interview by JANA LETONJA

Actress, producer, writer, global fashion tastemaker and activist Cara Santana has continually pushed boundaries and championed causes close to her heart. In addition to serving as the Global Engagement Officer of Glamsquad, she launched her own direct-to-consumer fashion line, the Cara Santana Collection, in 2020. We joined Cara in Cannes for the premiere of ‘Beating Hearts’.

Cara, tell us more about all facets of your career and how you got to where you are today. What would you describe as the pivotal moment in your career?
Ultimately, I feel like I’ve truly just become a storyteller. Whether I’m acting, which is my profession, and bringing a character to life or directing a film, which I’ve just done for the first time, or creating content on social media or designing a collection, it’s all about telling a story. 

I think for me, the most pivotal moment of my career was during the writer’s strike in the United States, when I decided to direct my own documentary feature about the corruption of the healthcare system for vulnerable people struggling with addiction. It was something I was incredibly terrified to do, but ultimately, I think it really showed me that at the core of everything I do is being able to tell human stories and that’s how I’d describe my career in whatever facet it’s in.

In 2020, you launched your own fashion line, the Cara Santana Collection. What has driven your decision to launch your own fashion line, and what inspires?
That was a decision completely of necessity, based on the pandemic. It was actually my second collection with the retailer Kohls, but as a result of the pandemic shutting down the US economy, we weren’t able to launch as planned even though we had all the clothes already in production. So rather than let everyone’s hard earned money and time go to waste, I decided that we would take the chance and launch it independently as a direct to consumer personal brand. It was certainly a risk, but I figured it was worth taking.

Each garment of your collection is infused with feminist messaging and pieces are named after microaggressive phrases women encounter in their every day life. What made you decide on this approach?
Again, I think it goes back to storytelling. As a little girl, watching my mom take on the world as a strong, independent woman, I’ve had this inherent feeling of representing women and their strength in everything I do. And so I couldn’t not launch this collection without considering women and how they enter the world on a daily basis. We’re so often judged by the way we look and how we dress, and so to me it just made sense for that messaging to coincide with the collection.

Your brand is also strongly connected to philanthropy, as 10 % of the profits are dedicated to Step up, a nonprofit organisation empowering young women in underserved communities to realise their full potential. What makes this organisation so close to your heart, and do you personally involve in supporting it with any activities besides dedicating your profits to them?
Growing up, my parents always instilled in me the value of service and considering others. Young  women in low socio economic areas of diverse backgrounds are often ignored in terms of community support, so partnering with organizations like Step Up, that help uplift their opportunities and voices, was important to me.

You are also very driven to use your voice to advocate for causes like drug reform and immigration rights. How do you view all the social injustices we are witnessing today, and how could we individually help overcoming them?
What I am seeing happening today is a campaign of oppression and systematic dismantling of access and opportunity. It’s incredibly frustrating to see basic rights we have fought so hard to ensure being ripped away. I think advocating and service comes in so many different verticals, from using your voice, having conversations with people who think the opposite of you, voting, using your voice if you’re comfortable on a public level, and donations to organizations that are campaigning for the fight. There are so many ways to contribute and you make the best choice for you that you can. Not everyone’s advocacy looks the same and we all find what’s right for us, individually.

We’ve just joined you for the premiere of ‘Beating Hearts’ at the Cannes Film Festival. How would you sum up the whole experience of the iconic event? Tell us more about your day, getting ready for the premiere and how exciting it was.
Cannes was unlike any other red carpet experience I’ve ever had. It’s a whirlwind. You spend days planning, sometimes weeks, and 3 hours getting ready for 5 minutes. 

I started with a relaxing morning, showered and then glam came. Killian Paris was hosting me and I had the privilege of getting glam by their amazing team, lead by Sir John. I had a custom Houghton dress and my theme was ‘Old Hollywood’ glamour. Audrey Helpburn and Grace Kelly were my inspiration. I like clean natural skin and simple glam. I always want to feel like I look like me. My hair in a simple chignon. I love how everything came together.

As a businesswoman, but also personally, what are the most important values for you?
Authenticity, hands down. In a business and in a society where we often feel like we have to be something we’re not, I work really hard to be comfortable with who I am and always putting the most authentic version of myself forward. If it’s a business I’m building, content I’m shooting, building a role, using my voice or the way I dress, I want to bring me to it.

What is coming up next for you, what projects are you working on?
My new documentary ‘The Shuffle’, which I directed, was just announced and is slated to finish production starting at the end of the month. I’m also working on a few scripted series that I’m excited about, as well as announcing a new company soon. So a lot of stuff is in the works.