I went into this article with the assumption that I would be doing a generic interview with a small business owner and designer that would result in an interesting but more or less unexciting piece. However, after about a minute of speaking to a slightly discombobulated Hyla, I realize that this would be far from a generic article. She surprises me by explaining she is a little out of sorts after attending a protest for Columbia the previous day, immediately illustrating the type of person she is.
Hyla is not someone who creates from a distance, or is isolated in their inspiration, but a creator who is passionate, driven and is not afraid to be different.
Hyla Golden Del Castillo is a fashion designer and small business owner currently living and working out of Toronto. Her brand H.Y.L.A (pronounced as individual letters) features unique and interesting one-of-a-kind pieces, hand-made by Hyla herself. During my research, I learned that Hyla is originally from Colombia, and the way Hyla speaks about her heritage puts into perspective what her roots mean to her. Born in Colombia and raised for most of her life in Panama, she moved to Canada for her last years of high school, and to attend Ryerson University as a Fashion student. After hearing her speak so affectionately about her countries of origin, it was hard to understand why she would ever leave. Coming to Canada was a choice to leave behind “a painful history of violence and corruption” and past traumatic events, in order to find freedom and opportunity. Despite Canada giving her the opportunity to creatively thrive and start a clothing brand, it is evident Colombia and Panama are her real inspirations.
I can feel Hyla’s passion for Latin culture radiating from her words as we speak. She tells me the parts of latin culture that she misses most are the community and kindness, the vast and diverse natural landscapes and in her opinion, the best food in the world. Much of her inspiration for her clothes and the way she lives her life is based on the idea of ‘la mujer colombiana’ or ‘The Colombian Woman’, who her Great Grandmother Teresá, personified. A woman who was confident, glamorous and outspoken, with clothes that were unique and expressed this idea of a powerful Colombian woman. Hyla tells me Teresa used to say, “You can lose everything, but never your glamor.” This combination of her nostalgia for the Colombian and Panamanian friendliness and her desire to be glamorous inspires her to create “something unique that will start a conversation.” Hyla’s passion for her culture, nature and feminine power is evident in every aspect of her brand and her personality.
Hyla continues to surprise me, as she explains she is a self taught seamstress. Her brand H.Y.L.A originally started in 2019 as Saints. After running out of cute tops to wear to the club, she turned to her needle and thread. People started taking notice of her work as she started posting with her girls all over Toronto. She raves about her friend Michaela Owusu, who she credits with pushing her to create a more unique brand that embodies her true unique and whimsical aesthetic. Changing the name to H.Y.L.A was a no brainer she says, as it’s about as unique a name as you can find. Though, like most of us, the pandemic put a bit of a wrench in the gears of Hyla’s plans for her new collection. Ironically, the new collection was vacation themed, titled ‘Tropicalia’, which was not the most appealing to millions of people quarantined in their homes. She released the collection anyway, as all the garments had already been made, with the disclaimer that it was an unfortunate coincidence of events. As 2020 went on, the pandemic was the opposite of damaging for Hyla’s business. She tells me, “If I said that I think I’m doing just the same as I would be if there was no pandemic, I’d be lying.”
Sustainability was a subject I find Hyla and myself are both extremely passionate about. She is very blunt in her statement, “If you’re a brand in 2021 who’s not actively working to be more sustainable then, WTF are you doing?” Hyla explains her outlook on sustainability stems both from her love to create unique pieces from pre-owned materials, and from her concern for the sourcing of textiles and overconsumption. Her belief is that fashion and sustainability are symbiotic, they can both benefit from one another if the industry realizes this and puts sustainable practices in place. Linking back to her love for her Colombiana and Panamanian heritage, she truly believes in unique clothing that tells a story. She thinks using pre-owned material allows the textiles to tell her what they want to be, each piece having their own unique destiny. Her recent collection featuring snow pants utilises old sleeping bags that she sourced from sellers all around the world. Explaining that they all have stories to tell and these stories are now part of a garment that will go on to create its own stories.
Her definition of sustainability extends to sustainable thrifting as well, as she actively avoids thrifting garments that could be used by people in need. This sentiment extends to her belief that ethically and sustainably made clothes should be more accessible and affordable, sustainability should not come with such a hefty price tag. After hearing her thoughts, I wholeheartedly agree that in order to create a feasible market for sustainable clothes, they must be accessible to a larger demographic, or the idea of sustainability begins and ends only with those who can afford it. Hyla puts her money where her mouth is, so to speak, in regard to sustainability and also charity. Telling me, “I donate a portion of each month’s sales and repairs to a charity of my choosing. Mostly supporting women, minorities, animals and natural resources in Colombia and some social causes [in Canada] as well.” Displaying that she does not run a business that preaches about helping those in need while standing idly by, but activity tries to make a difference.
“Match yourself to your surroundings.” The slogan on the H.Y.L.A instagram and website was something that immediately caught my attention when I first looked up Hyla and her business. My initial interpretation of it was that Hyla wants her clothes to match the aesthetic of her brand. When I ask her to elaborate on it, she laughs and tells me many people are also confused by the slogan, having different opinions of what it meant. She explains the slogan was not a planned ethos, it occurred to her after she began creating collections. In every one she involuntarily tried to blend the garments, models and sets together to create a cohesive image. She wants her garments to add something positive to the environment, without disrupting it. To her it means, “Matching yourself to your surroundings in the sense that you are in tune with either your current surroundings or the ones you wish you were in while still being in touch with reality.” She gives the example of a chameleon, that no matter where it is, it blends seamlessly with its surroundings, and thus she integrates this idea into the themes of her collections. Coincidentally, Hyla herself, dressed in an ethereal white top and flowing skirt, blends seamlessly with her eclectic yet calming apartment, making it clear this slogan is something she implements in her life.
Hyla’s latest collection for H.Y.L.A is entitled “Amigos Imaginarios,” which translates to Imaginary Friends in english. This was originally what Hyla had wanted to be showcased by MUSE, this collection of snow pants made from reclaimed materials. However, speaking to Hyla made me realise the only way to explain this collection was by first explaining her heritage, the ethos and inspiration behind her brand. As we speak, Hyla explains that the theme for “Amigos Imaginarios” came after the creation of the garment. I expected a deep and philosophical meaning behind her reasoning for making snow pants, but she tells me it was because she wants to stay dry and warm when she goes out onto her roof for fresh air breaks in the winter months. It was when she went to Value Village and found old sleeping bags that the idea came to her for these gorgeous hand- made snow pants. The pants being made of sleeping bags evoke this nostalgic feeling of being young at sleepovers, and feeling comforted by the sleeping bag when you feel out of your element. I think this comforting feeling is something we all are searching for right now along with Hyla.
As she created the collection, she started to connect the snow pants with the creative design and meaning behind “Amigos Imaginarios,” that has great significance to her. During the pandemic Hyla had been alone in her apartment with her thoughts, and her two pets Perseo and Venus, she explains. Though as time went on she started to become grateful for what did keep her company in that small space. She says “I have the certainty that everyday when I wake up I will be able to be warm, fed, bathed, safe, entertained, alive and most importantly loved by my house.” She started to feel as if these elements of the water, the sun, life and love were her imaginary friends in a sense, and they brought this feeling of comfort that she was searching for. The elements are represented in the visual aspects of the collection, in the form of drawings behind the model, Brett, to represent the imaginary friends that kept her company. The model herself is also meant to represent an imaginary being, to become a part of this imaginary world of Hyla’s. Again, evoking Hyla’s slogan and allowing the garments, the model and the scene to become one and create an imaginary world. A world that Hyla reveals is a representation of how we deal with mental health, especially in a pandemic, retreating into our own world to make sense of our reality.
My conversation with Hyla is one of the most interesting talks of my life. Initially, seeing her work and her collections, I was intrigued to see what type of creative was behind all of it. After talking to her I have a deep appreciation for the voluntary and involuntary aspects that go into her work. It is so intriguing to hear how her heritage influences her so heavily, and how thorough and meaningful each collection and scene are. One of the most interesting things I realize about Hyla is her love for collaboration. Stemming from her Latin roots of deep community, you can see how this influences her to work with so many people for her shoots: photographers, makeup artists and models. When I ask her where she wants her brand and her life to go in the future she speaks of a collective or an artist’s house in somewhere like Spain, that would allow people from all creative disciplines to come together and create. Her passion for kindness and working with others is infectious. Though she is completely in charge of her brand and its creative design, she is more than open to integrating the work of others into her world.
As we end our conversation and I start to reflect on how Hyla should be portrayed, I worry that my words can not do justice in showcasing what an amazing creator and human Hyla is. All I can do is hope that it is conveyed how much I learned from speaking to her, and realizing how many layers of culture, personality and ‘glamour’ make up a person like Hyla.
PERSONAL INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/hylagolden/
H.Y.L.A. INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/h.y.l.a_/
H.Y.L.A SHOP: https://www.shophyla.com/
FEATURED ON: https://www.notjustalabel.com/hyla
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