Bold, Beautiful Style

Escapada Living epitomizes vibrant, effortless apparel and resort wear for the modern woman.

By Caden Alexandra Kluge 18C

Natalia Castillo 85C is a visionary whose medium is clothes, and women all over the world covet the chic resort wear made famous by her Escapada Living brand. With a vivid color palette and graphic prints that evoke sunny beaches and tropical isles, Escapada’s wholesale, retail and ecommerce sales will swell to over $14 million in 2016. “More and more women are discovering Escapada,” she says.

With more than 1,500 retail contracts including the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Hilton Hotels, Waldorf Astoria plus retail locations in Tahiti, Bermuda, and other exotic islands, women everywhere embrace the award-winning Escapada style. Castillo’s global team of 128 employees, sales representatives, and manufacturing staff helped generate $10 million this year. “We’re hoping to hit $100 million in sales within ten years,” Castillo says. Among its multiple awards, Escapada Living was named a 2014 and 2015 Inc 500/5000 Fast Growing Company.

Today, Castillo continues to stretch her design talents as she grows her brand. While an Emory biology student, she never could have imagined the professional journey that positioned her to run a multi-million dollar fashion empire. Even so, she reflects, “I always felt something bigger and better waited out there for me.”

Designing a Resort Wear Brand

Escapada Storefront

Big growth requires constant innovation. “My design inspiration is an ongoing process that comes from beach colors, or a pattern, or lines in architecture. Our creative team is always keeping an eye out. We brainstorm ideas, and pick a theme and print direction for the line,” she explains. After shared design critique, “We might change the lines, the color, the scale, the element placements.”

Escapada clothes are never boring, with lively, patterned designs in brilliant hues of coral, yellow, aqua, turquoise, emerald, and peach, among others. The line is intended for people of all ages. Castillo points out, “We design classic, clean-lined garments and we are careful to focus on styles specific to certain age groups. The garments are made of 100 percent rayon in order to be soft, breathable, and loose-fitting.” She adds, “Wearing Escapada is always fun.”

Behind the garments is a sophisticated manufacturing process in which the Escapada-owned factory sources everything, from the thread and buttons to the tag in the back. “Because we own our own factory we have very low costs, allowing us to keep the prices reasonable while still producing very high quality clothing,” Castillo notes.

African Inspiration with a Pop

In fashion, future seasons launch early. This year’s fall line is ready to hit the shelves. Inspired by Castillo’s latest travels to Africa, the line features animal prints incorporated into the classic Escapada look.

With four new lines each year, Castillo is always thinking ahead. “Fall fashion lines often switch to dark, muted tones for the season, but we like bright colors offset with black and other dark accents. The fun and the pop are still there.” Castillo’s dedication to style, comfort, and quality is one of the things that has put Escapada at the forefront of resort wear fashion. “A woman has to feel comfortable and look good for fashion to succeed.”

Experience Gained, Lessons Learned

Escapada Living

Castillo graduated in 1985 from Emory University with a degree in biology, but knew the subject would never fuel her creative passion. Undecided on her future, she entered the Macy’s Atlanta executive training program as a sales manager. “At the time, retail was explosive, and I loved the feeling of running a business. Each department was given lots of freedom and room to grow the business, which made for an amazing work environment.”

But after moving up the ranks for 10 years, Castillo started to think bigger. A chance encounter with a former vendor prompted her to confess her desire to open her own business. “He said instantly that anything I did he would want to invest in. So that Monday I put in my two weeks.”

As fate would have it, the pair joined forces in a successful resort wear line for several years.  “I learned everything I needed to know about the manufacturing side of the industry. But I realized that I didn’t need a partner.”

Paradiso, her first independent resort wear line, succeeded until Castillo recognized the signs of the inflated economy and correctly predicted a crash. She sold the business at precisely the right time. Life took her to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where she began Escapada Living – an accumulation of her wisdom, experience, creativity and considerable design talent.

With a cramped home office that housed eight employees, Castillo made sacrifices to be successful. As a home-based entrepreneur, she admits, “There was no separation between work and personal life. I just couldn’t get away from it.” Eventually she relocated Escapada’s headquarters to a nearby office and warehouse space, where it remains today. Bootstrapping expenses during expansion “saved us money on overhead and moving costs. Once we moved to our Mount Pleasant location we stayed there.”

Natalia Castillo went from summer job to successful business woman in the span of 15 years. That success arose from hard work, experience, and a healthy dose of determination. “I knew I could always get a job. I saw so many people who were miserable in their jobs but stayed because of the money, and who wanted to start their own businesses but were worried it would fail. I never had that fear.”

Castillo offers this advice to every young designer or entrepreneur. “Have confidence in yourself and your work. Follow your gut and absolutely take risks.” She says, “I never really felt like I risked a lot. With every decision I made it never felt like the stakes were too high, because I knew I could always find a job. I always knew I could do anything and succeed at anything.”

Editor's Note: Are you looking for your own Escapade Living style? Visit the flagship store at 644F Belle Hall, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464 or shop online at Castillo says, "We would like to extend free shipping to the Emory Community through Dec. 31, 2015. Please use coupon code EMORYFREESHIP."

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Michelle Valigursky