We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalie Cardenas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natalie, we’d love to start by asking you about lessons learned. Is there a lesson you can share with us?
The most crucial lesson my business has taught me is that it’s essential to take breaks. At the beginning of my business journey, I felt responsible for taking on many tasks. I’d wake early, work through lunch breaks and through nights. But, I found that overworking doesn’t equal quality work or happy customers. So this past year, I learned to let my mind rest – sometimes it’s a few days or longer – and that’s improved my creativity and quality of work.
I’ve also learned that it’s crucial to stop comparing my journey to others. I’ve come to terms that my business timeline will look different than others. Taking small or long breaks that can reset my mind brings me inspiration and new ideas. I know that about myself. So, I’ve learned to let go and give myself a mental break. Sometimes it’s taking a walk, exercising, or relaxing by the beach. I don’t feel guilty about it either. When I come back to my work, I have a fresh, new perspective and renewed excitement.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
At Santuario, we make traditional handbags with the highest quality standards to connect vibrant Colombian heritage with fashion-savvy women. Each handbag is uniquely created by Colombian artisans based on tradition and culture. The name itself, Santuario, means “a sacred place,” and I chose that name because it’s also where my mother was born.
When I founded Santuario in 2019, I wanted to bridge the gap between artisans (or artisanos) and modern fashion mavens.
In this region in Colombia, artisans don’t have access to computers or the internet. As a result, they cannot build websites or brands to sell these beautiful handbags that they pour so much pride into making. Typically, Colombian artisans are at the mercy of tourists to sell their products. With the lack of travel, the pandemic has become increasingly difficult. Santuario is the outlet to introduce uniquely handmade bags to the American market and beyond. This partnership connects consumers across the globe with craftsmen local to Santuario and Jeríco.
It’s crucial for Santuario to stock eye-catching pieces that are also timeless. I love that no two are the same. And, when a piece stands out, people ask questions. The brand’s story is then shared. Plus, with centuries of history behind them, these bags are staples that can be passed down from one generation to the next, along with its story and the life it has lived.
At this juncture, Santuario’s role is to foster this connection while educating people about Colombia’s rich culture. In doing so, we are creating a steady stream of income independent of the regular tourist season, even when travel becomes safe. As Santuario grows, we intend to provide a portion of our proceeds for outreach and educational programs.
My journey has been challenging since it was launched a few months before the start of the pandemic. Nonetheless, I appreciate those challenges because each setback has taught me something. There are no mistakes, just learning experiences. So when I hit a bump, I always ask myself what I can learn from the situation.
One of my biggest struggles was overcoming my own fear. It’s scary to put out a piece of yourself. These bags are me. They are my culture. There is vulnerability since I am exposing myself to rejection. But I have shifted my perspective of that fear of rejection. I know my mission is authentic. I know that there is a market for Santuario – the entire community is working towards accepting diversity all around them. I realize that the only thing I can do is stay faithful to my calling and understand that this is a process. Of course, I won’t get it right all the time, but I can continue to work hard, and hopefully, our community will start to see that shine through. I am constantly learning from my mistakes, and that’s what makes this journey so much sweeter.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My tour of West LA would be Day 1: Beach picnic at the Santa Monica beach followed by shopping down the promenade and then dinner at the Misfit Restaurant and Bar on Santa Monica Blvd.
Day 2: Bike ride around Venice down Rose Street stop and get breakfast at Flake. Ride down to Abbot Kinney and go shopping, and grab ice cream at Salt and Straw. Have dinner at Rose Café and then bike down to the Erwin Hotel to watch the sunset set and grab a drink.
Day 3: Do a hike at Topanga Canyon and then have lunch at Malibu Café on the Malibu Pier.
Day 4: Breakfast at Café Gratitude on Rose Street and then spend the day at Redondo beach. At night, eat sushi at FIN on Washington Blvd. Then, walk across the street to the Alibi Room for late-night drinks.
Day 5: Enjoy Venice beach. Have burgers at Hunano Café on Washington Blvd. and then drinks at the Waterfront Venice on Ocean.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would love to dedicate my shoutout to my mother. It is because of her I was able to explore my Colombian heritage. Ever since I was young, I would travel to Colombia. I was able to learn new cultural experiences, including food, landscapes, and their products. Through this exposure, I realized my passion for starting a business, a bridge between America and Colombia.
Event: DC Swim Week for Miami Swim Week 2020 Photographers: Edwin Alvarado, Makayla Casey