Designers Veronica Pesantes and Jonnyka Bormann became best friends while doodling in a high school art class. Like many suburban teenage girls, they shared a love of boys, indie music, fashion and fun. They also had big time wanderlust and longed for a life filled with art, travel, meaning, and adventure. After graduating high school in Dallas, Veronica moved to Madrid to study art history and work at the Prado Museum. A year later, she suggested Jonnyka take a leap year and move to Spain. Soon Jonnyka joined her in the land of bullfighters and sangria to study studio art at an atelier in downtown Madrid.
After several festive years in Spain, the pair returned to the States to continue their art studies. Simultaneously, they both transitioned from the art world into the fashion industry. On the east coast Veronica launched “Vero Santes,” a successful accessories line with products handmade in her native Ecuador; while on the west coast Jonnyka landed a position working with the amazing founders of Lucky Brand Jeans where she learned the ins and outs of "the industry."
The girls’ pursuits of art and fashion still continues, but Veronica calls sunny Miami Beach home while Jonnyka has returned to her roots and dug in her heels in Austin, TX. Now they have joined forces in a venture that encompasses what brought them together in the very beginning: creativity, travel, meaningful pursuits and serious love of fashion. The Onikas, as they were known in high school, is their love child to you.
As they say in India, Shukriya (from “shukar,” meaning grace or kindness). Learn more about these incredible female entrepreneurs and their designs below!
Why do you call Austin home?
JONNYKA: After years of living in Los Angeles, Boston, and NYC, I wanted to return to my home state of Texas. It sounds a little sentimental but my parents still live outside of Dallas so I'm closer to them, and I missed the big Texas sky so much!
FAVORITE song/artist/ALBUM for A SPARK OF CREATIVITY
VERONICA: While it came out almost a year ago to date the last Solange album was on repeat in my studio for months, on every level it's sublimely inspirational.
JONNYKA: I'm really a shuffle on my nano kind of gal, I have an eclectic range - LA-based singer-songwriters, 60's, 70's, 80's, a little punk, mantra, and more. In the studio it's good for me to be surprised by what comes up.
BIGGEST DEBATE OF ALL: coffee or tea, BE SPECIFIC ;)
VERONICA: Both, coffee in the AM or else in a state of comatose, tea for winding down at night, favs include ginger numeric or fresh mint. I get up with fresh herbal teas, my grandma had them every single day--- religiously.
JONNYKA: Coffee - and specifically in a ceramic mug at home with the hubby vs. travel mug which means I have to rush off somewhere!
Go to mid-day snack or routine for creative fuel
JONNYKA: This is a very Austin answer: tacos. Specifically, migas and an order of chips and guac from Veracruz, with an iced vanilla latte.
Where do you feel the most creative ex: home, studio, nature, shop, etc.
JONNYKA: In the studio and traveling, in that order!
why did you CHOOSE TO create the Onikas
We couldn't find exactly the clothes we wanted to wear and were fascinated with textile design and handmade production. We are childhood best friends who have traveled the world together and have always shared a love of art, design, fashion, and big dreams. Our combined backgrounds in Fine Art, Art History, Cultural Anthropology, and years of experience working in the apparel industry, led us to form The Onikas.
Two years ago we launched The Onikas when a company invited us to design a blockprinted collection of scarves and handbags in India. From our first collection of hand-printed scarves, we expanded to include block-printed apparel and hand-loomed knits from the Andes, where Veronica was born.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE Most exciting moment SO FAR OF THE ONIKAS
Opening the NY Times Style Magazine and seeing the feature on our friend Rene, the uber-talented founder of RTH, and then reading that he mentioned us, along with Sabah, as the brands he carries in his impeccable LA store. Oh and the fact that Erykah Badu(!!) wore our ponchos for a photo collaboration with him as well.
HOW DO YOU Make brand standS out
By listening to our authentic voice and not following trends, we want timeless design you will wear forever, not fast fashion that goes out of "style" in a day.
Most creative influence ON YOUR LIVES
VERONICA: Travel, art and each other.
JONNYKA: Ditto, and will add my husband, and parents who have always had a distinctly creative way of being!
how has social helped THE ONIKAS
VERONICA: We love IG! when we started J had never been on IG or FB but soon she was hooked, who could not be in love with a platform that showcases creativity and connectivity, true tenets of our brand!
JONNYKA: Yes that's true I wasn't on social media before we started The Onikas, at heart I'm a very private person but I love how it connects us with so many talented designers and artists - that's how we met you and were introduced to your wonderful work!
what other artists have you LOVED collaBORAtING WITH
We have an exciting project with RTH in development, another with jewelry designer Huichol Love, and we work with many brands in Miami on events, like Nadja and KrelWear.
how important is shopping local TO YOU
VERONICA: It's pivotal, just like eating local is so important, so is supporting local boutiques, designers and events. Otherwise we will all be consumed by fast fashion and lose all individuality!
JONNYKA: It's so important for local economy and to ensure that creative communities and individuals are supported and thrive.
Share ABOUT bond THE BOND/RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE Onikas/ India/ Ecuador
VERONICA: I could write an essay, but with regards to Ecuador it's in my blood, I was born there. Our work there provides income and work to women who could not work in a traditional textile factory since many are the sole caretakers of their families. By working in the cooperative they have the flexibility to take their work home and care for their children.
VERONICA: We are part of a growing trend of fellow artisan-based brands who believe in the legacy of artisan goods. We value the integrity of the work to hedge our bets that there is enough of a market for these goods and consumers who care about artistic preservation. We have invested everything into our company based on this belief. The world needs this work, it is vital to cultural preservation. Likewise in India, where I first travelled as a yogi, block printing as an art form may disappear in 20 years, and our work there helps keep this centuries old art form alive and pay its artisans a living wage. So my bond to Ecuador is by blood and my bond to India through spirit!
JONNYKA: We are very inspired by helping others through our work. Since we started working with the blockprint studio there have been many improvements made to the facilities and the studio owner has even added a new sewing facility. We are not solely responsible for this but it makes us so happy that our work has contributed to the growth of this studio. As Veronica mentioned, their work is in danger of dying out as the younger generations are not interested in learning this beautiful process.
JONNYKA: I fell so in love with Ecuador during my first visit with Veronica! It is an amazingly beautiful country - so verdant and dramatic! And the people are so welcoming and honor their traditions and customs. When we meet with our weavers to review products, we end up spending most of the day with them, sharing a meal and getting to know about their lives. Travel is such an integral part of our brand that we have also launched Camp Onikas, our guided excursions to Ecuador! The next one is June 2018 - join us for an incredible journey!!
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT THE ONIKAS
The Onikas empowers our customers by making them part of the revolutionary shift towards ethical production that is slowly changing the design industry. By purchasing our goods our customers literally wear their heart on their sleeve with pride, flair and authenticity. We feel passionately about this because we identify with our customer. In our marketing materials we choose to feature “real” women whom we actually know, over “perfect” models. We are the women we design for and we build our community of like-minded women by connecting them to each other via social media, events and marketing. This intimate connection with our customer benefits all to create a full circle, linking people, products and community.
WHY BUILD A BRAND AROUND ETHICAL VALUES?
We believe in fair trade and building relationships with the artisans we collaborate with in India, Ecuador, Los Angeles and Austin. Producing goods for the cheapest price with cheap materials still exists of course, but fortunately growing awareness and movements like Fashion Revolution are changing the way customers think about their purchases and how companies produce their goods. Fashion Revolution began as a reaction to the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh where many large brands were producing their clothing - 1,138 people were killed, many of them young women, and 2500 people were injured. Good working conditions and well-being should not be sacrificed for profit. We are honored to work with talented artisan teams and proud that our textile production is a beautiful, artistic process.
LOCAL AUSTIN INSIDER RECOMMENDATIONS
favORITE local CURATED boutiques
VERONICA: Easy, Solid Gold! Also the old JM Drygoods was hard to beat, ESBY is flawless as is Sunroom.
JONNYKA: Same as Veronica - plus Friends & Neighbors, Garment Modern, Nannie Inez.
Favorite Local Food Truck
JONNYKA: I'm a huge fan of Radio mainly because of the Veracruz truck!
Favorite Local Coffee Shop
JONNYKA: Radio and Seventh Flag, which is co-owned by an amazing friend I used to work with at Lucky Brand in LA!