Fashioning a better future

Fashion design, activism through art, and more with Taller Puertorriqueño’s Nasheli Ortiz-González

3 minute read
Ortiz-González poses for a snapshot portrait, wearing a white collared shirt and black top, standing in front of a media wall
Nasheli Ortiz-González takes the lead at Taller Puertorriqueño. (Photo by Sabina Louise Pierce.)

Taller Puertorriqueño, founded in 1974 by a group of community artists and activists, aims to preserve, develop, and promote Puerto Rican arts and culture. The organization is known as El Corazón Cultural del Barrio (The Cultural Heart of Latino Philadelphia) and believes embracing one's cultural heritage is central to community empowerment. Nasheli Juliana Ortiz-González serves as their new executive director, hoping to grow their art-education programs, socially-conscious art exhibitions, book readings, and other events engaging the community.

There is work to do

Before accepting the position, Ortiz-González was falling out of love with academia after 16 years in the field; the pandemic, racism, and elitism ruined the magic she used to feel when in a classroom. Now with Taller Puertorriqueño, Ortiz-González feels like she has found her dream job without needing to compromise her values in the process.

Ortiz-González is a Puerto Rican-Dominican fashion designer by education, formation, and practice. She has worked worldwide in the fashion industry and is the owner of Nasheli Juliana, a company focused on exploring activism and social justice from an apparel perspective; and 22 Studio, a women-led trans-disciplinary design practice operating between the US and Puerto Rico. Ortiz-González has been involved with a range of projects from movie productions to architectural drafting, costuming to designing museum exhibitions, Netflix, and more.

Born and raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Ortiz-González moved to Philly five years ago and loves the inspiring murals, music in the street, parks, and food. Ortiz-González wants to bring Taller to the community. “Taller in Spanish means workshop, but we also use it as a way to say that it is ‘work to do.’ There is a lot of work to do, and Taller needs to be a leader in the process,” says Ortiz-González. “I want to create circular economies that show culture as an integral part of the lives of the Puerto Rican, Latinx, and Philadelphia communities.”

Puerto Rico had a robust needle industry in the 1960s through 1980s before political decisions made the whole manufacturing system collapse. Many had a family member that worked as a seamstress giving independence to women through economic power. The political situation in Puerto Rico forced Ortiz-González to be aware of the injustices Puerto Ricans endured from their colonial status. “I started participating in protests and manifestations when I was 17 years old. The cause never changed but the strategy and action evolved,” says Ortiz-González. “The action looks for long solutions and not just temporary ones; it is proactive, not reactive.”

Ortiz-González's slogan is “Fashion is a reflection of society.” She says fashion fits in the culture from multiple perspectives, “from the most basic design elements to the psychology behind how, why, and where we wear it. In the end, a good designer studies the wearer's behavior that responds to the context and supports the subcultures created by the trends.”

Ortiz-González is prepared to carry these notions and values into her work with Taller Puertorriqueño and its community.

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