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Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 5)



JuancoceoIMG_6347By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

Leading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis. For the fifth feature, we spoke with Juan Lanusse (CEO), pictured at left, and Maral Arslanian (US Representative & Distributor), pictured below, of clothing brand Juana de Arco, which recently began its expansion into the US market through Miami two years ago.

Tell us about Juana de Arco. What’s the genesis story? What has been the trajectory?

Juana de Arco was born in 1998 in the iconic Palermo Viejo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina by the hands of designer and artist Mariana Cortes. Mariana was born in the small town of Arribeños, humble and interesting, she gives the brand this essence. Inspired by nature, art and the recuperation of Latin-American techniques, Mariana draws out the textiles and prints that are then hand silk screen printed in an infinite variety of color that make each piece one-of-a-kind and unique.

JuancoThe brand started off as a bikini line that Mariana sold out of a backpack on the beaches of Argentina. Today, Juana de Arco has two flagship stores in Buenos Aires and two in Japan; our products are now being distributed to specialty boutiques throughout the US and Europe.

What’s next - how do you see the company’s future growth and development?

We have always enjoyed a step by step process. Never moving too fast and we think that is what keeps us going, the steady upward slope. We take strategic first steps and then let the market decide what we need to do next.

Working with Japan came about by letting life take its course. In 2004 a Japanese businessman walked in to our very first boutique in Buenos Aires and decided to purchase all of our inventory on the spot. Our relationship with Japan began in that moment and we came to find that Japanese women appreciate and value Juana.

In regards to the US, we are steadily wholesaling our product - getting a sense of what the market likes and needs and adjusting the line to this entirely new crowd.

When did Juana de Arco come to Miami? Why?

We have been exporting to Japan for 12 years. In 2014 after analyzing a variety of markets to continue our international growth, we decided the American market was our best match. It values many core aspects of our products: design, uniqueness, and the environmental scope in our production process.

To dive into the US market, our options - logistically speaking, were going through Miami, New York or Los Angeles. As an Argentinian based brand Miami had several benefits: language, time differences, geographic location, and a city focusing in developing two industries where Juana de Arco clearly fits, fashion and art.

What kinds of opportunities were you looking for here? What aspects or risks worried you? How have those played out over your years here? How have you found your industry reflected here?

The US market is known to be one for opportunities, where if you work hard you will be successful. In our case, we are looking to grow the brand on a healthy path. That is, getting the right partners to deliver our brand to the clients that value what Juana de Arco stands for, a joyful and colorful lifestyle.

As we found in Japan, we are looking for those distribution channels and end clients that see something special in Juana.

As in any new market, risks come with the lack of knowledge. The learning process we have had in Argentina since 1998 had to be adjusted from scratch for the US fashion industry, which is immense and comes with its complexities. Making decisions on what, when, and how, saying no to certain options to focus on others has been one of the biggest difficulties we've faced.

From the perspective of a Latin American entrepreneur/founder but a long-time Miami transplant, how do see Miami today? What works, what surprises you, what frustrates you?

Miami is at an incredible moment. I can truly say that not much has frustrated me, I see great things happening and more on their way. From the public and private sectors, the support in the fashion industry is there. From an entrepreneurs perspective, I think Miami will have a very interesting and prolific next year.

In light of this perspective, what can Miami do better to become a truly value-adding “hub” for the region? (in your industry and in general)

Although, I do see this happening in many industries, especially technology, Miami could create more partnership. Places like The Lab, MADE, and CIC Miami are already on their way in focusing on specific fields and facilitating intermingling. Miami has to continue developing and reinforcing this co-working approach. It is the way to create a positive community in which we will inevitably learn from each other, pick each up, and watch each other succeed.

How has it worked to have your company straddling Miami and Buenos Aires? Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

Both cities are in relatively close proximity, and like I stated before, we share aspects and values. It is a move that takes time. Starting a company in another country simply takes time. As entrepreneurs sometimes we wish things moved in a faster manner. So my best advice would be - patience.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model,” but Argentina is also a country that has lived through rocky political and economic cycles. Is there something Miami can learn from the Argentine case study?

Our rocky political and economic cycles have had negative consequences on Argentina. On a brighter note, a positive consequence, the proliferation of entrepreneurs. When when we had the crisis of 2000, many people started to think, hey I studied, worked hard and still lost my job! The lack of opportunities led them to have to lose that fear of insecurity and become an entrepreneur. This crisis gave birth to the fashion designers that are standing strong in Argentina today.

Miami should appreciate the lack of crisis and be fearless regardless.

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the creative economies in Buenos Aires and Miami? Why or why not?

Yes, I see a lot of potential. I see many aspects in which we are similar, things that bring us together. I also notice many complementary aspects. These are the spaces where working together creates value for both sides, bettering each part.  

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the Argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

[This is part 3 of a series. Read part 1 here - Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami?, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here]