Meet Michelle Sheppard, Founder Of Callina Style

Designing in San Francisco, sourcing in Peru, and marketing all over the world, Michelle Sheppard built on her industry experience to launch Callina Style - a modern fashion brand that integrates sustainable practices and designs to create high-quality, sustainable, and thoughtfully-produced pieces. After traveling around the world, she built her line around Alpaca wool from Peru. Today she spends her days passionately designing, brainstorming, researching, and collaborating to bring high quality designs to the conscious consumer. This is Michelle’s story.

Designer, perfectionist, entrepreneur - we’d love to hear more about how a designer in San Francisco became inspired to start a clothing line in Peru. What’s your story?

After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, I started working at Design Within Reach (DWR), where I designed, collaborated, traveled and sourced from textile mills around the world. During my travels abroad, I noticed firsthand there was an underserved market for high quality sustainable fashion with social responsibility. When I started Callina, I wanted to find producers with sustainable missions and methods in place. Plus, I knew I wanted to give back to the communities in which I collaborated. I travelled to Peru, knowing it was a country rich in artistry and having one of the longest histories of textile production in the world.   

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Having been to Peru, I have an appreciation for the foggy mornings and cozy hillsides, and for all of the alpaca! You’ve built your brand on sustainable premium fibers from these animals - tell us more about what makes them unique as well as the environmental impact from this material source.

Alpacas live largely in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes at approximately 15,000 ft elevation. They graze freely in the pastures and are bred mainly by small farmers. Their soft, padded feet are gentle on the terrain and they graze without pulling out the grass and destroying root systems, similar to a lawn mower. An alpaca drinks less water than a cashmere goat and can grow enough wool for four or five sweaters in a year.

At Callina we ensure our products are made from the highest quality yarns from the alpaca called “baby alpaca” - they're not from a baby at all, but the adult animal. Alpaca is one of the rarest and finest fibers in the world. Back in the Inca times Alpaca fiber was considered a status symbol and the fine grades used exclusively by Incan nobles. A few things you might not know about alpaca fiber:

  1. Long alpaca fibers make stronger yarn that pills less
  2. Hollow fibers mean warmer for equal weight with natural wicking quality
  3. Softer than wool, more comparable to cashmere
  4. Naturally hypoallergenic
  5. Free from dander and lanolin which cause allergic reactions
  6. Naturally grows in over forty shades ranging from white to black

Wow, I had no idea. But your material selection is just the beginning of Callina’s impact. You’re also committed to working with Peruvian artisans to weave and knit the final products, providing stable income to local talent. Why not manufacture in the United States? What impact does this economic opportunity have on the communities you work in?

Peru is a country filled with culture, color, and weaving tradition. We aim to create collections that carry a high human value. In doing so, we mainly work with small, family run shops located in the Arequipa area. We are delighted to create unique pieces while helping artisans and their families grow their business and improve their living conditions.

We are delighted to create unique pieces while helping artisans and their families grow their business and improve their living conditions.

Ok, we know how easy it is to fall in love with the talent and traditions of artisans all over the world. What trends are you noticing in sustainable fashion and do you foresee Callina forging partnerships in any other countries? 

I think we have seen sustainable fashion go from pieces whose style may not really excite us to having more stylish options and reaching a broader fashion market. For example, Stella McCartney is demonstrating sustainability with her vegan, not-leather approach and Maiyet is partnering with global artisans for their collections.   

We are looking at other countries for artisan partnerships. As you know, we are committed to a fully transparent process and take pride in how our clothes are made and by whom. Plus, partnering with these amazing artisans, we have high quality pieces with distinctive craftsmanship that you cannot find anywhere else.   

Sustainable fashion has gone from pieces whose style may not really excite us to having more stylish options and reaching a broader fashion market

Your designs embody a very natural and organic approach to production. What inspired your line’s distinct style?

I have always been drawn to modern design and minimalist aesthetics. Paintings from Rothko, furniture of Ray and Charles Eames, sculpture from Isamo Noguchi and architecture from Santiago Calatrava. I am also inspired by the Japanese philosophy or aesthetic called wabi-sabi. it is explained by architect Tadao Ando as, “Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered - and it reveres authenticity above all.”

Our style is inspired by this philosophy and carried out with timeless designs, artisan made collections, and finding inspiration from textures, shapes and colors inspired from places in nature.

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