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Dream Weaver

Dream Weaver

Honduran-Born Designer Carlos Campos Risked His Life To Get To The U.S. Now He’S Making Every Day Count

Luxury menswear designer Carlos Campos didn’t look like much of a tailor as a teenager, when he worked at a bargain menswear shop in New York’s Garment District. One night, alone and working late, a client arrived for a last-minute, after-hours alteration job. Campos recalls seeing the man on the phone with Campos’ boss.

“I’m at the store but nobody’s here,” the client said. A pause. “The tailor’s here? I see a kid but no tailor.” Another pause. Then the customer looked closer at Campos. “You’re the tailor?” Campos, now 48, learned the trade from his father, a master tailor in his native Honduras. He arrived in the U.S. in the late 1980s at age 13, after a remarkable nearly yearlong solo journey, walking and hitchhiking thousands of miles, fueled by the fearless assurance of youth and a sense of destiny.

After attending high school, putting himself through college (New York’s esteemed Fashion Institute of Technology), and becoming a U.S. citizen, Campos is now living the American dream. As designer of his eponymous menswear label, Campos has dressed his share of celebs, including Ethan Hawke, Ricky Martin, and Justin Timberlake. He was a finalist for the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2011, and in 2017 launched the Carlos Campos School for Fashion & Design, Honduras’ first design school.

Campos, his wife, and 2-year-old son live in Manhattan. Despite last year’s business challenges, he remains upbeat, expanding his bespoke wardrobe service. RESIDE caught up with him in November, shortly after Honduras was slammed by two back-to-back hurricanes.

Carlos Campos hits the runway with his team and his son, Cruz
Carlos Campos hits the runway with his team and his son, Cruz.

First things first—how is your family in Honduras?

It’s devastating. I had relatives who had to stay on their roof for two days—my aunt, for three days.

Three days?

Until she was rescued. There was no communication. We were desperate to find out what happened. You feel helpless. I sent money, but some of them can’t even go to the bank because they have no I.D. It washed away.

You left Honduras when you were young, poor—and just 13?

Yeah. I always felt I had something different in me. I’d wanted to go to Brazil. The most famous soccer players came from Brazil. That was my fantasy. One day I took off with no money, no help. I didn’t tell my parents.

Do you remember what you felt that morning?

I’ll never forget. The day before I’d looked at everybody at school, internally saying goodbye. I had a loving family—but that morning my mom seemed extra loving. But I’d made my decision. When I left, my little sister was playing outside. I looked back at my house and felt this pain inside, this sadness, knowing I was embarking on this journey I wasn’t ready for. Then I left.

Carlos Campos menswear is known for classic tailoring with a Latin flair and bold pops of color
Carlos Campos menswear is known for classic tailoring with a Latin flair and bold pops of color

That must have been tough on your parents.

It was horrible. We could laugh about it later but....[He trails off.] I got to Guatemala, and people asked, “Where are you going?” I said Brazil, and they’re like, “Wwwwell, you’re headed in the wrong direction.” [He laughs.] They said, “Brazil is south. Everybody here is going to the north.” I got to Mexico, and this truck driver gave me a ride. I was his helper. Ohhh, I wanted to be a trucker then, with a walkie-talkie radio. It took almost a year but I finally made it to America. I made a promise to be the best person I could be. All the pain I caused my family—it couldn’t be in vain. So I worked hard.

How did that experience prepare you for this challenging past year?

I have a philosophy. If I think, hey, I got an award, I’m making money—that’s happiness—I remind myself, no. Happiness is something within me. When I feel sad, or frustrated, I close my eyes and remember when I was homeless. I feel I’m living a second life that God, or the universe, or this country gave me. It’s like, dude, you were supposed to be dead. So stop complaining.

And get back to work?

Exactly. Like with “Campos By Appointment” [his bespoke menswear service on CarlosCampos.com]. I’ve been analyzing the business and what makes me happy. I love creating custom suits; working directly with customers. It can take 12 to 15 days to make a suit. You come to the office. I have a library of Japanese and Italian fabrics to choose from. We talk about silhouettes. There are one or two fittings. I do the patterns myself. Some say to let others do that. But I enjoy it. I just finished a pair of pants right now. [He chuckles.] It’s like…if I’m a doctor, I want to be the surgeon in the room. I want to be able to operate.

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