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A designer finds 'Mi Gente' through rave wear in South Florida

Esabelle Herrera models clothing from her online rave wear brand.
Esabelle Herrera / Mi Gente Clothing
Esabelle Herrera, 31, models clothing from her online rave wear brand "Mi Gente Clothing."

Mesh stockings, trippy holographic prints, spandex with asymmetrical cutouts. It's the go-to uniform for festival goers. Rave wear, as it's called, is unabashedly wild and fun, and it's how Esabelle Herrera makes a living.

"It's definitely, probably shocking to some people because we're half naked and you might be wearing mesh or wearing pasties or like tiny shorts and your butt's all out," Herrera said. "I feel like it's very liberating for a lot of people."

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Herrera, 31, runs the online store "Mi Gente Clothing,"selling festival fashion that's handmade in Fort Lauderdale. What started out as a post-undergrad Etsy store turned into a rave wear online brand with more than 76,100 followers on Instagram.

"It was probably like two years in. That's when I really started to see people wearing my stuff, when I would go out to shows and I would meet the customers and stuff, and I was like, 'wow, this is really cool,'" she said.

The past week has been a busy one, now that the Ultra Music Festival has returnedreturns to Miami at Bayfront Parkafter a two-year absence. Herrera had released a new collection of custom printed apparel right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel the event in 2020 and again in 2021.

Like many businesses, Herrera had to pivot. Instead of lacquered bodysuits made for hot, crowded live concerts, she started selling clothing that catered to a pandemic society — swimsuits and activewear. A scroll down her Instagram account shows a spate of muted and soft biker short and crop top sets.

"It was hard to accept," she said. "I couldn't wait around and like, you know, let my business fall to pieces."

As the latest wave of COVID-19 variant cases recedes and mask mandates fade, she's been playing catch up, recouping the business that she lost during the pandemic, she said.

"I'm pretty proud of myself, especially, you know, after going through the last couple of years with how everything happened," she said. "It's been a crazy journey and I'm still here for the ride. "

Mainly self taught, Herrera credits her late grandmother, from whom she learned the basics of sewing. If not for her encouragement and support, she said, Mi Gente would not have been born.

"Miami is like a hub for [electronic music/rave culture], and sounds like a melting pot of people and the culture. I feel like the music in general is so deeply rooted, especially in Latin culture, and I feel like people gravitate towards that."

In 2009, she escaped the bitter cold of Ohio to attend college at Palm Beach Atlantic University. During the era of "booty shorts," bras and tutus, in the 2010s, Herrera didn't see clothing that suited her style. That's when she started making her own clothing, filling a gap in the market for people searching for more comfortable and functional clothing — think high-waisted bodysuits with plus size options. She also wanted to create pieces that could also be worn at the club — not just a once-a-year music festival.

Ribbed lettuce hems, neon colors and animal prints echo 90s fashions and designer brands like Thierry Mugler inspire the bulk of her collection. Her brand also calls back to her Latin roots, most obviously with the name, "Mi Gente," which translates to "my people" in Spanish.

The name comes from a phrase often said by her father whenever they saw Hispanic people in their small, predominantly white town in Ohio.

"And so it would always be kind of like, Oh, look there's someone who looks like me, maybe I'm not feeling alienated for once and the only person who is of this culture. So, that always stuck with me."

Over the years, more retail brands have been selling festival collections. The style is no longer as niche as when she first started making rave wear nine years ago. It's not as judgmental, she said.

Now she's found her people, so to speak, in the rave culture of South Florida.

"You really can just let loose and nobody is going to make fun of you for dancing and going crazy or running around the room. It's a really freeing and liberating experience," Herrera said. "The music and being there with your friends and being in that moment where like, you know what, these are the little moments that make everything worth living, you know?"

Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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