Vanessa Dembo grew up surrounded by artists, bright colors and big, bold style. Her voice swells with pride as she talks about her childhood in Venezuela. “Art has been alive in my family since I was born. [My mom] was an artist—she was a painter and did exhibits all over the world,” Dembo says. “On the other side, my father was a businessman. My father had a factory where he produced women’s clothing in Venezuela. He and my grandfather were very into fashion and my mother always did the accessories. I might have kind of soaked into that fashion style.” Ten years ago, Dembo married the love of her life, an Edina native, and moved to Edina—but she carries her home country with her at all times—with her style, which she describes as “Latin flavored,” and through her online business Vanessa Style Shop, where she sells handmade accessories created by Venezuelan artists.
Along with the good memories Dembo carries of Venezuela, she unfortunately also worries for the future of her family there and the country she dearly loves. Dembo explains that she started Vanessa Style Shop for many reasons: “The first one is my country is going through hell right now,” she says. “People are really dying of hunger. There’s no food. The inflation is really, really high and one day you have money then the next you don’t.” With an unpopular president, things are only getting worse, and more than 120 people have been killed since antigovernment protests began in April of 2017. As Dembo has watched the crisis unfold from miles away, she felt compelled to help. “I said you know what, I want to help, she says, “and I want to help with something that I feel passion for.”
And Dembo has always had a passion for style. “When I was little my father would always say ‘You are very chic when you dress up yourself,’” she says. The people of Minn. seem to agree, as Dembo receives compliments on her style almost everywhere she goes. Dembo began by partnering with Saint Barth style, an organization that hires Venezuelan woman who work on the street making jewelry and helps them work from home and sell their craft. Dembo started her online store, Vanessa Style Shop, to help promote those accessories, and almost immediately more Venezuelan artists started contacting Dembo and asking to be a part of her store. She now has the work of 19 artists featured in her shop.
When you think about classic Minn. style, what comes to mind? Probably not big accessories, bold patterns and a color wheel of vibrant reds, pinks, blues and orange. But Dembo is hoping to change this as she flips fashion upside down with splashes of Latin flavor—the colors and styles of her home country. The handmade jewelry and accessories adorning her website are big, sparkly and filled with color—life-size butterfly earrings with big yellow tassels, cuff bracelets hand-woven with an abundance of sparkle and beaded necklaces in vibrant patterns and colors describes a few of the items available. Dembo admits that after moving to Minn. 10 years ago she felt an overwhelming sense of culture shock. But over time, Dembo has found a happy medium in her style—blending bright colors and big accessories with the more toned-down style that is classic Minn. “Minnesota has taught me so many wonderful things,” Dembo says, including the delight of wearing exercise clothes all day. “In Venezuela, even though there is [a] big crisis, women are really put together,” she says. “Every week people go to the salon, wear high heals or wedges, go to the gym with makeup. Minnesota has taught me to be more simple.”
And now Dembo helps other Minnesotans blend their own style with a dash of Latin flavor. “I think its really funny that I discovered that Minnesotans [are] just a little bit scared of wearing something big—but they want to,” Dembo says, referring to the larger sized jewelry and accessories she sells. Often, the first step is getting someone to try on one of the bigger pieces, and “if I get them to try it on first, most likely they buy it,” she says.
Another concept Dembo believes she has learned from Minn. is the spirit of giving. “It’s a place that is always worried about helping people,” Dembo says. “I think I always had the vein to help people but didn’t know how to—living in Minnesota helped me.” Vanessa Style Shop helps people on many levels—by creating jobs in a country that is struggling, and by helping others feel confident in their own style. Also, a portion of the proceeds from every item sold go to an organization called Fundana, which helps feed orphaned children in Venezuela.
Dembo has gone from her initial culture shock, to life as a style influencer in the Edina community. She credits this change to learning to accept herself for exactly who she is—to embrace her native culture of Venezuela and also the culture of Minn., the place she now calls home. “Some people write to me and they say, ‘I’m wearing this dress with these shoes, do you think it will look good?’ It’s really cool that I can help them kind of put together an outfit,” she says. “I like to help people feel good about themselves.”
Dembo’s top style tips include: Avoid wearing a necklace with big earrings; be careful with mixing too many patterns with big accessories; find a nice bag that can move with you from the gym to lunch with friends. For fall, Dembo recommends colors such as olive, navy blue and red wine—but of course there is always space to add brighter colors to these more toned-down, colder weather looks. “I think that’s the magic of style—to use the right pop of color when you need it,” she says. Dembo recommends the beaded Embera necklaces from her shop—large colorful necklaces that sit on top of a shirt— to add just the right pop to any outfit.
For future plans, Dembo hopes to grow Vanessa Style Shop and be able to feature even more artists. She also hopes Venezuela can overcome its crisis and move forward into a brighter future. “I am trying to be a positive person for all of these people and for my home country,” she says. “Hopefully my country can overcome everything and it will be an even better story, but for now there’s the sad. The situation is bad, but you have to see the talent—there’s talent over there. It’s affordable, it’s unique, it’s chic.”