A 12,000-KILOMETRE journey half-way around the world to a foreign country led Candela Sande to discover what her homeland had to offer.
Candela was studying tourism at university in Argentina when, during a winter escape to Costa Rica in 2015, she met a traveller on his way to work in the ski fields of Canada and cupid fired an arrow.
“The funny thing is that we saw each other at the beach, and then I had to change hotels with my friends and we arrived at this new hotel and he was sitting in the kitchen, so we started talking,” Candela says.
“He’s Australian and I couldn’t speak one word of English at that time. I knew a few words and there was Google translator, and that’s how it goes.”
The pair struck up a relationship and rendezvoused in different locations before Candela joined her love, Jack, on the Sunshine Coast, where they made their home.
“It’s very brave, now that I look back. A week after I arrived, I started work,” she says.
“I was working in a cafe and I was taking so long to give the change because I didn’t know the money.
“It was crazy. I couldn’t speak the language. I didn’t know the coins but I’ve always found Australian people so kind and so patient.”
Candela worked in the Mooloolaba cafe for five years until the birth of her daughter, Sierra, but those early days trying to deal with an unfamiliar language and new country were so stressful that she would go home in the afternoon with a crashing headache.
Not surprisingly, she was homesick. She found a remedy in her own online business.
“I remember that we did a trip to Argentina and we brought back a poncho to my mother-in-law and she absolutely loved it and she said, ‘You have to sell this. This is beautiful’,” Candela recalls.
“I was missing home and I was missing talking in Spanish. I was missing connection with my country, and then at the same time, I was feeling that I’m here, I need to help someone back home.”
She began searching for groups or communities in Argentina that made woollen garments that she could sell.
“I found a group of people that work in cooperation with each other, so all the money that they make gets split.
“The funny thing is, when you’re in your own country, you don’t appreciate all that your country has.
‘When I was in Australia, I thought, ‘Oh my God, we do such quality and beautiful things that when I was living there I didn’t see’.
“I got my first order just to see the quality and took that back to Australia and started looking for something else, started searching for other communities and started learning about different cultures.”
Candela discovered a group making bags from plant fibres, dyed with bark, foliage and fruit extracts and incorporating patterns and symbols of cultural meaning.
She launched Casapacha, her online store, in 2019 selling high-quality, handmade clothing and bags made from natural fibres. She also ran a stall at Peregian markets.
“I always love walking through markets but to have my own stall there, I just love it,” Candela says.
“I love to talk to the people and explain everything so that people can touch and smell the products. Because it’s all natural, everything has a smell. And I just loved to tell the story to people.”
Candela has pulled back on the markets for now while Sierra is a toddler but has branched into wholesaling, supplying a store in each of Peregian and Sunshine Beaches, Yamba, Tasmania and Sydney.
She has also begun designing – first children’s jumpers, and then socks and leg warmers this winter, which has meant bringing on another group of Argentinian artisans.
Casapacha is a juggling act as Candela must be careful not to place too much pressure on her artisan suppliers.
“They are small communities so the process is kind of long to do everything by hand so I can’t sell huge amounts but slowly we are expanding a little bit.”
She believes there is a strong future for the artisanal products of Argentina’s indigenous communities.
“More and more people are starting to look at more sustainable products, quality products, natural fibres, so I think in the recent years, the consumer is changing, starting to appreciate more and asking questions on how things are made,” she says. “The consumer can see these things are made to last, they’re not throwaway fashion.
“It’s high-quality products. If you love them, you know that you’re going to wear them year after year, and after that, you can gift them to your daughter because you know they’re going to be perfect to keep.”
Casapacha is Candela’s Spanish fix and takes her back to Argentina regularly to reconnect with her family and culture, and learn more about her home country.
“It’s funny, I had everything at home all those years and I had to move countries to really appreciate them,” she says.
“I think that the brand really helps me to keep connected to Argentina because I’m always in contact with them.
“And I’m really proud, too. I don’t have indigenous heritage but it’s my country so I’m really proud of the products that they make and the whole culture behind them.
“These garments have been made for years and years. It’s a culture, not a product, and I think what is really important too about this, is that it’s a knowledge that we’re trying to keep going.”
Candela hopes that in the years to come, Casapacha will link Australian-born Sierra with her Argentinian heritage.
“I want to take her to these places with me so she can have that connection too,” she says.