This is the story of Angélica Hilaria. She’s a passionate and creative fashion designer who, inspired by the Baja California peninsula’s nature and her family’s legacy of making hammocks, created a unique brand of hand-woven clothes and accessories.
Threads and Roots
San José del Cabo is a lively, changing, dynamic town. Every day new artistic proposals arise, and the galleries and the products for sale change. Taking a walk through downtown San José is always an opportunity to discover something new. I recently visited San José, and as expected, after the pandemic, it looks different now. Renovated locations, cafes, and shops with new products. Among them, a white facade with a very peculiar decoration caught my attention. Cotton threads hung, creating a curtain around the entrance.
This is the story of Hilaria and of its creator, Angélica. A passionate and creative fashion designer with whom I had the opportunity to talk at the cafe in front of her business. She tells me she settled in this new space just a few months ago, one of the most beautiful streets in downtown San José, among restaurants, shops, and art galleries. However, Hilaria’s story began much earlier, about five years ago. Back then, she sold in hotels and through Instagram, where she still shares her creative process and authentic designs inspired by the Baja California peninsula’s nature, and her own roots.
Angélica, what’s the story behind Hilaria? How did it begin?
My parents are merchants and my whole family is dedicated to handicrafts, producing hammocks. But I always wanted to be different and do other things. I opened an ice cream shop, which widened the picture for me. I realized that I could do different things and not just crafts. In the end, I wanted my work to be something more related to what I do, my creativity, and that’s why I started studying Fashion Design. I began designing more and then built my brand. I also like business, just like my parents. They are both very talented craftsmen and also businesspeople. So I think that in one way or another, that was my path, and there was no escaping it… or maybe I did, I don’t know, but I always knew I wanted to do a little more than just handcrafts.
So you studied Fashion Design. Where did you study and how was the experience?
I studied in La Paz. I went three, four years to the Universidad Mundial. When I started studying I had already a purpose in mind, a very clear goal. My whole family makes hammocks, and I wanted to pursue another path, different and innovative, to do something new. At school and for the last runway, the teacher asked us to design a night dress for the beach. I could not imagine a chiffon dress or shiny fabrics. I imagined a more natural proposal, and that’s when it occurred to me to use threads. In the beginning, I had my doubts, because threads are very heavy, and I always think clothes should be practical. It was not about making something weighty and impossible to use. But I found a way to keep them from being heavy, and that’s how I started creating designs with woven threads, like hammocks.
Hilaria is my name and my roots
And when you finished studying, you founded Hilaria?
Actually, when I finished my degree, I took a gap year. I really like to travel. I like to go camping and on adventures. So I took a break after school and before going into business. My partner and I took a trip from Ensenada and down the entire peninsula all the way here. I wanted to camp, surf, and give myself space, not rush things. Although I already had the idea before. It was called Azul Miel. I loved the name but felt like it was still a very schoolish project. It was not well defined, so I thought about changing it and moving forward. Now everyone knows me as Hilaria.
Why is the project called Hilaria? Where does the name come from?
My last name is Hilario, but my designs are for women, and I was looking for something more feminine. My family is known as the Hilarios de las hamacas. However, I wanted to stand out, and I did it just by changing the A. It’s a small change, but I like it. Many people think it is Hilaria because of the threads (hilos in Spanish), but it goes beyond that. It is my name and my roots.
Where is your family from, and where did you grow up?
I was born here; I grew up here. I have roots in Guerrero, but my family didn’t take us there that often. Now I’m the one who wants to go and learn more about my roots, and since I have my baby, it has become even more relevant to me. Embracing your roots is important, appreciating where you come from and knowing more about your people, and your tribe. Working with thread is a family heritage and following up is like honoring my roots. My grandmothers, my parents. I asked my dad when they started weaving. He told me that they started when the thread itself didn’t exist, and they got all the thread from the maguey and made hammocks out of these threads. I think about how lovely it is to know this and embrace it. It’s my past.
embracing your roots appreciating where you come from
What inspires you to create your designs?
The place where I live is what inspires me the most, a lot. The heat is extreme when it’s the hot season, and there are lots of beaches. Ever since I went to school, I was looking for something sustainable, and natural. When we made runways, I liked to use fibers and incorporate rocks, palms, or something natural into the scene. Although there are currently a lot of controversies regarding clothes with “natural fibers” because many say that their fabrics are organic, and perhaps they’re not. My advice is to do more research when buying a garment to really know what materials they use.
What materials do you use for your clothes?
Most are cotton and fibers. I really like natural fibers. Because their crude tone is the representation of the hammocks for me. I have seen that tone all my life. And although I have seen other colors, crude tones for me represent my origins. I also find it more elegant, more beautiful. I try to use these more natural tones, although sometimes I also use color because people ask for it. But the raw tones are my favorites because they are those of natural fibers.
How do you define your designs?
Now that I have a boutique, it is a bit more complicated to continue making everything with thread. These dresses take a long time to make, and people don’t value them. They’re unique pieces, and if they’re not sold as easily, they get dusty, and I prefer to put them away. However, these days strings are very popular. Many artisans are making tops and dresses with macrame and yarn. But like everything in trends, it comes and goes.
Personally, I want the clothes I design to be comfortable and versatile so that you can use them more than once. I want them to benefit from a garment for it to be a smart purchase. That’s why I like it when my clients say to me, “I can wear it in a thousand ways!” and that’s the goal. And you know what I’ve also noticed, because many clients tell me, that it is sensual and flirty. I like that, to keep it simple but flirty. And on the other hand, handmade and natural.
What is your creative process?
It’s spontaneous, and I like it that way. Today I’m going to the beach, today I’m going to knit or do sewing, I’m spontaneous in my day-to-day life. Sometimes I want to do one thing or another. Sometimes I want to sell, and I don’t want to know anything about the creative process. Or sometimes the other way around, I want to be creative, have my space and not know anything about the business. Yes, spontaneous.
Of all the products you have, what are your three favorite pieces?
That’s complicated; I like everything! I really like the tops with sleeves, I love them.
The earrings, although lately, I haven’t done so many. Before, I was always wearing my giant earrings (when there were no face masks), and I went to sell wearing them. But now everything changed, and with COVID people do not wear them, they lost practicality. But I really liked them.
I also like my sandals. Now I’m working on new ones with a giant pom pom. And the pieces that look like kimonos with threads underneath. I really enjoy people really like them too.
What is the best advice for someone who wants to do Fashion Design and start their own business?
Dare to do it, with whatever you have. I used to use my domestic sewing machine when I went to school. With it, I did everything and sold. I had classmates who said to me, “You do it with that machine? I’ll only do it until I have this or that machine”. And it’s cool to dream because obviously, you visualize it, but be realistic with what you have. From there, everything else grows little by little. You can’t think: “When you have the nice space when you have the nice table, the prettiest desk, the latest technology.” No, it’s going to take your whole life to put all that together. Life has taught me that you better do with what you have and with what you can, and don’t let anything stop you.
Designer and founder: Angélica Hilaria
Location: San José del Cabo
Product type: Clothes and accessories weaved by hand
A version of this article appears in print, in Issue 0 of Álula Magazine with the headline: “Hilaria: Threads and Roots.”