When Debra was 11 years old she needed a new outfit for a dance. Unlike most 11 year olds, she did not want to pick something out from the store—she wanted to design something of her own. Debra went to the fabric store to pick her own materials and then to a seamstress to get a custom-made outfit. This childhood experience made a lasting impact on Debra and she began studying under a seamstress.
However, she soon learned that she was more interested in the design aspect than the actual sewing. Growing up, Debra’s exposure to fashion was Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, and while she loved fashion, she had a limited conception of what it meant to pursue it as a career.
With support from both her parents, Debra went to college and studied journalism, hoping to someday write pieces for magazines like her old favorites. However, as she continued her education, she became interested in pursuing other avenues of the fashion industry. In the back of her mind, there was an idea that kept nagging at her- she wanted to be a designer.
Conflicted between her studies in journalism and her desire to design clothing, Debra was at a crossroads. She turned to her father for advice. He was a man of few words, but always told her how important it was to stay true to herself and follow her own path. “He has allowed me to discover my freedom and for that I am eternally grateful.”
Feeling more confident in her dreams, she began designing. Just like when she was a girl, she had a vision for an original type of clothing to produce. She wanted to go back to her roots and design clothing with ties to her native Cuba. Specifically, she was drawn to the guayabera shirt. “The guayabera is the most iconic garment in Latin culture. It’s a symbol, like no other, of Latin elegance,” Debra says with beaming pride.
Debra recently relocated to Miami, and is working to grow her business in a new location while still maintaining a base in New York. She was referred to Accion by her personal banker at Chase, where she took out a loan with plans to expand the focus of her designs to include women’s evening wear. The loan has helped Debra kick-start her expansion and create samples.
As successful as her business has been, Debra acknowledges that being a small business owner is far from easy. It is very hard work, she says, but when you have a dream—something you are so interested in that it won’t leave your mind—you have to follow up on it. And even with all the challenges, there are also little gems. “To see other people wearing your designs,” Debra says, “that is what designers live for!” When Debra reflects on her journey, she is thankful for her parents’ encouragement and her father’s advice. Debra told us, “My dad is absolutely my hero.”