Camila Montoya is proving you can build a business around doing the right thing.
Statement, Unique, and Nature — These are the three words best used to describe the philosophy behind sustainable jewelry brand d’Francisco, created by a Latina former architect Camila Montoya. With an eye for aesthetics and a passion for environmental awareness, her pieces bring confidence: Both that you’ll look amazing, and that you’re helping the planet in the process. We got the chance to hear from Camila herself on how she got here, what she believes makes a great brand, and how you can do it too.
Where did the idea for d’Francisco come from?
The idea started with the necessity to build a brand that speaks beyond just design. We wanted to create a positive impact on people, where they can feel more connected to the planet while wearing pieces that will last forever.
We want to revolutionize the market by showing that it’s good to be in fashion, but even better, and necessary, to do it sustainably.
What makes d’Francisco unique?
The design of each piece is inspired by nature, using jewelry to raise awareness of the importance of protecting and respecting all living beings. They are statement pieces: rare, unique, and special. But we knew just the designs weren’t enough to make us different — We had to change the way they were created.
That’s why we incorporated 3D printing technology into our design process, to help reduce manufacturing waste. But we knew this wasn’t enough, so we also extended our sustainability efforts to the materials themselves. d’Francisco works with recycled fine metals, such as silver, that doesn’t negatively impact the environment. In fact, we decided to use recycled silver that is taken from electronics, x-ray films, reclaimed jewelry, and other such items to create the pieces. This process reduces the CO2 emissions, pollution, and energy usually associated with the fashion industry.
Through our brand, we’re trying to raise awareness and create a positive change for those who want to live an authentic life. From our production processes to our packaging, we’re constantly taking steps to improve our environmental and ethical processes, so d’Francisco can be as sustainable as possible.
How did your roots influence your career path?
What a great question! My Latino family has always been my biggest inspiration. From an early age, my older brother decided to be an entrepreneur, and he wanted to build something where sustainability was the main pillar. Without even noticing, I was moving on the same path.
My parents are my biggest supporters, and are part of my daily life. Thanks to them, I became who I am today. My mother has decided to accompany me in this crazy journey as my partner in d’Francisco. To both of my parents, I’m extremely grateful.
My training in architecture also helped me build d’Francisco. Thanks to all the digital software skills I learned, I knew that the designs needed to be in 3D, and that it was the first step to revolutionize the industry. After working for some time as an architect, I decided to do a Master’s in Design Management in a big city, which opened my eyes to new cultures, new ways, new people, new paths, and new everything. There, I learned all about the business side of a brand, and of course, met incredible people along the way.
One year ago, as soon as I finished school, I decided to launch d’Francisco. Of course, I didn’t and still don’t have all the answers, but I know that the people around me and my career have helped me create the brand I have today.
What would you say was the most important challenge you had to overcome in getting to where you are today?
I think that being an entrepreneur is a decision you have to make every day. Every day comes with new challenges, new obstacles, and new sacrifices. The day I decided to leave everything and focus primarily on the brand was a hard decision that took me months to commit to. Since then, every day for me is a new day to get out of my comfort zone.
Each event I go to, each new store I reach, and each new possible client I meet are always great opportunities. But also, moments where I’m out of my comfort zone and I have to put myself out there can be scary. The best way to overcome that is to keep pushing yourself out there. Go to events, meet new people, send emails, reach out to people, go again to events, and do this on a daily basis. I promise you, little by little, it becomes lighter and easier.
Now, one year into the brand, and after selling in different pop-ups, physical stores, and online stores, my biggest obstacle is the supply chain. Because you are not big enough to create your own but you are selling enough to have the need to produce constantly.
For this obstacle, I’ll suggest what I’m doing right now. Re-do your business plan, do research, talk to people from your industry and from others to learn how they overcome this obstacle. Create plans A, B, C, and even D to improve your supply chain and to keep going until you figure it out.
If you had to give our readers financial advice for their businesses and/or start-ups what would it be?
Since my first job as an employee, I knew I wanted to create my own brand, and since then I started saving money for it. This would be my biggest advice: Save some money to invest in your own company before you launch. If people around you see that you have invested on your own, they will feel more encouraged to invest their money in you, because they would know that you are all in.
To raise more capital, I would always suggest starting with the 3 F’s: friends, family, and fools. But be careful: Leave everything in writing, and sign contracts, even if they are your own blood. When dealing with money, it’s easier for everyone to be as clear as possible.
And last but not least, re-invest, always. Re-invest to constantly grow your brand. See each investment as an improvement. Re-invest in marketing, courses, events, equipment, and knowledge. There’s always room for improvement, meaning that there is always room to re-invest.
Don’t be afraid to do it! Even though selling your products might cost you all the energy, you need to move that money, and you need to take your business to a new step.
Would you have done anything differently?
Although it hasn’t been perfect, I wouldn’t change much. That’s because my mistakes are where I’ve learned the most. The challenges and obstacles made me push harder, and learning from my mistakes made me stronger. My only suggestion that I’m constantly working on would be to enjoy the process, and not only the success, to see every day as a great day and not only on days where everything goes smoothly.
Most of successful people are surrounded by people who inspire them to reach their greatest potential. Who is that for you?
I think every person that enters your life is here to teach you something, and we all influence one another. I can say that colleagues, teachers, friends, and family have all inspired me in one way or another.
But if I have to name one person, here I want to shout out to my father, I see him as an incredible mentor. He is the most hard-working person I have ever met. He’s passionate about his job, he loves what he does, and he always does it with a smile. I grew up seeing him working really hard for his achievements, and I have seen him complete them all. Also, he has been a great support for me and my brother since the moment we both decided to become entrepreneurs. From him, I learned perseverance and that hard work pays off.
How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
If you ask my family and friends, they will tell you I don’t manage this very well. I have a lot of improvement to do in balancing my life because I don’t feel that this is work. I really love what I do, and you can see me working every day at any point of the day without even noticing the work being done.
However, I do have a moment each day where I don’t think about work, and it’s when I workout. For me, this is the moment I reconnect with myself. All the stress goes away and I feel energetic enough to continue with the day. I love to workout in the middle of the day because it is like a moment to pause, recharge and continue.
What does being a Latin business owner in the U.S mean to you?
The brand d’Francisco started with the idea to represent the biodiversity of Colombia. Now, after some time in the business, the vision has expanded to represent what all of us as Latinos have: our culture, our nature, and our people. I want to show that our countries are places full of beauty. We should showcase this richness, instead of only focusing on the “bad” news that the media sometimes fixates on.
It’s not at all easy to emigrate. But, when you are able to meet and share stories with other Latinos, there is a part of you that feels at home. To the Latinos out there who want to start a business in the U.S., I would recommend joining events and groups to meet more Latinos like you. That’s how I met incredible people who have become great friends and aids on this journey.
How have you and the Latino community helped each other?
Since moving to the U.S., I have met many Latinos. One of the first stores in NYC where I was able to showcase my pieces was a store that represents Latin designers, and it was incredible to meet all the designers and customers who wanted to support each other. Since then, I have been part of more pop-ups, as well as digital and physical stores that have a strong Latin community.
During my time as an entrepreneur, I have collaborated with all sorts of Latinos — photographers, videographers, other designers, and more. I love to invite Latinos to the events, pop-ups, and stores I’m part of, because it is important to remember that we need each other to grow.
Where do you see d’Francisco in 10 years? And yourself?
I see my business being sold internationally. After understanding the American customers (North and South), I’d like to enter the European market, and then the Asian market. I see d’Francisco with a presence in the digital metaverse and in physical stores, even stores created only by d’Francisco.
I see the brand collaborating with other Latin designers in the industry, be it ready-to-wear, shoes, or even other jewelry brands. Because, as I mentioned previously, together we work better. In terms of the brand itself, I see people in Colombia and in the U.S. working for d’Francisco. That way, I can help both the cultures I have the privilege of calling home.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?
Overall, I strongly believe that perseverance is what makes you succeed. It won’t be enough to have a great product — You have to keep going, even on days you don’t feel you can do it. On those days, more than ever, you have to push yourself harder and continue. You have to believe so much in your brand and your product that you will continue not only in the ups but even more so in the downs.