A Conversation With Queer Afro-Latina Designer Joanis Duran

Joanis Duran Kalani Wolf BELatina Latinx
Founder of Kalani + Wolf, Joanis Duran/ Photo courtesy of Joanis Duran.

For the queer designer, Joanis Duran, fashion is a love affair she has nurtured for years; she was drawn to all of its permutations  — from the way the pieces were created to the people behind the craft. But once she entered the world where fabric and texture are the reigning queens, she realized two key factors were missing: sustainability and authenticity. That is when her vision bloomed into the reality it is now.

In a society where fast fashion is the norm, Duran knew she had to walk a different path (march to the beat of a different drummer, if you will) to create what she envisioned for herself and her community. 

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, Florida, she was lucky to have parents who taught her to have high expectations from life, no matter what. 

For the most part, Miami is known for its diverse palette of cultures and innovation, but it is also complicit in white-washing some industries — fashion being one of them.  

Early on, the South Florida designer understood the intrinsic importance of promoting workspaces that were ethical and conscious of the environment. Sadly, she wasn’t seeing those values when she entered the world of fashion. 

“I felt like I was letting my community down, I was letting my future generation down, and future generations of other communities down just by being part of that culture,” Duran told BELatina News.

So, she realized that she didn’t fit in and decided to launch her brand in 2017, Kalani + Wolf.

kalani and wolf logo BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Joanis Duran.

Part of the beauty of her brand is that it is Afro-Latina and LGBTQI+ owned. It also focuses on sustainability, where Duran and her team of seamstresses (all local) create and design pieces using top-grade, dead-stock fabric. As if it couldn’t get any better, her company places great emphasis on being zero waste and utilizing conscious packaging.

This is what Miami needed; it is also what so many people needed to see happen because Miami is more than the city of Cuban coffee and croquetas.

“I didn’t see sustainable brands here and I really did not see a reflection of Latinos or the LGBTQI+ community [in fashion],” Duran said. “Our style or vision may sometimes be considered too bodacious. It’s like we have to keep it under the waters.”

After making her decision, she prepared herself to lead the industry into a better place. Even her brand name embodies that, as Kalani is a Hawaiian name and it means “royal one.” The Wolf portion of the name is associated with women because, according to Duran, “once you tap into your inner self, you are unstoppable, and you become the pack leader.” 

Coming from a household where her Dominican parents weren’t afforded the same opportunities she had, she knew she had to show up for her community. In an attempt to get her ready for the real world, Duran recounts how her parents would tell her never to sell herself for a dollar. (No te vendas por un peso).

They wanted her to always take pride in her creations, which is why she felt empowered to represent herself when she decided to embark on her journey with her brand. 

The gratitude Duran feels for her parents was evident during our talk, but she knows that she is now riding a new wave in the Latinx community — one that will not sell itself short.

She knows she has to do things right, especially since the flip side isn’t an option. 

She emphasized how authenticity is what people are looking for, “people really can tell, they can see and smell the bullshit.”

Thankfully, her work is a testament to her commitment to be genuine and a vehicle for her community. 

“Everything in my shop is handmade in small batches,” Duran said, as she is not into mass production. “And I create based on how I feel that day.”

Duran works with whatever she has available, making all her creations exclusive. For instance, if she has 20 yards, she will create approximately 10 garments and work towards designing patterns from them. She is accompanied in her creative process by one of her best friends and design consultants, Emilia. 

Emilia Design Consultant BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Joanis Duran/ Emily, Design Consultant of Kalani + Wolf.

Of course, the rest of the makers or team, Pauline, Annette, and Steve, are also crucial to bringing her vision to fruition.   

Since being ethical is a crucial component of her sustainable brand, she also ensures that her team is paid what they are worth. She does so by pricing her pieces, whether it’s her jewelry, dresses, or turbans, in a manner that will allow for fair wages while keeping her selection at an affordable price. 

“You have to pay your people right,” she said. “You have to treat them ethically.”

She has been working on the garments from her house since the pandemic began and ships out orders internationally. 

Her passion is present in the intricacy of every stitch in her work. But it is also portrayed in her life outside of fabric, thread, and needles. 

As a creative, her understanding of injustices is deep. Duran knows that racism has existed sustainably for ages, as well as it does around the world. She no longer wants to partake in a world where white saviorship is at the forefront of the melanin and other excluded communities, which in the end, only benefits one side. This is why she has made it a point to use her voice and her brand to promote equality and equity by advocating the eradication of systemic racism and disenfranchisement. 

Duran and her team created an Anti-Racism Guide, which is embedded in the Kalani + Wolf’s website, to educate society on how to combat and eradicate white supremacy,  social injustice, and the oppression of BIPOC.

“We do protest. We head up to the streets. We call our senators. We email our senators. We write to our senators when there are policies in place that are dangerous for our team, for their family, for my family,” she said. 

“Oh, yes, we are very vocal about it.”

Duran’s sharp eye and extraordinary gift – and the dedication of her talent to the people and the world – are noteworthy. There is no denying that. What’s even better?  Her mission to inspire is a lifelong commitment. 

When asked if she had any advice for other Latinas, she left us with the following:

“This world is hard, but we’re mentally even harsher on ourselves 24/7/365. So, change that action by creating your own circle of people who are going to empower you every step of the way. Remember, that we don’t make it by ourselves, it takes a village. Thank them through every step of the way and give credit where credit is due,” she said.

She expressed the rest in Spanish. 

“También, recuerda que cada momento de tu pasado, por ejemplo, cuando trabajabas para otros y nunca te dieron ese reconocimiento, tiene su lugar. Pero no seas tu pasado. Conviértete en la motivación de la gente para que otros quieran trabajar para ti. De esa forma, los puedes seguir motivando mientras trabajan para ti y verás que no se van a querer ir porque se sentirán reconocidos por sus esfuerzos.” 

Now, this might be a stretch to some but correct me if I’m wrong when I say that creatives, such as Duran, make the world go round.