What Happens When Two Jewelry Designers Journey to the City of Gold

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Courtesy of W Hotels / Alec Kluger

Fast fashion sales may be on the decline, but they still dominate more than its share of consumers, leaving indie designers on the fringe. That is where the Council of Fashion Designers of America steps in. While the non-profit foundation, founded by Eleanor Lambert in 1962, is known more for its flashy events and running New York Fashion Week, the CFDA Incubator is where the real magic happens. The two-year program gives ten emerging fashion and accessory designers access to high-profile mentors and social media hubs (ahem, Facebook), business counseling, regional designer showcases to aid retail exposure across the country (this year it was held at W Hotels in L.A. and Miami), and so much more. But perhaps the biggest perk—or at least the chicest—is the trip of a lifetime.

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For Katie deGuzman and Michael Miller, the jewelry designers behind K/LLER Collection, that meant journeying to Bogota, Colombia. The city might be known for its fraught past, but it is currently one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations and home to the legend of El Dorado, the city of gold.

Michael Miller (left) and Katie deGuzman before their press preview at W Hotel in Bogota.

Courtesy of W Hotels / Alec Kluger

The designers both come from a furniture design background so their inclusion in the program was invaluable. "With the business program we're now having more conversations about how everything ties together: how you have to design smart, you have to produce smart, and look at the numbers, which is not what designers always do," Miller explained. "Now you have to have your business cap on with your designer eye and always be thinking through both."

But back to that trip of a life time. In partnership with W Hotels, the CFDA grants each brand the chance to explore a city of their choosing (at one of the luxury hotels' 50+ international locations) as a source inspiration for their next collection. "For many designers, traveling to a new destination is a crucial element in the design process," says fashion expert Sarah Easley, a mentor in the Incubator and co-founder of Kirna Zabête. "Exploring the art, architecture, new landscapes, and color palette far from home is the best way to create themes for the next collection."

For the K/LLER girls, the choice was obvious. "Because Colombia has such a rich history of gold, and Michael and I are obsessed with gold, it kind of seemed like a no-brainer," daGuzman said. ELLE.com joined them on their trip: This is what happened.

Clockwise from top left: Leather-working tools; deGuzman and Miller examining a bag that required 400 hours of handiwork; A tradesman works at a rivet press; Pre-Colombian nose rings worn by the noble, on view at the Museo del Oro; Hole-punchers and needles; The entrance to Museo del Oro.

Courtesy of W Hotels / Alec Kluger

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Miller and deGuzman visit local leatherworkers in Bogota's design district. Hoping to explore how the textile can be incorporated into their own work, they meet with the designers behind Colombian leather company Blumarino and gain insight on the tools of the trade, literally.

At the Museo del Oro.

Courtesy of W Hotels / Alec Kluger

Following a guided stroll through the old town square, La Candelaria, we enter Colombia's crowing jewel: the Museo del Oro, or, the Museum of Gold. Thousands of Pre-Colombian gold artifacts are on display, providing ample source material for two jewelry designers looking to craft their next collection. "The shapes we saw in the Gold Museums like those nose hangings, we really loved, [...] so you'll see that in the next collection."

Clockwise from top left: Miller with a new friend; the town square of Cucunuba; A weaver who recently went blind and retaught himself to loom by touch; A tool used to brush wool; Hardworking hands at work; A native woman pulling yarn by hand.

Courtesy of W Hotels / Alec Kluger

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