Designer Sandra Cadavid Stays True to her Roots
By Matthew Hacke | Photographs from Natalie Morris Photography
Sandra Reiman has been drawing and designing concepts for handbags and jewelry for as far back as she can remember. “I took an interest in fashion at a very young age — since I was a kid,” she says. Reiman and her family moved from Cali, Colombia, to Lancaster, Pa., when she was 8 years old. While she never lost her love of fashion, Reiman did pursue another interest she picked up in school: finance. Ten years ago, she moved to Pittsburgh with her husband and decided to switch her career from banking to marketing.
“In 2011, I did a year at the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and got my Master’s Degree in marketing,” she says. “One day, I was having dinner with my husband and he posed the question that kind of started this whole journey. He asked, ‘If you had limitless resources, what would you do?’ I replied, ‘Naturally, I’d be a handbag designer.’ He responded, ‘Well, let’s talk through what we could afford to invest without losing any sleep on it if we lost it and see what you could do with that.’”
The next weekend, Reiman was on a flight back to her hometown, where the idea of her company was born. While in Cali, Reiman began to set the wheels in motion for her brand. “I brought some sketches with me and I put together a team down there,” she says. “When I found my partner in Colombia, I started to look for the people who could make my handbags and I actually tapped into a memory I had as a child. My mom owned a property that she rented to a shoemaker. Every month, I would join her on a trip to the property to collect rent. I would have the opportunity to be exposed to all of the amazing things that he was doing with shoes. I got to learn an awful lot about leather, the shoe-making process, and who some of the best artisans are in the world for this kind of craft.”
Reiman then made a point to seek out the artisans the shoemaker spoke about years ago. “It was literally an entire town full of family members who grew up in this trade. Generation after generation would go into this art and they were just the best for this kind of craft. They worked with leather and were handbag makers,” she continues. “On one of my trips to Colombia, I actually drove to this location where they are from — it’s called Nariño. When I got there, I went to a little bazaar area and started asking for these people and one woman said, ‘They actually moved to Cali, Colombia.’ Where I had just driven from — two and a half hours away,” she says with a laugh.
As it turned out, the artisans made the move to work for famous Colombian handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez, whose bags retail for hundreds and thousands of dollars at luxury department stores and boutiques. “I drove back with a couple of names of artisans who worked for Nancy Gonzalez,” she explains. “One actually got back to me and we met for coffee. He was just a really amazing, humble man and I told him my story and my vision. Luckily, he was all in.”
The artisans started by making prototypes from the sketches that Reiman gave them. Instantly in love with the prototypes they created, Reiman brought one of the bags to California with her in May 2012, when she attended an awards show with her brother, who is in the entertainment industry. “He was talking to Giuliana Rancic of E! News at the show and he brought her over to introduce her to me. I was carrying one of my bags and she asked me, ‘Where did you get that bag and who is it by?’ My brother chimed in and told her the whole story of how I was launching my own company and that this was my product. All of a sudden Giuliana says, ‘Where can I get my hands on one of them?’ I emptied it out and I gave it to her right then and there, and ended up naming the bag after her.”
Before the line’s launch date in September 2012, Reiman shared a photo of Giuliana with the bag. “Literally, within two weeks, we had an order for 300 handbags,” she says. “It was insane.”
The line, named after her maiden name, expanded into jewelry as well. “I knew at some point that I needed to create something that was somewhat of an entrance point for customers that wanted to try our brand, but didn’t want to jump in headfirst and make such a large purchase. Our bags retail for $200-$600,” she says. “I had already been thinking in my head, ‘What could we make that would differentiate us but still keep with the brand?’ So, I was spending some time with a woman who makes our hardware and I saw that on one of the work areas, they had these little cut-out figurines. I asked what they were and she told me that sometimes to take their minds off of what they’re doing, they have a creative hour and just kind of cut things out and dip them and create characters for their kids or whatnot. This gave me the idea to venture down the jewelry path.”
The Sandra Cadavid line of handbags and jewelry is not only beautifully designed, but it supports a beautiful cause as well. “The first year when I was going down to Cali to start the line, I overheard a conversation my partner down there was having with a priest,” says Reiman. “There is this program in Colombia that the government is having a really hard time implementing and getting off of the ground. The program is to help teach a skill that is transferable throughout an industry to women who have lost husbands to violence and are left destitute with children and a family to raise. So, these women are going to the churches asking for help and the church came up with this awesome idea, but the government just never got its act together to implement it. After the priest left, I asked my partner to tell me more about what they were talking about. Once he told me, I just said to him, ‘Listen, I know we haven’t launched our company yet, but we’ve got to figure out how to employ a couple of these women. Let’s talk resources and what it would take to hire these women.’”
Incredibly, the company started with four female workers and now has 18. “In addition to the 18 employees who work on my handbags, these 18 women complete smaller tasks, such as gluing the lining on the bags or polishing the hardware. They are then able to take these skills and work other places in the industry during the times when my bags are not being produced.”
While Reiman loves designing and creating, the impetus of her Sandra Cadavid line comes from being able to give back and support those who need it the most. “When I go to Colombia, meet with these women, and hear their stories, I just get so emotional,” she says. “It has changed my life and it’s the reason why I do what I do. I just want to continue to make amazing handbags and be able to employ as many people as possible every year.”
Sandra Cadavid, sandracadavid.com. Available locally at Uptown Sweats by Kiya Tomlin, 5983 Broad St., East Liberty, 412.361.2100.