Business & Economy

Cuban woman dreams of selling her Barbie clothes abroad

By Juan Carlos Espinosa

Havana, Mar 22 (EFE).- When Suly, a 28-year-old Cuban woman with an intellectual disability, knits a Barbie outfit, she feels like she’s giving life to one of her favorite cartoon or Disney characters. But, above all, she is moving closer to realizing her dreams: helping her mother and selling her doll clothing collections abroad.

One cannot miss seeing the stall the young woman sets up each weekend on the heavily touristed Paseo del Prado in Havana. The young children run up to the table there to see the rack with the outfits Suly has prepared with her detailed crochet technique.

At the miniature clothing store there is just as much variety to choose from as at a real store for people. And there’s something for all tastes: Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Mulan.

Working on each outfit can take up to three days.

“And look!” exclaimed Suly in an interview with EFE as she displayed her most recent garment – an outfit for the wicked, but well-dressed, star of “101 Dalmatians,” Cruella De Vil.

Suly has become the most sought-after weaver by both children and adults along the downtown pedestrian avenue in the Cuban capital, her mother Mary, 55, said.

She got her love of fabrics from her paternal grandmother, but developing a hobby like this took some time.

For years, she kept her creations in the two-liter plastic bottles where she had stored her treasures since she was a child, and even after specializing in crochet, she didn’t really think about putting her work up for sale.

But little by little, a change in the script began to develop. “In the workshop, they told me that I could sell my dresses,” the young woman said.

Suly was referring to the Confeccionadora de Papel y Carton, a studio in downtown Havana where she began working at age 18. There, Cubans with assorted disabilities work to create items like handbags or gift boxes for low pay.

She showed her hands to EFE to emphasize the problems of tendinitis she had when she worked there. She didn’t say much more than that, but she did reveal a few details such as that there was not much room for creativity.

On a trip to Canada, though, to visit her father – who now lives in the United States and regularly sends her thread and yarn by parcel – everything changed “in a flash.”

“(I see myself) traveling. I want to leave the country to fulfill my dream and sell my doll dresses at galleries,” she said with a smile, adding, “I’d love to see them in the stores.”

Her mother remembers the moment when Suly decided to take the leap a little more than a year ago, determined as she was to help her daughter after the old convertible she had been hiring out to drive tourists around the capital began to have problems.

“Are you sure, Mom?” her daughter asked her. And how things have changed in just a short time.

“I still can’t believe it … I’m so proud of this girl, I always knew that she could (do) more,” Mary said with great emotion.

Suly’s best customers are the tourists, the best example being the Cuban-American grandmother who has bought outfits from her the last three times she’s visited Havana.

“She sent me the photos (via WhatsApp),” Suly added, laughing.

If an interested customer only speaks English, the other street vendors, who have become her friends, come over to translate for Suly.

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