Sewing up successIsle of Palms woman creates resort wear for the upscale market

Natalia Castillo, owner of Escapada Living, a women's beach and resort wear brand, looks over some of her merchandise in her new location in Mount Pleasant. Her business was located on the Isle of Palms. ( Leroy Burnell/ )

Women’s resort wear company owner Natalia Castillo is a long way from being the doctor she longed to be in college.

And she couldn’t be happier.

After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1985 with a degree in biology, the Durham, N.C., native changed her mind about going to medical school and didn’t know what she wanted to do next.

Her mother told her she couldn’t just lie around and prodded her to get a summer job. So she started at the training program at Macy’s Department Store in Atlanta and worked in its junior sales department.

“I really loved the job,” she said. “I was only going to work for three months to figure out what I wanted to do, but I ended up there several years,” she said.

After a year, she was promoted to assistant buyer and the next year became assistant store manager at Macy’s in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Eighteen months later, she became the junior buyer for Macy’s South division.

After 21/2 years, she became the petite better sportswear buyer at Macy’s West division in San Francisco, where she spent another 21/2 years.

Then she grew antsy and wanted to start her own business, but first she took a year off and traveled around the world with a Macy vendor, who had a clothing manufacturing company in Indonesia.

When she returned, she went into business with him to form Key Lime Pie, a women’s resort wear company.

After five years, she sold her portion of the company to him.

She then founded her own women’s resort wear business called Paradiso, which she ran for seven years before selling it at the height of the market in January 2008 before the financial markets crashed later that fall.

“I felt I had done everything I could in retail and resort wear, so I traveled around the world for a year and a half,” Castillo said.

Her travels took her to India, Brazil, Switzerland and Vietnam, among other places.

“I had no intention of getting back into the business,” she said.

She moved from San Francisco to the Isle of Palms and invested in real estate. Then the market crashed.

She tried to sell some of her holdings and move back to California, but the houses stayed on the market for two years, and she decided maybe it wasn’t meant for her to leave the Isle of Palms.

“I decided to do what I do best,” Castillo said.

New threads

In the fall of 2009, she started developing products to launch a new company called Escapada Living that would serve luxury resorts.

She now has 1,100 accounts in the U.S. and around the world, including those at the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Hilton Hotels and in Tahiti, Bermuda and other exotic islands.

Her colorful clothing line that incorporates pastels such as coral, yellow, aqua, turquoise, emerald and peach can be found locally at Mary Mojo Boutique in Mount Pleasant, Paisley on Daniel Island, Scout & Molly’s and Jolin in downtown Charleston, and Coastal Palms at Freshfields Village near Kiawah Island.

Her line also is sold at the luxurious Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, which U.S. News & World Report magazine recently named the top hotel in the nation.

“It’s done well since Day One,” said Sarah Johnson, manager and buyer at Scout & Molly’s of Charleston, which carries 30 brands of clothing. “It’s probably our top-selling line. It’s easy to wear for a wide age range, and people appreciate the fact that she is local.”

At Mary Mojo Boutique in Mount Pleasant, store owner Kathryn Poe reported similar results.

“It’s doing really well,” Poe said. “The customers love the vibrant colors and lightweight fabric for this climate.”

The soft, breathable, loose-fitting clothes sell for between $68 and $128, Castillo said.

She hopes to expand into the international market even more next year by tapping into opportunities in Australia, Brazil, Europe and South Africa.

More material

Castillo recently more than doubled the size of her business by moving to a 5,200-square-foot office and warehouse off Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant. Her firm was on the Isle of Palms.

Made of 100 percent rayon, the garments are designed locally, but the prints are made in Indonesia before being sent to a factory there, where 85 workers cut and sew the fabric.

When the clothing returns by two-day air service twice a month, workers match the finished garments with orders and they are shipped across the country and to exotic locations.

She employs 11 people in Mount Pleasant, another 11 sales representatives across the country and 16 more at a site in Indonesia. The 85 factory workers who stitch together are contractors.

Some of her local employees do market research as well, working months ahead for next year’s fashions.

“It’s important to stay on top of current and emerging trends,” said Castillo, sporting a bright floral print. “There is nothing I would rather wear. I literally live in this product during warm weather.”

Her current business is about $3 million a year. She expects revenue to swell to $10 million by next year, with a goal of $100 million in 10 years.

“We have some big deals in the pipeline,” Castillo said. “We could go to 1,700 accounts this year. Our growth has been tremendous.”

She’s always looking for talented people to add to her work force, saying if she finds the right person, she would create a job for them.

“I take the person and their strengths and create a job for them,” Castillo said.

She doesn’t intend to leave the Charleston area either.

“I will never leave here,” she said. “I love living here.”

As for that medical career she once pursued, she has never looked back.

“Never, not one day, have I had a regret about not pursuing a career in medicine,” Castillo said. “I love to develop products, and I love to travel. I love to build a business and work with great people, and in this job I get to do it all. There is nothing I would rather do than what I do now. For me, it is a dream job.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or