HOLD & SUSTAIN
Sanetra Longno Founder of Unravel Co.
By: Monica Valenzuela • Photography by: Peter Longno
Sanetra stands outside of Halcyon waiting for me to arrive. She is on time and I’m three minutes late. I find a place to park and ungracefully throw money into a parking meter. I walk-run to our meet up place, hoping she doesn’t notice the beads of sweat on my upper lip. The Texas Summer is slowly creeping in, and luckily a small breeze greets me near the entrance. I can see she is texting me to let me know that she is outside of the coffee shop. As I walk up, I briefly contemplate my perception of time, and pray I remembered to bring a pen. We introduce ourselves and go over the correct pronunciation of our names, an attention to detail that I foundly appreciate. She gives me a light hug, and I’m immediately in awe of her beauty, her style and her overwhelmingly comfortable energy. I grab us some drinks and we settle down on the patio. The conversation begins very organically, and I already feel like we’ve met before. She mentions how she recently got back from Dallas from a photo shoot with the clothing brand Tribe Alive.
“This is actually my third time working with Tribe Alive, and I enjoy the type of relationship I’ve built with the founder. Carly is so welcoming and kind. I stayed at her place, and she opened up her home to me and I felt relaxed. Plus, the clothing I modeled was beautiful, and the entire experience was memorable. The photographer was great and so was everyone else: the kind of working environment that I look forward to when modeling. ”
No stranger to being in front of a camera, Sanetra’s mother entered Sanetra in pageants at a young age. Pageants were just a step in the direction for her to find an agency to work with. In their hometown of Corpus Christi, not many big agencies existed for the types of modeling Sanetra wanted to do. It wasn’t until after high school that she decided to explore different opportunities. Having lived and gone to school in Austin, she had seen all the changes that the overpopulated city had gone through. Austin was a hub for creatives and creators who were seeking people just like her.
“After high school I got into modeling, also being around a lot of people at The Art Institute who needed models for their projects. That allowed me to get back into it and really put myself out there.”
My feeling of having met Sanetra before started to seem less like a feeling and more like a reality- I find out we went to the same college and graduated a year apart. Though our majors were different, we can’t help but imagine that our paths crossed a few times.
“Working with people in school really gave me the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone a bit. During that time I started a Model Mayhem account which back then was pretty interesting, but now is kinda weird. It was like a Facebook-style social platform for models, photographers, and makeup artists. I don’t really use it now, but in college it allowed me to find events and helped me network properly, and honestly it really took off from there. I was getting booked a lot. And just recently, I got signed to a new agency, Mirror Management which has been wonderful. I like that they allow me to be a part of the conversation. I don’t like to work with just anybody who throws a number at me, I like to work with people whose brand’s purpose aligns with serving others in a meaningful way.”
Choosing to work with a brand whose mission is clear and intentional was one of the main reasons Sanetra wanted to start her own company, Unravel Co. After graduating from The Art Institute of Austin with a Bachelors in Fashion and Retail Management, her ideal vision was to find a place that wasn’t going to contribute to the toxic cycles of fashion. She founnd herself working with local Austin retail companies like Noonday Collection and Raven + Lilly, and they showed her that leading with intention in fashion was a possibility.
“I wanted to have a business that was not just going to benefit me and put money in my bank. I wanted to do more for others. When I finished school and received my degree, I was wondering, what am I going to do? I had just learned about the negative impact that the fashion industry was having on people and the environment, which is really sad, because it took us so long to learn about all of it. I was disappointed and disgusted and wanted nothing to do with fashion. But I really didn’t want to give up. I began researching and slowly started discovering small brands that were having a positive impact. Raven + Lilly really inspired me to start Unravel Co. Seeing this brand and how transparent and honest they were with the whole process gave me hope.”
The start of Unravel Co. was simple: serve others. It seemed like an obvious concept that most businesses should keep in mind when targeting to consumers. But having seen the damage that fast fashion has on the market as a whole, Sanetra knew that the people who create the product are just as important as the people who purchase the product.
“Being a business owner, I’m constantly learning and asking myself Why am I doing this? What is the purpose?, really making the right choices and helping the ones who help me. Unravel Co. is a sustainable brand of artisan handbags made in Ghana. The artists who make the handbags are like family to me. I see their hard work whenever I see a new shipment. When I create a new design I always consider them first. I never price out the handbags; Since they make them, they name the price. I started this company in the beginning of 2017, and though I’ve run into a lot of things that are difficult to deal with as a business owner, the one thing I make sure to keep consistent is my relationship with them. I want it to be strong.”
At one point during our conversation, I notice how easily she gets lost in her world, not as if I’m not there, but I can see her be fully in It. I can feel her genuineness, her ability to talk about what she loves so much applies no effort. I ask her to describe what it was like visiting Ghana and meeting her new family for the first time, and she lightst up. The relationship she has built is not only about the handbags, but an opportunity for the community to grow. Under her mission statement for Unravel Co. serving others meant serving the people of Sherigu.
“In Ghana, the government won’t fund certain places like schools or medical facilities unless there is a proper building or facility to allow that program to function. I didn’t know that, so when we went to visit, that was the first thing I thought about. Their water source is miles away, so I knew I wanted to create an extra water well closer to them. We have completed 3 classrooms and the next thing is to invest in the Women Empowerment Center then a medical center. ”
Sanetra is beyond passionate about the relationship she has fostered with these talented artists. After visiting Ghana and coming back to the States, she realized she could do more. She saw how sustainable their practice was for creating each item and knew she was on the right path. The straw used for the bags is durable, long-lasting, and crafted with care. On a recent trip to the Philippines, Sanetra realized that she could expand her designs to include different types of materials that were still sustainable and handcrafted, and now Unravel Co. is in the process of working to build a relationship in the Philippines to create more products that allow a wider range of styles.
After awhile I noticed I had strayed away from the questions I had written down. We somehow ended up talking about documentaries we’ve watched, and we began accepting recommendations for new ones. The condensation from my iced tea had left a small pool of water on the table and bled onto my notebook, disturbing the ink. A self-timer went off in my head and, I decided to close out our meeting. Getting to know Sanetra better turned out to be informative and enlightening. I could see her journey to understanding the fashion industry’s negative impacts, and not allowing it to dishearten her but instead fuel a fire so she could switch up the narrative. Disrupting the machine is a slow process, but Sanetra is ready for the long haul. She’s holding true to her beliefs and sustaining a business model that will thrive in a future where people want to see a change. If there was one thing that I took from our time together, it was the sincerity she showed me, from our initial hello’s to her casual energy to her purpose in fashion. It came as no surprise that I almost fell in love with her.
I wanted to leave on a high note, so I asked her what she thought about moving towards slow fashion and what was her advice she might give to consumers who wanted to make a more conscious effort in the things they wear.
“Communities are so important. That’s where is all starts. In Austin, I think we are lucky to have so many options when it comes to fashion. Even if you don’t know much about fashion, maybe try shopping at thrift stores. Re-using is a great way to begin, but I think the best way to start helping is by supporting small independent businesses. Investing in them is what it’s really all about. Research and ask questions. I see that when we invest in others, we end up growing. Being a part of someone else’s growth is why I do what I do.”
Visit Unravel Co. at unravelco.com
You can follow them on IG @unravelco and
You can keep up with Sanetra by following
her personal IG @sanetrastew