Small Business Spotlight: Santos By Monica

Designer Mónica Santos Gil on stepping into sustainable fashion.

Small Business Spotlight Handbag Designer Santos by Monica
(Image credit: Santos by Monica)

Women running their own companies? We love to see it. In our series Small Business Spotlight, we chat with independent fashion entrepreneurs about their journey to be-your-own-boss status. Here, tips for raising funds, developing a marketing strategy, navigating social media, and more—straight from women who have done it themselves.

Mónica Santos Gil was on a career trajectory that many would only dream of. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in 2015, she began working under industry names like Alexander Wang and Coach. Five years later, Gil made the decision to take a break from the world of corporate fashion. In July of 2020, she began to lay the groundwork for her own brand, a handbag and ready-to-wear brand, eponymously named Santos By Mónica.

Originally intimidated by the thought of stepping into the sustainable fashion landscape, Gil pressed on, pursuing a line that embraced slow fashion. Produced in small batches in and around New York City, Gil uses alternative materials, like cactus-based biomaterials in place of leathers and Lyocell, made from Eucalyptus trees, in place of traditional cottons.

Two years later, Gil’s season-less collections are beginning to flourish, all the while giving back to the community. For every item sold, the brand plants a tree with One Tree Planted. Here, Gil explains why this is only the beginning for Santos by Mónica.


Campaign imagery from the first collection of Santos by Mónica.

(Image credit: Santos By Monica)

On Her First Collection

"When the pandemic hit and we were sent to work from home, I finally had the time to develop my idea [for the brand]. My priority was to create bags that were long-lasting—something you could wear everyday and for years to come. I began doing research and came across cactus leather. I was struck by how amazing the product was as an alternative to leather. Then, I began prototyping the bags at home [in NYC]. In September of 2020, I launched the first collection for pre-order on social media. As orders came in, I was sewing my nights away. It took me two months to fulfill orders, and I finally began sending the first bags out at the end of October."

Sustainable Designer Mónica Santos Gil

Cala Structured Purse in black and white from the Santos by Mónica collection.

(Image credit: Amapolia for Santos By Mónica)

On Producing Locally

"I realized I needed help when I was literally falling asleep on the job. The bags were coming out tilted. For my second collection, I reached out to a leather craftsman in Brooklyn who had previously made bags for Marc Jacobs and Eileen Fisher. He took me on as his sole client during the pandemic, and he’s allowed me to produce made-to-order bags in small batches, which allows us to keep direct control over our inventory. That way, we don’t have products sitting around that could end up in a landfill."

Sustainable Designer Mónica Santos Gil

A bag from Collection II.

(Image credit: Andrés Jaña for Santos By Mónica)

On Sustainability 

"In the beginning I didn’t feel like I knew that much about sustainability, but I wanted the brand to be as eco-friendly as possible. I was scared of being rejected by people who knew more than I did [about sustainability]. Eventually, I told myself that I’d learn along the way and could integrate new sustainable practices as I go.

"We try to make our brand the most eco-friendly it can be. Our hang tags are made out of biodegradable seed paper, embedded with wildflowers and hemp cording. A plant will grow if you plant the paper in a pot of soil. We also use compostable stickers and tissue paper. For future collections, I am looking into a fabric made from bananas that is apparently 100% biodegradable."

Sustainable Designer Mónica Santos Gil

The best-selling Dolores Square Tote from Santos by Mónica.

(Image credit: Andrés Jaña for Santos By Mónica)

On Designing for Need 

"I think I've reached a point where I have every bag style that a person needs, and I don't think I'm going to keep designing more [styles]. In my first collection, each bag was very, very different from one another, but I realized that people were leaning towards the simplest bag, which is our Agave bag. It's only composed of three pieces. I started designing all of the bags around the motto that there is no need for me to keep adding more products into the world if my current bags are timeless and long-lasting."

Rachael Noll

Rachael is a sustainability-focused fashion writer and creator. She works full-time as the Brand and PR coordinator for Mara Hoffman whilst focusing her writing efforts on covering sustainable fashion for Marie Claire and EcoCult. As an Aussie living in Brooklyn, you'll catch her splitting her time between Sydney & NYC.