Nomah Project's Founder on the Importance of Supporting Global Artisans
Photos: Linda Cassio
Nomah Project is known for its stylish straw carryalls and colorful tassel charms, which you may have spotted at some of our past LA events or at dRA's dreamy LA shop. The globally-inspired brand works with Latin American artisans to craft its bohemian-chic goods, so it's no surprise that the story behind it takes place across the globe.
The brand — which takes it name from the Aztecan word "my hand" — was founded by Mexico native Linda Cassio, who lived and worked in Paris before relocating to LA. Inspired by the local artisans in her home country and their beautiful handcrafted goods, the Fashion Mamas LA member created her company as a way to support and promote the talented indigenous makers living across Latin America.
Here, the mother of two tells us more about her unique career path, why it's important to her to support indigenous artisans, how she's becoming a more meaningful consumer, what it's like working with one of her closest friends, and more. Read on below and shop Nomah Project online and at this weekend's Kids Fashion Fair, where the brand will also be making an appearance.
In a nutshell, tell us your career journey: How'd you get to where you are today?
After living in Paris for few years, I moved to LA to pursue my career in fashion. My first job was as an international buyer for BCBG Max Azria when [the brand] was at its peak. A few years later I got married and soon after had my first child.
A few months after my daughter, Valentina, was born, I decided to quit my corporate job and open my first business: A daycare that would allow me to have a flexible schedule and still care after my new baby. It all started as something that it was just for a short period of time, but after having a very successful and positive response I kept that business for a total of seven years! Having that first business made me realize how much I loved being my own boss. However, once my second child was old enough to go to school full time, I decided to go back to my main passion which is fashion!
What led you to create Nomah Project? What was your initial vision for your business?
In addition to loving fashion, traveling is also a huge passion of mine. While traveling to my native country of Mexico, I realized how rich the culture of craftsmanship was, and also how little of it gets shared with the world. I fell in love with the people, the traditions and the value of their work that has been passed on from generation to generation.
I decided I wanted to create and promote a business that would allow me to help preserve this Latin American craftsmanship. My idea was to add a layer of modernity to these products by collaborating with local artisans from different regions, while simultaneously helping to preserve and promote their artform, and create jobs in the communities.
What influences your brand?
Definitely our travels. It is what helps inspire our work and our products. We want our products to tell stories and to have meaning, combining the artisans cultural values and our own personal experiences from places and people we discover on our trips.
Why is it important to you to preserve and support handmade goods?
We want our products to tell a story. We want them to have a positive impact on the environment and on the communities they come from. Even in LA we work with local artisans that help us add the finishing touches to our products. We value the time and effort that is put into any and all handmade products.
In an era where everything is over-produced, we think it is important to create products that are gentle to the environment.
How has becoming involved in the artisans' lives changed your approach to business/parenting/life in general?
It has impacted me on so many levels. As a business owner, it has been one of the most humbling and wonderful experiences to be able to work in a environment filled with very talented and humble people.
Fashion has always had a reputation of being superficial, but this has been quite the opposite experience for me. The people we work with are like family — we laugh together and work at the same time.
As a parent it has allowed me to teach my kids the value of being humble in life. They have, on some occasions, travelled with me to the regions where we work and they have learned and seen so many amazing things. I think teaching them the value of appreciating and learning about other cultures and people has had a real impact on their lives.
For me in general, as a consumer, I now look more for products with meaning. I have become more aware of what I buy and how much I buy. I now love to go more often to markets instead of shopping at malls and find unique and meaningful pieces, supporting small businesses and meeting local designers.
One of your best friends, Jennifer Diaz, is your creative director. What's it like working with someone you're so close to?
When I started Nomah I was skeptical if I wanted to have a partner. I had a vision of how I wanted to do and run things and finding someone to share the same vision and passion I thought would be almost impossible.
After running things for a while on my own, Jennifer came out and helped me at an event and I just noticed how amazing she was and how much value she brought to me. She had always been very creative and we share the same taste. We are more like sisters, we know each other very well, we have kids about the same age, and we have mutual respect for each other.
For me it was a no-brainer to ask her to join me on this venture and it has been the best decision I made. She is not only talented and dedicated, but she shares the same passion for the business as I do. We are both moms and our husbands have busy careers so we are supportive of each other. If I can’t do or take care of something the other one will. Our families are always first and we both support each other.
What's your best advice for friends who also want to become business partners?
I think the best advice I would give to someone partnering with a close friend would be that they both know exactly what they’re role is and not step on each other’s toes. Jennifer and I always take into consideration what one has to say and do and we respect each other whether or not we agree. The key is to do and let others do what they are supposed to do. We are both considerate with each other and have a very open and fluent communication, this is very important.