“I think Minnesotans are a little bit afraid of color and statement pieces, but they are curious to wear them,” says Vanessa Dembo, creator of Vanessa’s Style Shop, an online store selling handmade accessories from women designers from South America.
Dembo, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, married a Minnesotan from Edina and has lived in Minnesota for the past 10 years. While she loves Minnesota and lives happily with her husband and their 9-year-old son, part of her felt that she was losing her roots—her connection to who she is and where she’s from.
In Venezuela, the political climate has created turmoil for many of its citizens, especially for women, many of whom have lost their jobs and struggle to support their families. “There is a regime that has destroyed my country,” says Dembo, explaining that there are very few channels to send food, medicine, and aid.
This gave her an idea.
Dembo’s fashion sense expresses Latin American flair, and she has consistently received compliments from friends and strangers alike, asking, “Where did you get those earrings?” “Where is that necklace from?” Dembo kept saying, “Venezuela, Venezuela.”
“It clicked into my mind,” she says—”why don’t I create a store to help these women in Venezuela who are trying to make a living?” Vanessa’s Style Shop is a way for her to bring the culture of her homeland to her home in Minnesota and to give back to her country by doing business with and supporting women designers from Venezuela.
In addition to supporting these women, Dembo donates a portion of every sale to a nonprofit called FUNDANA, a foster care that helps Venezuelan children who are in high-risk situations, such as abandonment, abuse, or starvation.
Currently, Dembo works with 19 designers, many of whom also have philanthropic causes of their own. “Not only are you giving back to the foster care [FUNDANA], some of the designers support other organizations as well, so no matter what you buy, you’re giving back—you know you’re helping directly,” she says.
This August marks the one-year anniversary of Vanessa’s Style Shop. In the short time since it’s conception, the business has boomed. About 80 percent of her customers return, and her number of customers grows each month. But Dembo’s immense success has not come easy. Dembo works day and night, as she is the sole person behind the business. She does everything from choosing products and creating and curating her website—as well as her Instagram—to customer service and marketing.
Despite the challenges of starting and running her own business, Dembo says the hard work has paid off; she loves making people feel good with her fashion. “It’s very rewarding because I get a lot of email and calls and people posting about what they’ve bought,” she says.
All of the pieces are handmade, and, since the designers can’t always find the same fabrics or materials, each bold, colorful accessory is one of a kind. Her shop, she says, “is a way to get Minnesotans comfortable wearing a statement piece that you know you’ll look good and feel good in … I’ve seen a lot of women who say, ‘Those earrings are beautiful, but they are too big,’ and I say, ‘Try them on.’ … I think they feel like they’re going to look like a clown or a lampshade or something. But no. It’s chic.”
Along with aiding Venezuela, Dembo’s shop fills a void of South American fashion locally. “My store is a way for me to bring to Minnesota the fashion sense of Latin America and the rest of the world. I’m bringing color to Minnesota, supporting talented women and giving back to them and different causes,” she says. “It’s fashion for a cause.”