Making Progress in Puerto Rico

Row of sandals by entrepreneur Karla López Rivera 04 FD

Designer Karla López Rivera 04 FD is among the residents of Puerto Rico who are working to pull the US territory out of a crippling, long-term recession. Even before Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017 and left the island literally powerless to rebuild, local businesses were navigating a debt crisis that caused many to close up shop.

But now Puerto Rican startups are on the rise, and Isleñas (Islander), the socially responsible footwear company López launched after returning to the island in 2018, is among them.

Designer Karla López Rivera 04 FD

“Maria really pushed the decision for me to move back,” López says. “I’d been away for 14 years [but] I had those feelings of urgency to come back and help.”

After relocating from New York City, López partnered with the sustainability platform Retazo and the education- and healthcare-focused nonprofit Centro Sor Isolina Ferre (CSIF) to design and implement a training and manufacturing program that is providing opportunities for underrepresented communities in Puerto Rico.

“Our mission is to contribute to Puerto Rico’s social transformation through manufacturing.”

Isleñas founder Karla López Rivera 04 FD
Home of Puerto Rican startup, Isleñas (Islander), in San Juan
Isleñas’ home in sunny San Juan

Working out of a tiny factory in San Juan that houses two sewing machines and a blanket stitch machine, López and her small team of seamstresses are producing colorful and comfortable espadrille sandals that are available online. Some of her employees have been struggling to find work since they lost their jobs in the 1980s and 1990s when large garment factories in Puerto Rico closed.

Sandals by Karla López Rivera 04 FD

“Today we are a team of five with the intention of growing production and opportunities locally,” López explains. She adds that the ongoing motivation behind Isleñas is simple: “look good, feel good, do good.”

Simone Solondz

July 16, 2019

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