Martha of Miami’s Martha Valdes Designs T-Shirts to Represent Cubans
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It’s a Saturday afternoon at the Fair Expo Center and Martha Valdes is standing under a collection of palm fronds as she neatly folds a T-shirt. She lines up a stack and adjusts a table accent so that everything looks just right. After all, her name is on the large sign that says “Martha of Miami”.
The 30-year-old fashion designer expects a large crowd to come through her room at the annual Cuba Nostalgia event. At the entrance to the pop-up there is a mannequin torso wearing a white shirt with red and blue block letters that read “Cuban Bred”. At an event composed mostly of Cubans, Valdes’ Corner is a surefire hit.
She finds a seat and takes a seat before speaking to the New Times. The small business owner began her trip to Martha of Miami in 2015 after accidentally combining a picture of a pineapple with a picture of a colada, the Cuban espresso drink served in a styrofoam cup. “I saw the design come to life and I loved it. How has nobody thought of it before? “She wondered. That night the famous “Piña Colada” shirt was born.
“I just knew that I had to share that with people,” says Valdes. “And from then on, my urge to be more creative and create fun Miami designs grew. I started with this one design and moved on to the ‘Croquetas, Coladas y Cubanas’ shirt and from there to my trademarked ‘Cuban Bred’ design. ”
It all started with a simple pineapple.
The inspiration for her designs comes from the Cuban-American childhood in Miami. It’s easy to see the impact her culture has on the items she sells. When asked what it means to be Cuban, Valdes looks up and grins broadly.
“Loud, loud, loud and always with un plato con arroz y frijoles in front of you,” she says.
And yes, they have a pair of Arroz y Frijoles socks on their website.
Although she’s been selling her designs online for less than four years, Valdes has lived her life in the clothing store. Her father, Ruben Valdes, is the founder of the popular Valsan stores. After Martha Valdes split between working for the family business and starting her own business for two years, she decided it was time to make up her mind.
“I was afraid to tell my father that I didn’t want to work at Valsan anymore,” she says. “It was hard to go, but it was worth it.”
Meanwhile, Valdes has grown its social media presence with more than 26,000 followers on Instagram alone. She manages a table at various events in the city and also takes care of the daily online sales.
“I wanted to name my brand Martha of Miami because the first store my father opened was called Valsan of Miami. So the name is like a reference to my father,” she says.
Another way she’s following in his footsteps is her recent collaboration with Florida International University. In September 2018, Valdes set up a table on the FIU campus on Eighth Street and sold their officially licensed college gear. It turned out that her father had set up a table on the same campus more than 35 years earlier.
“It was so surreal,” she says. “I don’t have the same problems that my father had all those years ago, but to be able to say that I also sold at the FIU just like him, it felt really great.”
The best way to start the day.
One thing she has learned during her many years in the clothing business is that people like to wear their culture loudly and proudly on their t-shirts. “The more I looked, the more Latino-inspired shirts there were on the market,” says Valdes. “The representation for Latinos was pretty much nachos and tacos. Someone had to get our culture right. ”
Her Martha of Miami designs are more than just shirts. They are a way for Latinos to show their cultural pride and feel included. In the middle of the interview with the New Times, an older woman approaches the now platinum-haired Valdes and asks if she is the Martha behind Martha of Miami. The designer nods and asks if there is anything she can help the buyer.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” says the woman. “Thank you for doing everything you do.”
Interactions like this are testament to the importance of representation – and how a simple shirt with a simple design can make someone feel like they are being seen.
If you ask the young businesswoman what’s next for Martha from Miami, she shrugs. “If you had told me four years ago that I would do this, I would have thought you were crazy and told you I would work at Valsan for the rest of my life.”
But now, says Valdes, she sees great potential in the brand. “It’s not just shirts; it is representation. So the question I keep asking myself is, what will I do next to represent my culture? ”
Martha from Miami. Pop up at the Meet Miami Social Event Friday June 14th at the Butcher’s Shop, 165 NW 23rd St., Miami. Visit marthaofmiami.com to shop and follow @marthaofmiami_shop on Instagram for the latest updates.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for the Miami New Times. Cultivated her love of words at Boston College before returning to Miami, she has been reporting on the arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.