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With his House of Castell line, Merlin sells gala suit and dress designs
With his House of Castell line, Merlin sells gala suit and dress designs | Photo Courtesy of Merlin Castell

Fashion designer moves from the banana fields of Honduras to U.S. catwalks

Being Central American makes things more difficult. Initially, I got paid very little, particularly since I did not know English. Even the apprentice whom I taught to sew, earned more than me. That didn't discourage me though. On the contrary, it pushed me to improve myself.

Merlin Castell
Interview Subject
Merlin Castell is a Honduran designer who creates avant-garde designs. His work has been spotlighted by models and celebrities at New York Fashion Week, Los Angeles Fashion Week and the Met Gala in New York.

Merlin, the youngest of seven siblings, grew up in the municipality of Sonaguera, Colón, Honduras, in a family with few resources. With great effort he traveled to study in Italy, thanks to the help of his mentor. Later, he traveled to Spain and Mexico, and then moved to the United States, where he has created successful collections.

He has a line of designs called Merlin Castell, focused on casual designs, in addition to his House of Castell line, which frames haute couture designs such as gala dresses.

His next project is the launch of a line of underwear for men and women, which is in negotiations since there are investors interested in acquiring the brand. The prominent designer also hopes to create a line of “petit” clothing for women, so they are not excluded from haute couture clothing.

Among Merlin’s goals is to be the mentor of a young, promising fashion designer, to give someone the opportunity to grow in the industry as he did.
Background Information
Hondurans have recently become one of the largest and fastest growing group of immigrants – legally and illegally – into the United States. People often leave the country because of the environment – Honduras leads the world in homicide, four times that of Mexico. San Pedro Sula, the city where the largest portion of unaccompanied minors comes from, is considered the murder capital of the world. The trip to the U.S. can be wrought with danger.

A 2021 article by the Migration Policy Institute states in 2019 there were 746,000 Honduran immigrants in the United States. Only 7 percent of Central American immigrants report speaking English and obtained a medium income of $51,000 in the U.S. Seventy-six percent of those who became lawful residents did so through family reunification. Much smaller percentages obtained citizenship through asylum, refugee status, or employer sponsorship.

LOS ANGELES, United States — I always thought I would end up working in the banana fields of Honduras alongside my siblings, but today my fashion designs exist in exclusive boutiques in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, and other cities.

Every second of my life feels interesting to me. It has always been that way. I look at the bright side of things. Each phase of life I go through results from my decisions. I see life as the map to a treasure I must find. It reminds me, I have to be prepared for when I discover it.

Born and raised in a very small town in Honduras called Sonaguera, Colón, most people grow bananas. Growing up, I watched my brothers work in the field. I always thought, one day, I would dedicate my life to that same endeavor. Back then, a career in fashion was the last thing on my mind.

The beginning of my love for fashion

Make sure my six brothers and I had everything we needed, my mother stayed very busy raising us. She could not read or write, so she never checked my grades. She had no idea I was the best student in school.

While I was always named ‘Student of the Year’, she could never go to my events, so my sister attended in her place. People believed I was an orphan.

Still, we never lacked love in my family. I felt very protected by my siblings. Being the youngest, they took care of me. It was as if they had wings to protect me. My mom told them, “Take care of Merlin, he is special.”

I remember at the age of eight, my third-grade teacher taught us to sew using blankets and thread. We had to complete a certain quantity of sewing and I quickly became the best student at sewing. I finished the task quickly and asked my teacher Evelyn, “What else can I do?”

She awakened a love for fashion within me when she suggested I buy fabric so she could teach me to sew shorts. She cut the canvases and I sewed them. Sewing made me feel whole. On the machine, nothing else mattered and my entire body relaxed.

Although that first pair of shorts with yellow stripes now seem ridiculous to me, I wore them proudly. Since then, I have never been shy about my creations. Everything I wear is designed by me. It gives me satisfaction to wear something no one else wears. I create everything, from my shoes to my underwear.

Moving to the United States and becoming a designer

At the age of 12, after a year of saving money for bicycles along with my brother, I decided to buy a sewing machine instead. I began to make aprons for my mother to sell. Years passed by and with a lot of effort, I began to study architecture. After classes during the day, I spent the night learning sewing techniques.

Before long, I landed a position with an interior design company. I met my mentor and began my career as a designer. God prepared me to receive this blessing. My mentor helped me continue my professional preparation. Thanks to her, I migrated to the United States.

Ever since I arrived in America, my life filled with constant challenges. Being Central American makes things more difficult. Initially, I got paid very little, particularly since I did not know English. Even the apprentice whom I taught to sew, earned more than me. I would not allow it to discourage me though. On the contrary, it pushed me to improve myself.

Finding a place for my unusual style in the fashion world

In the world of fashion, it remains difficult to compete with big industries and designers who pay celebrities to wear their creations. They send a message: people like me will never be at the same level. However, I strive to arrive at the forefront. I focus on the American market, where more support exists.

When people see me, they seem surprised. My style appears shocking and unusual, and it takes time for them to get used to my appearance. It has not been easy reaching where I am now, but for me, every fall serves as a rehearsal to get up and become stronger.

One of Merlin Castell’s collections on the runway | Video Courtesy of Merlin Castell/Youtube

The last collection I launched sold out! My designs are now in exclusive boutiques in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, and other cities. There are times when three months go by without a job, but I do not despair. I use my savings. There are also days when I work nonstop. When I finish, I spend a week, exhausted, in bed. This is my world.

Sometimes it makes me melancholic, not having children or a family by my side every day. Although, I believe that is not purpose nor my mission in life. After all these years of work, I dream of returning to Honduras one day, buying a house in Islas de la Bahía, and enjoying my days there.

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Honduran journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the media. A communication and advertising sciences graduate of the University of San Pedro Sulha, Xochilth has worked on different radio and television channels and taught at the university level. She currently collaborates as an editor of a digital newspaper.