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Bag lady: Nazly Villamizar

Nazly Villamizar. Spa at the Mandarin Oriental. Photo: Charles Trainor Jr.
Nazly Villamizar. Spa at the Mandarin Oriental. Photo: Charles Trainor Jr.

By Damaris Hay

Shelves and rolling racks of purses, totes and clothing outfit the large space Nazly Villamizar occupies in the Design District. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, and a resident of Miami, Villamizar has been designing her own label since 2004. Though known to her customers for her leather jackets and bags, the designer has now created a line for Ecoist, a company whose philosophy is to create eco-minded garments.

"Our goal with this line is to funk things up," she said. "The green bags right now, they are not trendy, cool, fun." The line for Ecoist, which launched last month, includes just three bags: Eyes, a large four-holed clutch; Cubik, a hobo bag; and Trenza, a braided clutch. The three pieces retail for less than $200 and come in an array of colors. She decided to use coffee bags made of jute — a biodegradable vegetable fiber — as her fabric, and tagua seed for zipper pulls. Tagua seed, also known as vegetable ivory, is harvested from ivory palm trees in South America. Each bag is hand-dyed, so no two bags turn out exactly alike. Since the launch, Villamizar has added another fabric to her line, palm tree fiber, for an additional Eyes bag. She discovered the fibrous material on the inside of fallen palm leaves. It’s strong and water-proof, and also has a durable, built-in stretch.

Villamizar returned to Colombia to gain inspiration for her line. "I am always doing research, doing crazy things," she said. "I’m very perceptive — from people, from songs, from wherever. I have the collections in my head."

Once in Bogotá, Villamizar translated her ideas to the women she employs to manufacture the bags, and even employed a chemical engineer to see which of her creations were viable. Villamizar chooses to specifically work with natural products found in Colombia.

For her next collection, Villamizar has returned to leather, with leggings, gloves, fitted jackets and handbags as well as jewelry, including large brightly colored rings made of tagua seed, for which 30 percent of the proceeds will go to her eponymous foundation that provides scholarships to children in Colombia.

"The most important thing is giving back," she said. "I’m happy and I know I’m going somewhere."

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Published: 7/08