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Fashion designer works with skin from invasive Everglades pythons to create custom designs – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports | Fort Lauderdale


(WSVN) – Most of us know pythons as invasive reptiles harming the Everglades’ delicate ecosystem, but for one South Florida fashion designer, these snakes also make for some wild style. Karen Hensel has today’s 7 Spotlight.

Plenty of people are scared of snakes. Elle Barbeito is not one of them.

Elle Barbeito, fashion designer: “Burmese pythons, they are from Southeast Asia, and they’re a really beautiful snake, they really are. They grow really, really big.”

Big snakes that cause big problems ravaging native wildlife in the Everglades.

Elle Barbeito: “It’s a really intense environment.”

And it’s where Elle discovered her artistic passion back in 2018.

Elle Barbeito: “Because now my dad was hunting, so I was just going with him all the time, and just like, sitting in the back of the truck. I loved it. I just was like really obsessed with it.”

Elle, a South Florida native who went to fashion school in New York, says she became disillusioned with waste in the fashion industry.

Elle Barbeito: “I don’t want the things I make to end up in like trash or end up in a landfill or like have a short lifespan. I want it to be able to last a really long time.”

Which is why she chose to use python skin from her dad’s hunts as the material for her handcrafted creations.

Elle Barbeito: “I think just the whole process in itself, of just having to kill something and kind of bringing, like, a new life to its skin.”

Elle does her leatherwork in this warehouse, where she explained the process to us.

Elle Barbeito: “To preserve the skins, we start off by skinning it, and then you have to remove all of the fat and muscle. And then, after that, you put it into a solution. The most traditional method is with alcohol and glycerin, and once you have it in that solution for some time, you go ahead and stretch it out on a wooden plywood board.”

Once it dries, Elle begins her detailed designs.

Elle Barbeito: “There is a lot of work that goes into this. It is a lot of work. Especially with the stitching, I have people ask me that all the time, they’re like, ‘Oh, what machines do you use?’ I’m like, ‘This, this, every snake is different,’ so I think that’s kind of like the cool part.

From belts…

Elle Barbeito: “All the buckles are – I make them with snaps so that they’re interchangeable.”

To wallets and handbags, Elle even crafted a python skin bike and lawn and rocking chairs.

Elle Barbeito: “There’s a story to it, you know, and I think people really appreciate the fact that there’s a story to it.”

A story that begins in the Everglades, and one that sometimes prompts misunderstanding.

Elle Barbeito: “I’ve had people where they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, why are you doing this?’ And then they think I’m just doing it to all snakes, and once I explain what it is and they’re invasive, they’re like, ‘Oh.’ I think it’s more so people that are not from Florida that have a kind of a hard time understanding it.”

In May, Elle received an award from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for her work.

Elle Barbeito: “There’s only one Florida, there’s only one Everglades, and we need to preserve it, because once we lose it, we cannot get it back. I love this state, and I’m very thankful to be here and thankful for this award.”

Elle Barbeito’s inspiration for her designs actually comes from Western wear, but always combined with that only-in-Florida feel of the Everglades.

Karen Hensel, 7News.

To view Elle’s work, click here.

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