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Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it.
Here at The Quality Edit, we're passionate about covering direct-to-consumer products—not just because they give us the ultimate flexibility as shoppers, but because we get a chance to champion fledgling brands who haven't yet become household names. For many Latine founders, this chance to appeal to their communities directly helped their products resonate quickly, rather than being branded "niche" in traditional retail markets. Even as these brands have widened their customer base over time, that community support still functions as a bedrock, a testament to the connection (not just commerce) that powers DTC brand-building.
Yet for as many Latine-founded companies as we've gushed over since our inception, we've rarely had the chance to tell the founders' stories. So to commemorate this year's Hispanic History Month, we decided to have a round table of sorts. Below you'll find personal stories, pieces of advice, and even a few product recs from the visionaries behind several of our favorite brands:
Isabel Alvarez, co-founder of the Cuban-inspired Albisa Candles;
Kathleen Fuentes, founder of the women-led, 12-free nail polish company Lights Lacquer;
Veronica Garza, co-founder of the health-conscious, Mexican-American food brand Siete Foods;
Victor Guardiola, co-founder of the sparkling agua fresca brand Bawi;
Yola Jimenez, founder of the handcrafted, organic YOLA Mezcal;
Miguel Leal, founder of plant-based, non-GMO Mexican food brand SOMOS;
Ylette Luis, founder of the astrology-inspired jewelry line XIO by Ylette;
Jeanette Reza, founder of home decor brand JIU JIE;
and Sandra Velasquez, founder of Chicana-owned beauty brand Nopalera.
These nine founders work in every space from food and beverage to beauty and home decor, and their paths to success are as diverse as their products. So whether you're already a fan of their brands, or you're here to broaden your horizons, we hope you take inspiration from their graciously shared wisdom and candor.
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We’d love to hear a little bit about your origin story: what was the specific hole in the market you saw that made you develop this brand?
Sandra Velasquez, founder of Nopalera: I noticed a lack of high-end brands in the beauty and bath & body space that spoke directly to Latinas. Since we are the largest minority group in the country and the largest consumer of beauty products, it didn't make sense to me why we weren't reflected on the shelves.
Victor Guardiola, co-founder of Bawi: As a Latino consumer, I was looking for beverage products that made me feel at home but kept my health in mind. To my surprise, the only better-for-you beverages in the market were calorie-less and flavorless mineral waters. On top of that, health innovation was not kept in mind. Nostalgic CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) options for Latinos were homey, but not healthy by any means. This was especially true within the beverage industry.
Miguel Leal, founder of SOMOS: I grew up in Monterrey, Mexico in a big family in which food was always at the center of the home and of our time spent together. My earliest memories of being interested in CPG were when my family would take trips across the border to HEB and Walmart. I found myself fascinated by all the options available to consumers – foods like peanut butter and fish sticks didn’t exist in Mexico. I first came to the U.S. for graduate school and shortly after fell into a career in food where I've spent time at companies ranging from Danone and Diamond Foods to KIND and Cholula. I haven’t looked back since.
Veronica Garza, co-founder of Siete Foods: Each of our products is inspired by our Mexican-American heritage and made to fill a need or solve a problem. For instance, years ago I was diagnosed with several health conditions, and at my brother’s urging decided to change my diet to try and alleviate symptoms. Because my family does everything together, they all joined me! Being from South Texas, we soon realized this meant missing out on some of our favorite foods, like tortillas. (We were bringing lettuce to our gatherings as tortilla substitutes—which, believe it or not, didn’t quite taste the same.) So I made our first product, a Grain-Free Almond Flour Tortilla. Since then, we’ve created a variety of products made with better-for-you ingredients in the name of inclusivity, and inviting more people to gather together at the table.
What feedback have you heard from consumers? Do you have a sense of the key value point that have made your products such a success?
Yola Jimenez, founder of YOLA: I think people respond positively to our story because we are a family business that takes care of every plant and soil, every person that works in the production process, and through that attention to detail and care towards the land makes sure that our product is of the highest quality. People have become much more aware of the practices companies have and what they put in their bodies, and that leads to support for small companies like ours. There is a high demand for ethically sourced and sustainable products, and we are able to offer that, along with a mezcal that is high-quality, organic and additive-free.
Veronica Garza, co-founder of Siete Foods: To this day, one of the best things I hear from friends, family, and others in our Siete community is that our products allowed them to enjoy something they were previously unable to because of their dietary needs. Our hope is that our brand speaks to a variety of people — people who have an appetite for diverse, heritage-inspired foods; people who are feeding their families at home; people who are conscious of the ingredients they are eating; people who love Mexican-American food; and people with various dietary restrictions and preferences. This way more people can enjoy meals and snacks together, without sacrificing flavor or texture.
Kathleen Fuentes, founder of Lights Lacquer: Our customers are loyal and many of them have been with me since my early YouTube days. Our consumers truly are #AtHomeNailArtists. They enjoy swapping up their manicures on a regular basis, they are creative, and they love having the tools to create salon-quality nails at home. They value quality and affordability, so I always make sure that our products are at a price point that is profitable, but also accessible.
Chips & Salsa Variety Kit
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Perfect Blue Knot Cushion
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Salsa Macha, Mexican Chili Crisp Mango & Pineapple
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Reflecting on your journey so far, how would you compare where you’re at with where you expected to be by now? Any advice for aspiring founders out there who look up to your brand?
Miguel Leal, founder of SOMOS: This is such a tough question as there is always so much room to grow and so much work to be done when building a business, especially when you’re only two years in. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to aspiring founders is advice I received from my co-founder, Daniel Lubetzky. He told me that I should try to remember that the highs are probably not as high and the lows are probably not as low as they seem in a given moment. Starting and running a business means that we’re deeply invested in the success and that the wins, and losses, often feel deeply personal. Because they are! Building a brand is a long journey and it will serve you to stay as grounded as possible throughout the ups and downs. I think this is good advice not only for aspiring founders, but for my younger self as well.
Ylette Luis, founder of XIO: Our journey as a brand has certainly been a rollercoaster ride. We have high expectations for ourselves as a brand, so I think we always strive to be in a better position than whatever the current situation is. However, we are definitely grateful for our journey and that we are still here six years later. My advice to aspiring founders is to try to remain open and be prepared to pivot at any moment. When things get tough it can be difficult to stay mentally engaged, but persistence and grit are what get you through those times when things aren’t going as planned.
Jeanette Reza, founder of JIU JIE: Reflecting on my journey so far, I am immensely grateful for everyone and anyone who has ever believed in me, sometimes even more than I believe in myself. It's essential to be transparent and admit that I still freelance and have other sources of income because self-funding comes with significant financial responsibilities, including space, materials, freelancers, website fees, etc. My advice to aspiring founders who look up to my brand is to believe in your vision, but also be prepared for the financial and emotional challenges that come with entrepreneurship as it's a constant array of problem-solving. Get yourself a therapist and grow a thick skin, work with partners and clients who believe and respect you, and always stay open to other sources of income. Stay true to your identity and values. It's possible to persevere in the face of obstacles.
What has navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship been like as a Latine founder? Has it come with its own specific challenges and/or an added sense of community?
Yola Jimenez, founder of YOLA: We have received so much support from the Latine community in the U.S. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life, that camaraderie and encouragement. We are a very powerful force together. It has come with some challenges; the reality of being female and Latin. Specifically in the beginning, there were moments where I wasn’t taken seriously, but I persevered and never let it slow me down.
Victor Guardiola, co-founder of Bawi: The biggest challenges Latine founders face statistically is access to capital and mentorship. Those two things make the difficulty setting a little higher for founders of colors and female-identifying founders as well. For me specifically, I did not have access to friends and family funding. Every dollar raised for Bawi has been from cold emails and intros from the community we've built over years. It's important for founders in a similar position to do what they can to build their own luck by leaning on their community to seed their network, but also honing their networking skills to give themselves similar advantages as their competitors. Established Latine founders do a great job (generally) of propping up the next generation. We share immense gratitude for people like Vero Garza and Miguel Garza from Siete Foods as they're some of the people that steered us in the right direction.
Isabel Alvarez, co-founder of Albisa Candles: In my case, I think being a Latina founder is what truly helped my brand be successful, because I used the very essence of my culture to launch a brand that I knew would resonate with others in my community. It’s built a strong sense of community with other Latine founders who are incredibly supportive!.I would say the strongest challenge is having mainstream brands and/or mainstream media put us in a box and label us a Latine brand only. Yes, we are a Latin brand, and our products are meant to target our communities, but that doesn’t mean that other consumers can’t and don’t enjoy our products.
Jeanette Reza, founder of JIU JIE: As a Mexican female founder, I recognize that the system is often rigged against minorities, especially women. My journey has been deeply personal, and it's one I take immense pride in. I'm in a constant battle, not just with external challenges but with my own self-doubt, striving to break the cycle of generational trauma as an immigrant and overcome imposter syndrome. Within my Latin community, I've discovered an incredible source of inspiration, strength, support, mentorship, and a true sense of belonging that empowers me to break down barriers. Through JIU JIE, I hope to foster understanding and appreciation for the diverse cultural tapestry that enriches America, while also addressing the real-world issues that impact Mexican and minority communities.
Miguel Leal, founder of SOMOS: While we often focus on the challenges we face as a community, I also want to be sure to touch on the opportunities Hispanic entrepreneurs have because of our culture. Latinos have a fantastic culture of entrepreneurship, but we are often shy about telling our stories. Our stories and our grit are beautiful and interesting and can be what allows a consumer to connect with our brands on a deeper level. When I decided to stop being shy about my journey, I realized my story was worth telling and could inspire other Latinos to begin their entrepreneurial journey.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you, and to your brand?
Veronica Garza, co-founder of Siete Foods: Twenty years ago, I got my degree in Mexican-American Studies. Since then, I’ve tried finding different ways to amplify Latine voices, and Hispanic Heritage Month is another powerful opportunity in the year to do so. I believe it’s important for Latine communities and communities of color to see others, like themselves, being celebrated and uplifted—not only this month, but year-round. This is why, at Siete, we take time to honor our culture and celebrate the Latine community by telling the stories of those who came before us, sharing foods of our Mexican-American heritage with others, and highlighting Latines who inspire us. ¡Juntos inspiramos!
Jeanette Reza, founder of JIU JIE: Hispanic Heritage Month holds deep significance for me and my brand. It's a time of reflection and acknowledgment, a moment to honor my ancestors and family who inspire me every day. It's about ensuring their presence is felt in everything I do, with the goal of making them and the Latine community proud.
Kathleen Fuentes, founder of Lights Lacquer: HHM is special to me because it honors and celebrates the culture that I am so deeply connected to and proud of, to the rest of the world. It gives everyone an opportunity to celebrate the essence of who we are as a culture and truthfully, what we do every day of the year: celebrate our cultura and bring a piece of it into our day-to-day lives. Being a first-gen Cuban American is literally the essence of who I am and I truly love bringing my culture to my channels and my products, whenever I can!
Lastly, we’re fans of so many killer products from Latine founders. We’d love to hear some of your favorites too so we can share the love.
Miguel Leal, founder of SOMOS: So many amazing Latine founders doing incredible work right now! I want to highlight three that are from my hometown of Monterrey:
Hector Saldivar, the founder of Tia Lupita, has been a long-time friend and is making awesome hot sauces and chips that we love to keep stocked in our pantry. Dario Wolos, founder of the restaurant Tacombi and their Vista Hermosa products, makes my favorite tortillas and burritos. Daniel Schwartz, founder of Chuza, makes Mexican fruit snacks with spicy flavors like Spicy Pinneaple and my favorite, Spicy Nopal (aka spicy cactus!!!)
Sandra Velasquez, founder of Nopalera: My favorites right now are Bonita Fierce Candles, Agua Bonita, Vive Cosmetics and Nemi Snacks, which are also made from the nopal cactus just like my beauty products.
Kathleen Fuentes, founder of Lights Lacquer: I love Rizos Curls, the Latina-owned hair care products by Julissa Prado that celebrate the beauty of curls, coils and waves everywhere. Julissa’s products smell incredible, they’re safe to use and they’re perfect for when I am rocking my naturally curly hair.
Ylette Luis, founder of XIO: My go-to lip combo, Birthday Suit liner and gloss, comes from one of my favorite Latina-owned beauty brands, Alamar Cosmetics. They have great products at affordable prices.
Veronica Garza, co-founder of Siete Foods: Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein, founders of Lil’ Libros. It’s inspiring to see a movement towards representation in children’s books. Casa Xali sells handmade crafts made by artisans in Mexico. Their work is truly beautiful and made with so much love and care for their craft.
Isabel Alvarez, co-founder of Albisa Candles: Havana Bama's pastelitos are delicious! There's also Martha of Miami, known for the famous Cuban Bred™ Shirt! ¡Pero tiene camisas para todas personas! Lastly there's Karla and Co. I love the messages her merch and clothing send. Karla strives to bring presentation through a positive lens and allowing you to celebrate your culture.