Staying in Cuba: Creating a “Metavelso” to Keep Safe

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – Clandestina presented “Metavelso” on November 19, 2022. This is a collection that wants to pay tribute to “those who have had the courage to leave,” the brand says. It also added: “[for] those of us who stay and have the need to build mental spaces to keep safe” in “the worst year for the brand and every Cuban living in and outside Cuba.”

“Large” accessories, “super-comfortable clothing for adventures and tough journeys,” products to “protect the body and camouflage it,” “lots of fun colors and designs,” are some of the elements of this new collection.

According to Clandestina, “Metavelso” is a happy place that allows people to be at peace with the personal decisions they’ve made. The Clandestina group has also decided to launch and try and “speak about, debate and criticize” the current crisis, from within Cuba, while it offers much-needed “spaces to disconnect and have fun.” But not going any further than that.

Ever since the brand announced its new collection, it has sparked heated debate among followers and detractors. Lots of Cubans believe that they are taking advantage of painful experiences for the Cuban people, such as the wave of migration, to position their goods on the market.

Users have focused on the description that explains the outfits “are inspired by coyotes (human traffickers), comfortable clothes for the journey and extra-large accessories to fit everything in.” 

Some of the items presented in the new collection. Photo: Taken from Clandestina’s social media.
Some of the items presented in the new collection. Photo: Taken from Clandestina’s social media.

Salome Garcia Bacallao asked on Facebook: “When wiill Clandestina stop making bad jokes about volcanos, human traffickers and the fact Cuba is bleeding itself dry?”

The campaign’s conceptualization, which was published in OnCuba, has been labeled on social media, and in other media, as “millenial irony.” The brand has been accused of not being sensitive to an island in crisis and its people.

In response to the controversy surrounding “Metalverso”, the brand issued a statement: “Clandestina is so much more than a clothing brand”; and they go on to explain the “artistic premise, inspiration and meaning” of the collection and go on a tour of their previous collections.

“[This] is an artistic concept that is trying to help its community and their work group to get by mentally, and to try and resist the harsh reality that is living in Cuba,” the document begins.

Clandestina stresses the opportunity they have to maintain production during this crisis, but not once they overcome this crisis. “With slogans like, “you have to bend over backwards so as not to break,” “Any place is worse than here,” “Thug life is my passion,” “Welcome to Labana is new Havana” or “I’m a star of the Putiverso (whore-verse)”, this new artistic proposal proves once again that there is a lot of good design, creativity and energy in Cuba,” they wrote in a message.

Photo: Taken from Clandestina’s social media.
Despite the criticism that came rolling in, Clandestina is especially popular among young Havana locals. Photo: Taken from Clandestina’s social media.

Outside the metavelso, migrating to the heart of the issue

This isn’t the first time that Clandestina has been called out for its apparent lack of tact when it comes to coming up with messages that are linked or inspired by Cuban reality. In February 2022, a public apology was issued for the incorrect tone used in publicizing the collection “El amor esta en el aire” (Love is in the air) for Valentine’s Day, touching on the migration issue in a way many Cubans found offensive.

The campaign photos evoke landscapes of the dangerous Nicaragua-US migration route, where many Cubans have lost their lives. “We made a mistake,” Clandestina posted on its Facebook page.

The project has also been criticized for keeping quiet about the human rights violations that take place on the island, which contrasts with their enthusiastic complaints about US sanctions that affect them.

In August 2019, the Cuban brand accused international clothing brand Zara of copying the phrase “Actually, I am in Havana” from one of its designs, with the similar phrase “Mentally, I am in Havana.”

A year later, they blamed Senator Marco Rubio and the US embargo for leading their online store to close down. They used the slogan “Tienen que parar” for both complaints, which different activists have used themselves to demand the brand take a stance on the Cuban Government’s repressive actions.

Clandestina opened its doors in early 2015. A year later, former US president Barack Obama had the following to say about the business: “We believe in the Cuban people; we believe in artists like Idania Del Rio, who designs and illustrates her products, which she calls “99% Cuban.”

Fashion magazine Vogue wrote in 2017: “[Clandestina] is trying to shine a light on the rich style and artistic substance that exists on the island. The brand’s creators have used colloquial Cuban idioms, recycled materials and an online store to set up a modern and “cool” business.”

Clandestina is popular amongst a certain group of Cubans, epecially young Cubans living in the capital, that can afford to buy their products. The average price of one of their T-shirts is 3100 pesos, in a country where the average monthly wage is 3838 pesos and where the price of the Basic Food Basket is approximately 3250 pesos.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times