Interview: Sustainable Luxury Accessories with Shirelle Sioui
Art & Gator Travel and Lifestyle team sat down for an exclusive interviewed WITH SHIRELLE SIOUI, the creator of Casa del Rio Collection, a luxury accessory fashion company based in Fort Pierce, FL.
A&G: What inspired you to get into luxury accessories as a business?
SS: I was studying at Parsons during the rise of ‘fast fashion’. This segment was, and still is, extremely popular with my demographic, however I never really related to it. I have always been more drawn to items of quality that will stand the test of time. Some of my favorite pieces were items passed down to me from my grandmothers. When we had the opportunity to use wild American alligator, luxury accessories just made sense.
A&G: How would you define Casa del Rio Collection, what is the history behind the brand?
SS: Casa del Rio Collection was founded on the principle that quality products are still made in America. We pride ourselves in being ‘Relentlessly American’ as we strive to utilize only American suppliers and purely produce domestically. Our company was started at the height of the recession when our cousin, Grayson Padrick, offered to sell some wild Florida alligator hides and my mother (and business partner), Misty Minton, and I jumped at the opportunity. We named our collection Casa del Rio as a double entendre. The literal meaning, House of the River, is appropriate given the natural resources we utilize. Casa del Rio is also the name of my family’s estate in Fort Pierce, and given we are a family run business, it fit.
Shirelle and her sister Xan Minton
A&G: Where do you look for inspiration?
SS: Each item we offer is named after a family member, and comes with a card telling their story. Coming from a large southern family there are a plethora of interesting ancestors to reference. I was originally inspired by the unique accessories my mother and grandmothers had collected over the years. So many vintage pieces are still extremely relevant when adapted to modern aesthetics. However once we introduced our men’s collection this past spring, I came to realize my entire family is filled with characters!
A&G: How did you learn about exotic leather tanning?
SS: This I must give to my mother and cousin. As a biology and chemistry teacher (in a lifetime before children), my mother has forever been deeply interested in science. She was often tutoring my sisters and I on subjects of genetics and which element bonded with what. When we decided to take on the exotic handbag business Grayson was extremely helpful in providing contacts for the best tannery in the state and answered every question we could throw at him. It was only natural for my mother to immerse herself in the subject matter. She can converse with anyone about exotic leathers and wild alligator hides now. I have merely gleaned enough information from her to explain our product.
A&G: Why are you using wild Alligator over farm raised Alligators?
SS: Many people are unaware that alligators are not only thriving in Florida’s swamps and waterways, but since 1988 there has been a statewide annual harvest to help keep a balance between their booming population and the environment in which they live. By using purely wild Florida alligator hide we are utilizing the byproduct of this natural resource. While this also means the hides have marks and scars denoting each animal’s time in the wild, we choose to embrace these imperfections as they insure each item is completely unique and serve as a reminder of the purely free life the alligators lived.
A&G: What is the biggest misconception about Florida Alligator?
SS: The quality of American alligator is greatly underestimated. Many people confuse alligators and crocodiles, or even ‘Columbian crocodile’, which is often actually caiman. Much like different species of goat produce varying qualities of wool, so too do exotic hides. An American alligator hide is thicker, softer, and, as a result, more durable than it’s crocodilian cousins (save for only the Nile crocodile or Australian “saltwater crocodile” which share many of the alligator’s qualities). Many customers believe they are getting essentially the same quality items when they purchase crocodile or caiman accessories, and are disappointed when the naturally thinner and dryer hides crack. American alligator, when cared for properly, can be enjoyed for generations.
A&G: What do you want your customers to experience?
SS: Beyond the experience of items that transcend trend and time, we aim to provide a product our customer is proud to carry. From our Relentlessly American production, to the manner with which we acquire our hides, and even the 10% of all profits that are then donated to the Everglades Restoration Effort, we want there to be meaning in everything that we do. Why did you choose Florida over California or New York to do business? Our roots are here. As a seventh generation Floridian, I know that there is great beauty beyond the theme parks and tourist stands. Although I began my fashion carrier in New York City, it seemed natural to return home. Furthermore we believe by promoting Florida and all of its amazing resources, there is a greater likelihood others will realize how incredibly special our home truly is.
A&G: What makes this brand an ethical and sustainable one?
SS: In a world that has become immensely connected and globalized, it is impossible now to ignore the conditions in which some items overseas are produced. Manufacturing in America provides accountability for the products with which we surround ourselves. Our decision to use wild alligator expands upon this principle by employing only materials acquired straight from the swamps of Florida for the state-mandated harvest.
A&G: Why are sustainable practices important?
SS: As a child my parents instilled in my sisters and I an appreciation for our community and the importance of giving back. In my formative years I came to realize this went beyond volunteering, but extended to truly connecting with and feeling accountable for the world in which we live. As a new company we found it imperative to make a conscious effort toward contributing to our home. In addition to using sustainably sourced wild Florida alligator hides, we donate 10% of all profits back to the Everglades Restoration Effort.
A&G: What items do you carry?
SS: Our collection started with ladies handbags, but has grown to include belts, cuffs, and men’s accessories. We are very deliberate in the design and production of each item, and insist that every piece be done right. Our offerings range from an evening bag to a tote for travel, a padded iPad case and bi-fold wallet, all of which are trimmed and/or covered, in wild Florida alligator.
A&G: How can people get a hold of Casa Del Rio Collection?
SS: We are sold at a variety of boutiques from Palm Beach to Chicago and online. A list of our retailers, as well as our complete collection, can be found on our website: www.CasaDelRioCollection.com
Casa Del Rio Collection was nominated for the Martha Stewart American Made
A&G: What is your advice for emerging brands to consider Florida?
SS: Florida has so much to offer. From an ever changing, and always inspiring, landscape to immense natural resources there is much to be gained from the Sunshine State! I grew up thinking my home was filled with agriculture, tourism, and retirement communities, but I now realize there are innovations, exciting start-ups, and incredible opportunities to be found here as well.
A&G: What’s next for Casa Del Rio Collection?
SS: We are continuing to grow as a brand updating original styles and adding new elements to our collections. We have begun partnering with incredible Florida artisans and look forward to showcasing more of their work. And we are really finding our voice as advocates for not only Florida alligator but also agriculture and the state as a whole.
A&G: Who is Shirelle outside of Casa Del Rio?
SS: Since I was a child I knew I wanted to design. Somewhere out there are sketches of wedding dresses I made for every girl in my second grade class. Beyond my artistic pursuits I am a bit of a news junkie. I always seem to be watching CNN or reading the paper. Finally, I am a fourth generation Florida Gator (big surprise). My attempt at teenage rebellion was threatening to go to college elsewhere. Of course as soon as I was accepted to Florida I was elated. I met my husband there and try to go to as many games as possible.
A&G: Where can our readers find you?
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