Interview with Desi Caswell, SU Alumna ('18)


Meet Desi Caswell

Desi Caswell is the Director of Operations and Social Impact for the sneaker and apparel company Guillermo Bravo and the shoe store CORRE. She graduated from Seattle University in 2018 with a double degree in Anthropology and Humanities for Leadership. From managing production, retail sales, and marketing, ensuring sustainable sourcing, and promoting environmental justice through fashion, her approach to doing business is to focus on impact: "We need to root impact behind everything we do, daily."

You currently work as Director of Operations and Social Impact for the sneaker and apparel company Guillermo Bravo and the shoe store CORRE, both based in Seattle. How are these companies different from the “average” apparel or shoe business? 

Guillermo Bravo and CORRE are both rooted in diversity and sustainability. Very Seattle-esque, right? But it goes further than that, really. At Guillermo Bravo, we produce our own apparel and sneakers. An independently owned brand, G.B. produces many of our pieces by hand and strives to work with factories that are committed to sustainable materials and humane working conditions. As a team predominantly made up of immigrants, we refuse to cut corners when the rights of workers are involved. We work with local family owned factories as much as possible or international fabric mills where we have met the owners in person and know the quality and the processes behind their production. For example, on any given week you can find our owner Luis or myself driving fabric and supplies to the factory in Everett we work with. We want to keep things as locally produced as possible. 

CORRE is on the retail-side of things: a small boutique in Madrona specializing in diversity in footwear. For us, this means carrying footwear and jewelry that you aren't going to see in the United States as often. We partner with international brands who are predominantly female or minority owned. For the majority of the brands we carry, we are one of the only shops who stock them throughout the United States. 

What does the job of a Director of Social Impact for an apparel and shoe company look like? How would you describe what you do for your job from day-to-day? What excites you about the field?

My job as Director of Operations & Social Impact is awesome because my day is different all of the time. Some days are more customer facing at CORRE, where I’m working in our shop to talk with people about our pieces and where they come from. Other days are more logistics-facing. I’m in our studio on Capitol Hill working with the Guillermo Bravo team to source new fabrics, create production timelines, and come up with campaigns and marketing strategies for new product launches. Lately, my job is focused around Kickstarter efforts for Guillermo Bravo, launching March 2022. I won’t give away all of the details yet (stay tuned) but the new sneaker we are releasing is built around the fact that sooner than many people care to admit, we will be living in a world demolished and shaped by climate change. As businesses, we have to react to these changes through analyzing the ways we produce, being responsible stewards of earth’s fleeting resources, and creating pieces that are as sustainable as possible. With our Kickstarter campaign, myself and our team hope to tell the story of how fashion and the human experience as a whole is changing because we aren’t taking care of earth in the ways we should.

How do you define social impact and how does your company work towards that goal?

For us, social impact comes down to two main categories: sustainable materials and humane partnerships. CORRE & Guillermo Bravo are different from your average business because we look at more than just the product. It’s not only about the price of something, how stylish it is, or how much profit we can make on it. It’s more than that. We are highly interested in the people behind the pieces and how they produce them. For Guillermo Bravo, where we produce our own clothes and sneakers, we want to make sure that the mills we purchase our fabrics from are employing the utmost care in both the materials they are using and their employment practices. This autumn, our team traveled to a textile trade show in L.A. to meet the owners behind the fabric mills personally. It’s steps like these that are important in preventing fast and unsustainable fashion. For CORRE, we purchase our footwear from independently owned brands, predominantly female or minority owned. We know that our business and the shoes we sell are going into the hands of creatives just like our team rather than large corporations

Where do you see sustainable fashion and social and environmental justice intersecting? What trends have you noticed in the fashion industry over the past years? What gives you hope and what gives you pause when it comes to sustainability, climate impact, and environmental justice?

They have to be one in the same. We work with a lot of brands at CORRE who have released sustainably made shoes in the past few years. They use recycled materials or veg-based pleather. This definitely gives me hope for the future. Ideally, there would no longer be special-release environmentally friendly products because it would just be a given that everything is produced that way. The reality of the situation right now however is that these sustainable pieces do cost more to make. This means the brands are taking a financial hit or are charging the customer a higher price. I do feel a lot of hope working with small brands that are taking these steps. I’ll feel even more hope when we see giant companies taking the same steps. 

What should customers be aware of as they shop for clothes and shoes. How can customers make a social impact as they shop?

I think the biggest thing a customer can understand, especially when shopping small and local, is that clothes and shoes are super expensive to produce when doing it sustainably. Take our Guillermo Bravo socks for example. They’re $25 a pair, to some peoples’ dismay. But the facts behind it are we are using 100% cotton, US made. We are working with producers who are paying their teams a living wage. Our team is driving the socks to our tie-dyer’s house where one by one, she dyes every single sock. And that stuff is expensive. It’s funny because there is this TikTok trend going around right now where small business owners film themselves making their products, the audio singing, “It costs that much cause it takes me f*cking hours.” And, it’s true! It takes hours. Because it’s being made by people who are passionate about it and want to do it in the best way possible. People can make a social impact while they shop by shopping small because the money they spend is going directly in the pockets of the small business owners. Also, do your research on what brands you’re buying. Look at where they produce their pieces, usually listed on the tag of the item. Check out their website and see if they have a social impact statement and what the brands say about their own sustainability practices.

How does your Seattle University education inform your leadership and work with Guillermo Bravo and CORRE?

My education at Seattle U impacted my professional journey in many ways. My professors at SU taught me the importance of discernment: striving toward a career where I can use my talents and passions, feel joy, and serve others. It’s also grounded me in the desire to work toward a more just and humane world in whatever career I am in. I absolutely believe 100% that the lessons and global responsibilities ingrained in me at Seattle U impacted my desire to focus on sustainability now. My job title was originally just Director of Operations, but I changed it to include social impact. Because, businesses do need to focus on their impact. We need to root impact behind everything we do, daily. 

What is your fondest memory from your days as a student at SU?

Definitely my involvement in the Center for Student Involvement. It was in that office that I met some of my closest friends and biggest mentors. I also got to explore my passion for event planning and fundraising through my work on Quadstock and Seattle U Dance Marathon. My extracurricular activities at SU gave me the knowledge and experiences that I use daily now.