About Us

Claudia Bell is a woman on a mission. Despite only launching her first accessories business brandnative three years ago, she has already taken the fashion world by storm.Featured in clothing bible Vogue in May, she single-handedly runs her company while juggling the busy demands of a young family. But it is working with the indigenous Wayuu tribeswomen from her home country of Colombia to sell their unique hand crocheted “mochila” bags that makes it all worthwhile.

“The women are so inspiring, beautiful and humble. They are the leaders of the community as it's a matriarchal society,”

says Claudia, who lives in Islip, Oxford, with husband Paul, 47, and children Annie, 14, Matthew, 12 and Emily, nine. “They work so hard to look after their families and yet they never complain and always have a big smile on their faces. I find that so inspiring.

“When I'm feeling stressed out I tell myself to be grateful for how much I have and approach the world in the same philosophical way as they do.”

That is not to say life isn't a bit of a juggling act at the moment for Claudia, who shrieks with laughter when I ask her age before settling on “forties”.She says: “I sometimes joke that I'm a taxi driver for my kids as well as being a businesswoman" 

“I do everything myself so that means long hours, often going back to my home office after helping the kids with homework, but I honestly love what I do and that's what keeps me motivated.”

For Claudia, launching Brandnative in September 2013 was the realisation of her childhood dream.

She first saw the brightly coloured handwoven bags being made by the Latin American women of the Guajira Peninsula (which borders Colombia and Venezuela) when she was 18.

Claudia, who is rarely seen without wearing one of the vibrantly coloured handbags across her body, remembers: “I was doing my A-levels and we went on a school trip. At that time the mochila bags very fashionable so we went to see the ladies. I absolutely loved the bags and watching the women at work.”
The entrepreneur, who is originally from Medellin, has a long history of working in fashion and retail. She studied fashion design and business in college in Colombia and worked as a children's clothes saleswoman before she moved to the UK in 1998 to study English. Setting up her own accessories brand seemed like the next natural step so five years ago Claudia went back to Colombia to talk to the Wayuu tribe.
 

“Something just clicked for me. I knew I wanted to team up with these lovely women who work so hard for their families and in such poor conditions. But at the time there was no free commerce between Colombia and Europe, making it very difficult to export.”

Disappointingly, Claudia had to put her plans on hold until the trade barriers were lifted in August 2013. “At last in September that year, brandnative was born and I started to import the handmade bags, bracelets and belts to the UK with the help of a German exporting company Kuehne & Nagel.” And being part of a wave of more responsible, ethical fashion was really important to Claudia. She is currently in the process of trying to secure Fair Trade status for her products, too.

“The demand for ethically sourced fashion came just at the right time for me and my business. And I truly believe that buying something handmade is more precious. You are not just buying a bag, you are buying part of an ancient tradition and culture.”

Claudia says the concept behind Brandnative is simple – bringing a taste of vibrant Colombia to brighten up the lives of women everywhere, while at the same time providing a fair price and much needed income and support to the women who make the cotton bags. “I pay the women a very good wage, which helps improve their facilities.

I have also paid for water tanks in the village and regularly box up old clothes which we send to them.” The Wayuu tribe area truly fascinating bunch. Organised in matrilineal clans, the children carry their mother's surname, making the women not only the centre of the family but cultural leaders, too. It's a family tradition that every Wayuu mother teaches her daughter how to weave and crochet the intricate bags when she reaches puberty. Claudia says: “Every design is unique to the weaver, so that no two bags are the same. They are so nimble-fingered and while they work incredibly fast, each bag can take up to 4 weeks to make, especially for the bigger, more complicated designs.

“The women weave together, sharing stories and gossip from the village as they work. The oldest weaver I met is 73. It's very impressive to watch how skilled they are.”

And Claudia says that the tribe have been living in the same frugal way for hundreds of years, she says: “They live on small settlements called “rancherias” in the desert, sleeping in beautiful hand-crocheted hammocks. They have no electricity, no TV and the nearest shop is an hour's walk away.”

While Claudia's husband runs his own successful business Islip Motors next-door to the family home, it has always been important for her to earn her own money.

“That is one of the reasons I started Brandnative,” explains Claudia, “and thankfully Paul was able to lend me the money to get started so that I wouldn't be stung with high interest rates on a bank loan.“I spent a lot of time looking at business plans online and working out the logistics as I wanted to do everything myself. When I got my EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number, which you need to legally export goods, I was so happy I called it the “passport to my dreams”.

“My oldest daughter Annie models the bags for my website, so it's very much in the tradition of the Wayuu culture to have both mum and daughter working together in the family business.”

But as with any business, it hasn't all been plain sailing for Claudia.

“It's still early days so any profits I make I plough back into the company, so I've not paid myself yet. But I love my job and I love what I do. I'm grateful to be working doing something I'm so passionate about.”

“It's very easy to love your job if you love what you're doing and you are passionate about it. You have to work hard and be determined when you are running your own business, but like the women of the Wayuu tribe, my attitude is to just go for it.”