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New store showcases Colombian workmanship

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Colours of Bermuda: Clara Rodriguez in the new Modern Lifestyles store at Dockyard

Combining the vibrant colours of Bermuda with the artisanal skills of Colombia’s indigenous Wayuu, entrepreneur Clara Rodriguez has created Modern Lifestyles, a new retail outlet at Clocktower Mall in Royal Naval Dockyard.

The store carries handbags, clutch bags, bracelets and key chains, all of them handmade by members of Ms Rodriguez’ extended family who are members of Colombia’s largest indigenous group.

The goods are made in La Guajira, a poor region located in the northeast of the country.

Ms Rodriguez and her husband and business partner, Chris Karpalani, travel to Colombia twice a year on buying trips.

Here in Bermuda, they created a customised colour palette that they passed on to Ms Rodriguez’s extended family members. “Everything we carry is based on the colour palette that we found at Warwick Long Bay — the colours of the sand, the coral, the sea, the nearby houses — and the colours that the Gombeys wear,” Mr Karpalani said. “When people come into the store, they recognise that right off and say ‘that bag reminds me of the Gombeys’. That means we have got the colours right.”

Ms Rodriguez says it can take up to three weeks to make a single bag.

“The bags are part of my culture, they are very pretty, and people love them,” she said. “It is artisanal work, it is all handmade, and people value this because they understand that handmade is hard work.” Ms Rodriguez has customised some bags by adding colourful crystals. Bags range in price from $20 to $120, she says.

The business launched last year with stalls at Harbour Nights in Hamilton and at Destination Dockyard. Those ventures proved a hit, prompting the decision to set up shop in a permanent space, which will be open daily through December. Ms Rodriguez says she will continue selling the goods at Harbour Nights.

“In general, my customers are tourists but local people like the bags, too,” she says. “I have had a good reaction, and I think the cruise ship visits to Dockyard will be good for me.”

Colombian connection: Clara Rodriguez in the new Modern Lifestyles store at Dockyard (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)