Vanessa Acosta is a powerhouse and inspiration for the Latinx creative community in L.A. and beyond. She's a Bolivian-American photographer and designer based in Los Angeles, and also owns her own ethical clothing line, Wasi Clothing. Read on to discover how she found success in the fashion, photography, and creative community through her incredible work ethic, eye for design, and strong vision.
Hi Vanessa! Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and how you came to be the multi-hyphenate that you are today?
I had been working in the fashion industry for over a decade before I decided to be my own boss and design for myself and other women of color - that also began my work with photography. It all happened very quickly, I started designing pieces using Bolivian textiles and started to photograph those designs on my own. I garnered attention from magazines and platforms being recognized as one of the few Bolivian creatives putting our culture on the map. I decided to go full force on both businesses and have been building both to represent clothing and art that I believe in. Aside from that, I am very vocal on all of my platforms which is why I have become part of the ever-growing Latinx/Bolivian creative community. I represent one of the many small brown businesses that are educating the masses to stop supporting fast fashion and companies that appropriate cultures and start supporting brown businesses that hand make their own items ethically. There's so much more to share about my creative work, but you can see all of my photography and creative work on my Instagram (@fromabolivian) and support a small Bolivian clothing business at @wasiclothing.
As an entrepreneur and creative director of Wasi, you've put full control in your vision of what your brand represents visually and contextually by not only designing the pieces but photographing everything as well. Would you say that doing this by yourself has been easier or harder than having a team to outsource your projects?
Sometimes it can get hard! But since I'm also a photographer, I know that outsourcing and hiring outsiders who don't know my brand like I do would be even harder. Being a one-woman team can be a lot of work. But when it comes to shooting, I know exactly where I am shooting, what outfits are being worn/styled, and how I want the photos to look so it makes the process a lot faster. The model and I are in and out, and I go home, edit myself, and can have the items up online that same day. I've been on many jobs, so I've seen both sides of the creative team process. When running a business of your own, you have to pick and choose what you want to spend your valuable time and money on. You have to prioritize and ask yourself, "Could I outsource this or could I do it myself?" Someone once told me that the first 3 years of starting your own business, you have to be okay with doing it all yourself and then you begin to make a profit - and that's been the case. I've built my Wasi Clothing business literally from the ground up with just my own money and continue to do so. I love it with a passion so it's not work for me, and I'm grateful I can have a business like this that helps the Bolivian people and what they are proud of while also empowering all other women of color along the way.
You recently went through a rebrand, but you've maintained the original creative vision throughout all of your creations that shows inspiration from your Bolivian roots. How do you hope to inspire the community with your pieces?
Yes, Paragon Desert was a name that was adopted from a store my friend and I created years ago, and I lazily recycled that name since I already had the domains. When I started creating this vision, I didn't think I would get the recognition and spotlight for what I was doing so I had to rename the brand with someone that was close and dear to my heart that represented my brand better. WASI is a Quechuan word that means home/family and it's a dialect. When you begin something like this, you do it because you love it. There's no ulterior motive; you want to create what you represent and you want to share it with the world because you have so much faith in it. As platforms began to shed more light on my work, I realized I was doing more for the community than I thought. The Bolivian community is a small one and there's not enough representation of our culture and people. Bolivians from all over the US found me and expressed their gratitude and excitement in seeing a Bolivian doing her thing and being proud and loud about being a Bolivian. It was just a way of life for me, but now I see how important representation like this can be for other Bolivian creatives and how this could be important for brown girls, Latinx people, kids of immigrants, curvy gals, etc. I represent a lot of minorities and marginalized groups, but I'm making something out of myself and being unapologetic about what I stand for, what I represent, and what I create. With all that, I hope to represent other brown girls to do the same!
"The Bolivian community is a small one and there's not enough representation of our culture and people."
Not only are you a magnificent and visionary entrepreneur with Wasi, but you also do freelance photography. How do you keep the momentum as a creative entrepreneur and consistently elevate your opportunities?
Living in LA and being the daughter of Latinx small business owners, I am programmed to hustle. Latinos just work, work, work and I do it too. While managing Wasi Clothing, I also photograph subjects all over Los Angeles. As I was building Wasi, I was also building my photography business "From a Bolivian" - a one-stop shop of social media content, product photography, graphic design, fashion photography, and more. Two years later, I have a good number of clientele under my belt. All my successes in my career thus far are because of the women in my life. Women help other women, and it's even more when it's a Woman of Color helping another Woman of Color. I look at my list of clientele I've built and I'm still in disbelief when I see Bruno Mars, SZA, Common, and having my photo on the cover of Unique. You have to hustle and be a nice person - that will get you far! The whole concept of being ruthless and getting to the top no matter what you have to do is a very dated concept - be nice and you'll get places.
How has social media and Instagram played a role in your career and workflow?
A lot of my models, jobs, and friends come from social media! 90% of my closest friends I've met through DM's and social media. People can be cynical about social media at times and there's work to be done there that has affected people's mental health, but there's a good side to it as well. You get to meet like-minded people that you may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Social media has also helped me get a lot of jobs! I got hired to work for Boost Mobile and Lightning in a Bottle festival because members of the team found me on Instagram. I've also landed collaborations with brands through social media. It's become a platform for me to speak my mind. I'm very vocal of where I stand in today's political climate - it's not a time to sit silently, especially because I am a Latina small business owner. Social media is probably the biggest part of my workflow; it's helped both of my businesses immensely and I'm grateful for that.
When taking on a new client, what do you ask yourself and your clients to ensure that you meet their goals and that they're happy with the execution?
I always ask for mood boards. I can execute all aesthetics, but someone describing in works doesn't suffice for me. I'm a very visual person, so I always tell my clients...if you haven't created one, create a mood board! I need my clients to have somewhat of a vision so I can put myself in their mindset as well. Editing styles are very different nowadays so it's important for my clients to be descriptive of how they want their photos edited. I can't work with people who answer me with "I don't really know" when I ask what their mission is for having a photoshoot. It's extra labor they're putting on me to come up with concepts for them, and that is more time and money that a lot of people don't recognize.
When planning out your content for Instagram to show your work, what are the guidelines you follow to make sure you put your best digital foot forward?
I change my color tones a lot on my personal Instagram, so it depends on what color scheme I'm shooting with at the time. For example, if it's blooming season, I'll have a softer red and peach color palette going on in my grid. To give my page depth, I mix it up with a photo of my subjects, objects, architecture, or nature. Every once in a while I throw myself into the grid because people love to see the person behind the camera! I usually take a few hours out of my week to edit specific photos and my latest work to post accordingly on my grid. For Wasi, it's different because no matter what, there's always color and prints on my grid. Bolivian textiles and culture is rich in color, so Wasi is always poppin'!
What's one piece of advice that you wish you could have told yourself when you first started?
It's absolutely necessary and normal that you are working 24/7 and not getting sleep, but stop for a second and appreciate life! Being your own boss can be great, but it's a lot of work. I knew it would be a lot of work, but there were times when I was overworking myself to the point of not sleeping for 3 days straight. I had to find the balance of working hard and keeping my business a priority but also stopping to give myself some 'me' time. I follow a lot of other small businesses and everyone works tirelessly. It's always a small team and it's always a lot of work, but so much love and heart goes into it. That's why a lot of small business stick to their guns when being vocal about their prices because people need to be aware that there are a lot of sleepless nights someone is going through in order to stay afloat. People have gotten too comfortable with fast fashion prices and don't understand how unethical it is to pay $10 for a piece of clothing. I've learned so much in these two years, and I'm still learning more every day. I'll continue to practice the balance of workflow and self-care.