barth. They absolutely loved the line and became our first major retailer.