These Latina Businesses Are Changing How LA Shops -- Online And IRL
It's easy to feel cynical about companies pushing identity for profit -- witness major retailers stamping feminist mottos on everything from t-shirts and tote bags to baby onesies and barware -- but some local brands are the genuine article. They're not jumping on any bandwagon. They're Latina-owned lifestyle businesses, creating and selling items to their communities.
"We're at a time where people are craving independently made wares, handmade wares and cultural goods," says Noelle Reyes, co-founder of Highland Park boutique Mi Vida.
As online shopping decimates mega malls and forces old school retailers to rethink their strategies, independent brands are stepping up, using social media and community connections to make their mark. These businesses represent only a few of the city's budding entrepreneurs but they're making an impact -- both online and in the real world.
Social Media Stars
Leah Guerrero has been making holistic skincare products -- facial masks, face and body creams, hydrosols -- since 2013. Two years ago, using knowledge and ingredients she gleaned from her trips to the mercados of Mexico City, she founded Brujita Skincare out of her home. She began selling her wares at Molcajete Dominguero, a now-monthly Latinx pop-up market in Boyle Heights. Her target audience? People looking for affordable vegan and cruelty-free products.
As the crowds grew, so did her social media following. Guerrero started sending products to friends and influencers. That "ricocheted into all of these people finding out about Brujita through Instagram," she says.
To keep up with demand, she currently produces "thousands of units a month" at a rented studio in downtown Los Angeles. In April, Brujita launched a Green Collection in collaboration with Hotel Figueroa. Guests who order the Self-Care Package through mid-September get a one-night stay and a sleek toiletry bag containing four of the brand's products.
With more than 19,000 followers, Brujita's Instagram account features the requisite product photos, GIFs and behind-the-scenes peaks at new products. Guerrero engages with customers via DM and shares info on the account about the ingredients in each product. "With the engagement comes trust, and trust in my community means a whole lot to me," she says.
Brujita has built a community that Guerrero wants to continue nurturing, particularly Latinx and LGBTQ+ groups. The brand's current studio, in downtown Los Angeles, serves as a safe space for the LGBT community, with many "friends coming in and out and doing their creative work," Guerrero says. Brujita is meant to be stylish, accessible and inclusive, a counterpoint to mainstream skincare brands built on Western ideals of beauty. Guerrero says a more formal physical location for Brujita Skincare is in the works.
Brick By Brick
For other Los Angeles brands, the IRL business came before the social media one. Reyes and her cousin, Danelle Hughes, opened Mi Vida in 2008, two years before Instagram debuted. The Highland Park shop sells clothes, housewares and art. It also functions as a gallery and a community hub, hosting poetry readings, yoga classes and meditation workshops.
"If you were a business that was a brick and mortar when social media came on, it's almost like you automatically had to take on this new career," Reyes says.
She began using photography to promote her products and it became a creative outlet. Instagram is also a way for her to scout and connect with new artists, some of whom have been featured in the store. Although Reyes has noticed more customers visiting Mi Vida after discovering it online, the connection also works the other way. For her, social media is a tool to supplement her store's presence in a neighborhood where the founders have been working hard for years.
Conversations about gentrification in Boyle Heights are heated, and Mi Vida's owners are aware of the controversy. "We hear all the time how great it is to have a space like ours on this street," Reyes says. "That is something we don't take lightly. We work very hard every day to continue to be a positive light in our community and offer products that bring a positive vibe."
Patty Delgado, founder of Hija de tu Madre, a clothing, accessories and jewelry brand, says that around 90% of her website clickthroughs come from Instagram. Since 2018, she has worked out of an office in Boyle Heights, running the online-only business.
"It was easier for us to scale online because there was very little overhead," Delgado says. "But now, as the company is growing, and as we've built this really strong online community, we're really looking offline."
With more than 140,000 Instagram followers, the brand appeals to millennial customers looking for culturally significant fashion. Many of Hija de tu Madre's items, like an Échale Ganas mug, are emblazoned with Spanish or Spanglish sayings.
Latinx consumers are not a monolithic group and female entrepreneurs who cater to them earn their loyalty, both on social media and in the real world, in a range of ways.
Bella Doña, a clothing and decor brand that focuses on Chicano culture and nostalgia, boasts more than 200,000 Instagram followers. Co-founders LaLa Romero and Natalia Durazo continue to merge the brand's virtual and actual footprint by hosting pop-up shopping events and business panels.
Valfre, which champions weird-girl style and the "psychedelic world" dreamed up by its founder, artist Ilse Valfré, has more than 800,000 Instagram followers. Aside from its online shop, the brand also hosts events like the recent Electric Garden Pop-Up Shop, which included a store, a beauty bar and a photo booth. According to Forbes, Valfre now has distribution in 28 countries and finished 2016 with a projected 2.5 million in revenue.
Looking To The Future
The more these business owners share their stories, the more they inspire future entrepreneurs.
Julissa Prado founded Rizos Curls after years of tinkering with formulas and sharing hair care tips with classmates and friends. Her conditioners, curl defining creams and detangling sprays are now stocked everywhere from Puerto Rico to Europe.
It all started in 2013 in her Mid-City apartment then moved to her "Tio Juan's garage on Washington and Crenshaw," Prado says. Rizos Curls was officially launched in 2017. Now, she oversees a fulfillment center in North Hollywood, next to her father's restaurant, La Maria.
Prado started helping out there at 13 years old and continued to do so for the next 10 years. The decade of helping with the website, waitressing, cleaning and doing whatever else needed doing, shaped her work ethic. Prado was also influenced by the "black and brown neighborhoods" where she grew up. She says everyone from the elotero to the woman selling pupusas inspired her to "be creative when utilizing my limited resources."
"I'm just really happy because I have a team now who supports me and helps me, and most of it is comprised of my family," Prado says.
If you don't come from a family of small business owners or don't have a mentor to tap, you can ask these entrepreneurs. Many of them are happy to share their experiences.
Since Delgado has started popping up everywhere, including Teen Vogue and Forbes, a few customers have told her that her story has inspired them to create their own business. She uses social media as a tool to connect with female entrepreneurs and has recently "been working with two other Latina entrepreneurs to create more entrepreneurial centered talks and workshops."
This past summer, Prado launched the Latina Ladder tour, a series of free events focused on helping Latinas start their own ventures. When she reflects on the growth of Rizos Curls, she sounds almost incredulous. "I had no idea," Prado says. "I didn't know what to expect."