T-shirts, a T. rex and new designs in Old Havana

For Idania del Río, it started with design.

Almost a decade ago, her screen-printed movie posters — simultaneously exact, abstract and absurd — made their way into international exhibitions. But the 34-year-old artist had bigger plans: to go into business and join a new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs.

Clandestina, her new shop in a bustling part of historic Havana, is Cuba’s first privately owned design store in almost 60 years. There, del Río sells her screen-printed designs on posters, cotton T-shirts and other textiles.

“Cuba is a good place to be an artist,” she said in a recent interview. “It has that strange balance between absurd and ordinary things that definitely works for creation.”

idania

That creativity pulses through all aspects of her work. When importing cotton became complicated, del Río innovated, transforming garments from secondhand clothing stores — and sometimes even shirts from customers — with her designs. Sugar sacks provide material for a chic line of handbags. In the words on Clandestina’s walls and wearables, it’s “99% diseño Cubano” — 99 percent Cuban design.

Del Río’s business partner, Leire Fernández, says Clandestina style is for everyone, from a Cuban reguetonero (reggaeton musician) to an international visitor.

New connections

Sometimes, del Río’s biggest obstacle is her unreliable Internet access. In a recent poster, she parodied the situation by showing a tyrannosaur exulting over a severed high-speed cable.

With increased demand for high-speed connectivity, Cuba is starting to expand online opportunities for its young designers and innovators, according to Daniel Sepulveda, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy.

Today, almost half a million Cubans are cuentapropistas, or nongovernment workers like del Río. That number is growing. In a new and more open economic environment, artists are able to share their products, and their originality, with the world.

At Clandestina, “we want to stay here — we see the opportunity,” said del Río.  “We see the opportunity of a lifetime.”

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