Nomadic Collector in Costa Rica
Influencers + Tastemakers

Talking Sustainability and Style with Nomadic Collector’s Stefani de la O

For Costa Rican designer Stefani de la O, travel is a state of mind—living stylishly and sustainably go hand in hand, whether you're at home, abroad, or somewhere in between. Nomadic Collector, her collection of boho-chic luxury handbags and luggage, is as beautiful as it is responsible, made with reforested woods and carbon-neutral leather by local artisans inside the world's only tannery that follows a 14-step filtration process. The end results are all in the details: waste-free materials, sturdy clasps, buttery leather that only looks better with time.... While in Costa Rica, JS caught up with the designer on where she finds inspiration, what you’ll find in her carry-on, and the destination she’s dreaming about next.

Let’s start from the beginning! How did you get started in fashion?

When I was a toddler, I used to sit underneath my mother’s sewing machine and dressed my dolls with the scraps. I love clothing because it is transformative, not just for the wearer but for the hand behind the dress. During the 1950s, my grandmother was a single mother in Latin America and her talent as a seamstress was the transformative tool that moved them out of poverty. Her skill changed the life of my family, and the hope that I can do this for others may not be why I began studying fashion but is why I am in the business today.

What inspired your initial designs for Nomadic Collector? Who or what continues to inspire you now?

I hold such a reverence for the materials we use. In each piece of leather, I understand the energy and effort that went into its creation. That is why I don’t need to seek outside inspiration. A material’s natural state influences its final design, and I hope—or at least it is my intention—that because of this, they are timeless. They cannot be pigeonholed into a moment in time or place.

There is so much to be said about the importance of sustainability—in fashion, in life. As we enter 2019, are there any new trends/styles you’re keeping tabs on?

The thing is, sustainability isn’t a trend or a style. It’s a way of life. So, in 2019, I look forward to the innovations that will make a sustainable lifestyle more feasible. I look forward to the solutions that eradicate single-use plastics.

What travel destinations are currently on your radar?

Are you offering a vacation?! I haven’t had time for a real vacation in ages, but as soon as I can get to it…AFRICA, including all of the Sahel—that amazing region of humid savannahs south of the Sahara Desert, from Senegal to the Sudan. It’s one of the world’s most vulnerable areas due to climate change and is rapidly disappearing, so I want to know it before it’s gone.

Any carry-on items you can’t travel without?

Above all else, a Swell bottle, so I can get fresh water throughout my flight. Hydration is key. I also bring a pair of leather babouches I found in a Marrakech souk and my 20-year-old pashmina. More must-haves in my amenity bag: Rohto eye drops and an organic omega booster serum from Sonya Dakar.

Do you have a favorite hotel in the world?

Ufffff….so many, all for different reasons. I wish to live only in hotels. There is nothing more glorious than La Mamounia in Marrakech and, on the other end of the spectrum, Coqui Coqui in Tulum for its almost monastic relationship with nature—but this was before the area had WiFi.

Lobby of La Mamounia in Marrakech
Pool of La Mamounia Marrakech

I understand you live and work out of San José, Costa Rica. What are your favorite spots in the city?

San José is a little jewel finally on the verge. Twenty years ago, as people stared migrating to suburbs, the city declined into abandonment. However, a new generation is giving a facelift to Victorian mansions and Art Deco buildings, particularly on the east side of town in the neighborhood known as Escalante. On the top of my list is Isolina, an amazing restaurant begun by two friends in one’s grandmother’s home, Dona Isola Escalante; Al Mercat, whose chef changes its menu daily according to what’s in the market; and Bebedero in the old Steinvorth building for late-night cocktails.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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