Juan Pablo Martínez is a Colombian designer who has worked in sustainability for more than 10 years, and in the fashion industry for more than two decades. One of the first sustainable designers in Latin America, he has also designed for Christian Lacroix, owned a successful boutique, shown his designs at a New York fashion show, and now he works to help educate brands on sustainable fashion. He has consistently found ways to succeed in all of his endeavors, and in this interview he shares all of the valuable lessons he’s learned over his prolific career.
Juan Pablo Martínez realized he was interested in fashion at a young age. When his punk aesthetic made him stand out at his conservative school, he found that he loved the way clothes could completely change your perception of a person.
“I understood the power that fashion has to show our own identities.”
Fast forward, Juan studied in Bogotá, learned sewing and patternmaking in Milan, and then went to study for a master’s in fashion design in Paris. While he was at school, he overheard a French classmate saying she had been offered a job with Christian Lacroix, but she wasn’t interested. Juan had no portfolio to show for the interview, so he put together 16 designs in two hours to impress the interviewer and score the job.
With all of that experience, Juan returned to Colombia a year later with a lot of confidence. He had a master’s degree, he had studied in some of the most renowned fashion hubs, and he had worked for a famous french designer. Ready to share his designs with his home country, he opened up a boutique expecting great success. But despite his obvious skill and excellent location, the customers weren’t buying.
So what went wrong? Juan realized that he was still designing for the runway. Although his designs were fantastic, they weren’t what real people wanted to wear. He had to get into the heads of his customers and design beautiful things that actually worked for their real lives.
Once he had mastered the art of designing for his customers, Juan felt ready to move onto the next chapter of his career. Sustainability was just starting to become a big deal in the fashion world, and he found himself at the forefront of sustainable design in Latin America.
He had some success as a freelance sustainable designer, but when he started working with companies Juan realized just how little many brands understood what sustainability truly means. So now he consults brands and fashion startups on how to create and sell clothing in a truly sustainable way.
Oh, and the coat he sent Heidi? Check it out!
Loved this episode? Don’t miss episode 71, A fashion design dream come true: From Honduras to New York Fashion Week!