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Chicana fashion designer creating a beautiful life in Barrio Logan

On a colorful street in Barrio Logan is a little sewing shop owned by fashion designer Claudia Rodríguez-Biezunski called “SEW LOKA.

Everything sold in Rodríguez-Biezunski's shop is made out of fabric that was once something else, something she calls "slow fashion."

"Utilizing everything that we have, like blankets that people would say, 'Well this blanket is now trash because it has a hole,' how can we add something cool so people could now be interested in it again?" Rodríguez-Biezunski said.


That is the question she asks herself as she reimagines and breathes new life into cloth that was previously loved.

Sustainable fashion has been an ongoing trend. But Rodríguez-Biezunski said her family was doing that long before it was "the thing" to do.

"I'm one of six kids, you know, it was really difficult for my mom to be able to afford things. We would go to Forever 21 and she would say, 'What do you want here?' I would say, 'This.' She would say, 'Lets go home and make it,' and I would say, 'I want it here though!' I would buy jeans and cut them up and turn them into something else. The cultural part of recycling has always been one of my things — making sure that we could utilize everything before we throw it away."

Rodríguez-Biezunski said when she moved to San Diego, she went for her dream, and "Sew Loka"— the brand— was born.

"I’ve always had that really punk-rock style and all that," she remembered. "Everyone was like, 'You’re so crazy, you’re so crazy.' And so when we decided to open up the business we were like, 'We should call it Sew Loka!'" 


She’s built the brand making one-of-a-kind wearable art inspired by her rich cultural heritage and Chicano identity.

"People would kind of look at us a certain kind of way, because we were speaking Spanish," she said, adding that she said she didn't feel accepted by the Mexican side of her family either.

"I struggled with that a lot," she said. "When I went to Guadalajara, where my parents grew up, I was like, 'I’m Mexican' and my cousins were like, 'You’re American.' And so (I had) that sense of not being able to belong. "

Her bestseller combines a Catholic symbol she says was everywhere where she grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and resonates with people like her.

"Some people might not be religious, (but) they still utilize the Virgencita as a cultural  image," she said. "For me, putting phrases across like 'Morena, Brown AF,' I want people to feel like, 'Yes, I'm Brown,' and I feel very proud of that."

And others are taking notice. In October, Nike came calling. Rodríguez-Biezunski was invited to their global headquarters in Oregon to host a sewing workshop.

"That’s me, design school drop-out, I’m going to talk to a bunch of designers! So how do you think I feel? I’m going to cry," she said in a video she posted on her web site.

She also spoke with designers about her journey.

Rodríguez-Biezunski has become quite the entrepreneur, joining a collective that helps promote other female artists and businesses. She also hosts her own show.

"Especially for me being a woman and a brown woman in business, (I ask), 'how can we uplift each other?'" she said. "We start off as street vendors and then we move in physical DNA to become entrepreneurs."

She said her life could have easily gone down the wrong path, if she hadn’t believed and worked hard to build her dream.

"For me, sewing, I feel like it saved my life," she said. "I was a troubled youth, I was headed into the wrong direction ... and it gave me self-worth, because I could make things and I knew that other people couldn't make things, and that made me feel special." 

And she can now proudly say that crazy-Chicana-punk-rocker from the Valley did good. She credits everyone from her abuelita to her father, mother, brothers, sisters, but especially Barrio Logan, a community that embraced her, who she compares to pieces of fabric: "You're basically able to sew things together and keep them strong, and I think that that's a community."

Much like her art, it takes a lot of people to become a large colorful quilt.

Sew Loka will be celebrating their 10th anniversary on Saturday, March 25 at noon at her shop in Barrio Logan with a "Community over Competition" party that will not only celebrate her art and community, but other local artists.