Imbued with their family’s entrepreneurial spirit and experience, sisters María Camila and Daniela García Caballero set out to innovate and expand the clothing options for expectant mothers and managed to challenge the status quo of the fashion industry in the process.
María Camila is an economist and business administrator with an MBA from Duke University. Her younger sister Daniela works in public relations for fashion and luxury brands in Paris and is a graduate of ESMOD (the École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode). With a concept as unique as their contrasting personalities, the first-time business owners secured financial backing for their idea through a remarkable programme offered by María’s in-laws.
The two sisters launched fashion brand BothCollection in 2017, following through on their long-time dream of creating a company together. Theirs is an extraordinary journey born within the family, with the help of family, for the benefit of other families everywhere.
María and Daniela spoke with Women in Family Business host Ramia El-Agamy about the advantages and anxieties associated with building a family business and facing cultural roadblocks head-on.
Featured pictures courtesy of BothCollection
Tell us a little more about yourselves. What inspired you to create BothCollectiontogether and how did you get it off the ground so successfully?
Maria: We came up with the idea about three years ago, when a number of my pregnant friends were having a difficult time finding suitable clothes in Colombia. They would go to the United States and shop at maternity stores, but the outfits they ended up with didn’t reflect their sense of style. It was the type of clothing you would only ever wear if you were pregnant. We decided to do some market research to determine if there was a need that wasn’t being met.
Daniela: We discovered that garment options for expectant mothers were very limited in Colombia. We realised that there was an opportunity to give pregnant women modern, comfortable clothing that goes beyond maternity – clothing that could be worn before, during and after pregnancy.
Maria: We had our concept and our name. We then started looking for investors, and that’s what brought us to my husband’s family.
Daniela: They have a special program that supports entrepreneurs in their family. We went through the same process that other prospective entrepreneurs have to go through. We prepared a presentation and sold the merits of the idea we were so passionate about to them. They believed in us and our project and gave us the financial support that has enabled us to live out our dream.
There’s pressure in running any business, and start-ups are demanding for everyone. Was there additional pressure on you because your loan to start the business came from family?
Maria: We’re very happy to have this opportunity to create our business with the help of my husband Santiago’s family. But sometimes, it does feel like a huge responsibility. Not only we have to prove that the business works, but we also have to show my husband’s family that we’re capable of making it work.
Daniela: It feels like there are a lot of eyes on us; not judging us, but maybe scrutinising the choices we make. It can create added pressure for us sometimes because we don’t want to disappoint anyone. I don’t want to disappoint my sister or our parents, but I also don’t want to disappoint the people who believe in our project.
They care about us. It’s not like when someone gets an impersonal loan from a bank. Our family really cares about us and our business, and they have the experience to help make both successful.
Maria: On the other hand, the program is run and evaluated by independent, non-family members who also function as advisors and board members for the company. The idea is that there should be no personal feelings in the decision-making process.
What was it like to build the business together? Tell us about your early challenges.
Daniela: It was difficult because we do have very different personalities. Our contrasting opinions caused us to disagree a lot in the beginning, but we always had the same goal. We wanted to create a successful business. We also understood that we had to accept our differences and separate our relationship as sisters from our relationship as business partners. There were some tense moments early on where even our families weren’t sure we could pull it all off together.
It’s different when your business partner is not family and you don’t know what is going on in their life, but we always do. I know when my sister is dealing with a personal issue or isn’t feeling well. We support each other and work hard to understand each other. We keep things as simple as possible.
Maria: One of the other things we learned in the beginning was not to have our business meetings at home.
Daniela: Exactly, because every time we disagreed on something, our family wanted to get involved and help us. It wasn’t a suitable situation for us. We had to take the business out of our homes – a coffee shop, a restaurant, in a park – anywhere that was away from our family so we could separate business from family issues.
Did you yourselves as entrepreneurs from the beginning? Were you all-in right from the start?
Maria: Yes, it was part of our life plan. We took it very seriously. If it didn’t work out, we would still have to pay back the loan we received from my husband’s family to start the business. We were very conscious of it all right from the beginning.
Daniela: There was something else very special about us too. We come from a family of entrepreneurs. Our mum is an entrepreneur, our dad was an entrepreneur, and our grandparents were entrepreneurs. We learned to value and see the importance of making entrepreneurship something extraordinary. We’re allowed to take risks, make mistakes and explore, but we also have to be conscious of what the stakes mean to us and our families. We’re working very hard to make all our dreams come true.
BothCollection is inclusive of all body types and sends an empowering message to women that goes beyond conventional stereotyping about appearance and comfort. How did the extremely competitive fashion industry react to this?
Maria: Working with suppliers was hard because we were asking for things that fell outside of their normal operating parameters. Suppliers deal with much larger quantities of fabric than we needed early on. And they didn’t know who we were, so they wouldn’t offer to provide supplies on credit. They didn’t want to sell to small brands.
Daniela: It was a big challenge for us to convince our suppliers that our idea was good and different and that people would like it. They couldn’t understand the concept because it was more than just maternity clothing. The idea was to give women the opportunity to feel beautiful and comfortable with their bodies. We can see it every day in our clients – their bodies go through huge changes when they’re pregnant, and so do their lives.
But we discovered that it’s not just expectant mothers who have issues when shopping for clothes. There is a very clear stereotype of the tall, lean woman, even though Latin America is different. All women are different, but the options presented were all the same and not flattering to many. We tried to make our suppliers understand that we wanted to create more options for women.
Maria: It was at our first trunk show in Bogotá that women who were not pregnant started telling us that they loved our clothes. That’s when we realised that our brand is truly inclusive of all women.
Daniela: We hadn’t had an opportunity to test our market, so that trunk show helped us understand and hone in on what our clients wanted. At that time, we only had S, M and L sizes, but the trunk show experience inspired us to make different pieces to accommodate the distinctions of women in the Colombian market, which is different from other markets of the world.
Maria: We then refined our direction and revamped our motto. We went from the idea of clothing designed for women before, during and after pregnancy to clothing that was for all women and expectant moms. Some of our clients understood it right away and wished we had been around when they were pregnant previously.
Daniela: But it was a bit of a challenge getting some of our clients to fully understand that we were offering clothing that they could wear at any time, regardless of maternity status or body type. A lot of the work we do revolves around familiarising our clients with the concept.
Maria: What helped us illustrate the idea was the fact that I was pregnant when we launched the brand, and Daniela wasn’t.
Daniela: Clients would see us in the same T-shirt and immediately understand how it could flatter them, whether they were pregnant or not.
What does it mean for you to be female entrepreneurs in Colombia? Do you feel it has created challenges or advantages?
Maria: I think Colombia has made slower progress than other places when it comes to gender equality. Sometimes, when you’re just two young women, you can get the feeling that you’re not being taken seriously by suppliers or the industry. It can feel disheartening and demoralising. The last thing I want to do is call on my husband to help legitimise my business in the eyes of others.
Daniela: That’s where my strong personality kicks in. I demand the same treatment everyone deserves regardless of gender or age. Suppliers can be taken aback by it.
What is the future for you and BothCollection? Is there anything that you’re particularly excited about?
Maria: We want to take the BothCollection experience all over the world, and we’re actively looking for global allies that understand what our brand stands for and can help us reach our objective.
Daniela: We also want to offer women around the world our unique, personalised shopping experience. We don’t charge extra for that; we just enjoy doing it. We try to receive every client in person and help them understand their bodies and how to feel comfortable in their own skin. We’re expanding throughout Latin America first; then we’ll grow into other countries. We currently ship worldwide, but we would like to have our own physical store locations in every country.
Maria: A first step we’ve planned for next year is attending trunk shows in LA and Miami.
Daniela: We’re very fortunate because we discover something different, every day not only in our concept but also in our product. Things may not always work out the way we planned, but working with each other and encouraging each other has helped us see and appreciate this opportunity we have to make things better.