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Ellen Bennett was at her company's factory in Vernon, California, in March 2020 when she found out Los Angeles County was going into lockdown because of Covid-19.
For her company, Hedley & Bennett, which made kitchen gear like aprons for professional chefs, the future was suddenly in doubt — the lockdown effectively meant customers could no longer dine in restaurants or go to bars.
But as she looked around at the factory’s stocks of colorful fabric and the sewing and cutting machines that lined the floors, Bennett saw a new beginning.
“We shifted our entire 16,000-square-foot factory into a mask-making machine within 24 hours,” Bennett said recently. “I thought, I'm standing here in a building full of materials and equipment. I can help too.”
Bennett, a native Angeleno raised by a single Mexican-born mother, credited her Latino roots for her resilience as a business owner. And she’s only one of a wave of Latino business owners who have enjoyed success as entrepreneurs — and survived the effects of a crippling pandemic. For Hispanic Heritage Month, hers is one of many Latino-owned brands we think are worth getting to know.
Latino businesses before and during the pandemic
Before the pandemic, Latino-owned businesses had experienced an extended boom: The number of Latino-owned small businesses in the U.S. increased by 34 percent in the 10 years prior to 2020, compared to just 1 percent for all other small businesses. That meant Latino-owned businesses — there are about 4.65 million currently in the U.S. — were the fastest-growing segment of small businesses in the country, according to the Small Business Administration.
But that prosperity came to a halt during the pandemic, just as it did for nearly everyone else: 86 percent of Latino business owners reported that their business had been affected by Covid, according to the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, or SLEI. About 30 percent of Latino-owned businesses “closed permanently or temporarily because of Covid,” said Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. A 2020-2021 Biz2Credit study found that the average revenue of surveyed Latino-owned businesses dropped by at least 24 percent compared to previous years, likely because of pandemic-related shutdowns.
Like many other businesses across the country, Latino-owned businesses struggled with supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. (The issue has grown so profound that President Joe Biden devoted a speech to the nation to it.)
“We can’t get live meetings with buyers to present our products,” said Hector Saldivar, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Tia Lupita Foods. “We’re struggling with shortages of packing materials, labels, ingredients.”
He noted that while the brand has benefited from people cooking more at home, it has also suffered “from extended lead times for manufacturing and logistics.”
Latina-led businesses have had it even worse. Twice as many Latina-led companies have experienced pandemic-related closures as have male-Latino-led businesses, according to the SLEI — a gap that holds among businesses owned by women of any cultural background.
Encouraging signs of a comeback
Despite the effects of the pandemic, there are encouraging signs. Cavazos described the state of Latino-owned businesses in 2021 as “rebuilding recovery,” and a recent poll showed that the Latino community is optimistic about the country’s direction. And Latino entrepreneurs, like many others, responded to the pandemic by rapidly adopting technology and e-commerce, said Marlene Orozco, lead research analyst at the SLEI. She said Latino business owners were "leveraging technology to make processes more efficient" and that there will likely be long-term benefits from these changes.
One of those business owners who learned to adapt was Bennett, who was also uniquely positioned to shift her business. Noticing how other brands quickly pivoted to help fulfill mask shortages in New York City, then a major Covid epicenter, Bennett’s team — with the help of Dr. Robert Cho, the chief of staff at Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena, California — designed a Hedley & Bennett line of face masks. Still, the company faced challenges, including shortages in fabrics, and was forced to reduce the catalog and shift to a more direct-to-consumer model based on fulfilling online orders.
“We had to pivot wherever we could and leaned into the world of home cooks,” she said. “We ended up trimming a pretty tremendous amount of our collection and slimming it down, which allowed us as a business to have a lot more visibility.”
It was a “radical pivot,” she said, but ultimately benefited the business and allowed them to donate “hundreds of thousands of masks to frontline workers, farmers, restaurant workers and more.”
It was a similar story with Nadine Fonseca, who launched Mighty Kind, an anti-bias educational company, barely six months before the country shut down. She found herself adopting a digital model at a moment’s notice.
“We had so many deals in place for independent bookstores and shops to stock our magazine, but once these small businesses had to close their doors, we had to call off all of those wholesale orders,” she said.
The digital, pay-what-you-can model for Mighty Kind’s magazines for kids was “for those who found themselves suddenly homeschooling” or needing books for kids “stuck at home indefinitely.” The brand’s pivot to digital paid off, Fonseca said: They reached over 1,000 new customers in just that first month of the shutdown and have “continued to see steady growth” in the business.
But as Hispanic Heritage Month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, comes to a close, Latino-owned businesses are still grappling with pandemic-related challenges that have exacerbated the issues they’d already faced for years, like lower approval rates for loans for Latino business owners. Latino businesses even had to expect half the chance of getting a pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program than white, non-Latino business owners, according to the SLEI. It’s a stark reminder that, pandemic or no, Latino companies need year-round support from shoppers to make it.
“You vote with your dollars,” Bennett said. “It’s important for people to think about what businesses they are supporting with their purchases and to learn about who’s behind them and how these companies conduct themselves.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce lists several institutions and firms that can help Latino business owners raise capital. Accelerator programs for startups — some of which, like Dreamit and the Latino Nonprofit Accelerator, focus specifically on Latino-owned small businesses — can also help Latino entrepreneurs find resources for funding, mentorship, training and more.
Notable products from Latino-owned businesses in 2021
We spoke to the owners of majority-Latino-owned businesses across the country in a range of sectors to compile this list that will give you just a taste of Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. today.
After Melissa Gallardo, founder and CEO of Bonita Fierce, realized the scents she grew up with weren’t represented in the home fragrance industry, she was motivated to start making her own candles. “Navigating language, culture and heritage has always been challenging but most of all, the feeling of what home means,” Gallardo said. “With that in mind, I set out to create a collection of Latina-inspired candles to share la cultura with the rest of the world.”
Bonita Fierce’s coffee-scented Cafecito Con Leche candle is designed to be energizing and wake you up. It has notes of butter, sugar, caramel and vanilla, and has a burn time of up to 50 to 60 hours. Candles come with a paper dust cover made from seeds — you can plant it in soil to grow wildflowers.
Babba Rivera founded Ceremonia to create more representation for Latinx individuals in the world of hair care. (We reached out to experts to learn more about the conversation around identities like Latinx.)
“Despite us accounting for almost 20 percent of the population and being the highest spenders in many categories, hair being one of them, I kept asking myself, ‘Where are the brands that authentically speak to the new generation of Latinx folks, and more importantly, where are the category-leading brands founded by Latinx entrepreneurs?’” Rivera said.
Ali Mejia and Mariela Rovito cofounded Eberjey in 1996, a time during which Rovito said “the intimates market was very one-dimensional with designs made predominantly for the male gaze. There was a void for lingerie and sleepwear that are both sensual and comfortable.” The brand now offers women’s and men’s pajamas, as well as women’s lingerie and swimwear.
Eberjey’s Gisele Shortie Short Set comes with shorts and a shirt. It’s available in sizes ranging from Extra Small to Large, and comes in colors like Sorbet Pink/Black, Navy, Water Blue, Black/Sorbet and Ivory/Navy.
Ellen Bennett, founder and CEO of kitchen gear brand Hedley & Bennett, “hated” the uniforms she previously wore while working at a restaurant. This motivated her to make aprons that not only looked good but felt amazing to wear,” she said. Now, Bennett, also the author of “Dream First, Details Later,” said “it makes me really proud that I get to represent the Mexican hustle and can do attitude here in the US.”
Hedley & Bennett’s The Tie-Dye Apron is available in three colors: Onyx, Sapphire and Lapis. It’s constructed from American Cotton Webbing and offers an adjustable neck, double pen chest pockets and two lap pockets.
La Parea Wellness offers products that “help women and men everywhere take care of their body and soul,” Samanata Moise, the company’s CEO, said. Items are formulated with “natural ingredients from my Ecuadorian roots,” she said, and the skin care branch of La Parea sells serums, masks and more.
La Parea’s Palo Santo Balm is designed to soothe sore muscles and alleviate tension and tightness. It contains ingredients like hemp, palo santo and peppermint oils, avocado butter, coconut oil and tea tree oil.
Mandana Blvd., which shares a name with the street in its hometown of Oakland, California, offers curated vintage home decor and furniture.
“Being celebrated this month as a Latinx business owner in the vintage world is wonderful because we are few and far between in this predominantly white space,” founder Cristina Ramos, who co-owns the business with her partner Nu Goteh, said. “Vintage heirlooms and sustainable decor choices should be an option for all, and we are happy to provide those items at affordable prices so that everyone can own a piece of history.”
Mandana Blvd’s Smokey Tall Glasses come in a set of four and have weighted bottoms.
Mighty Kind releases publications featuring illustrated stories and activities for kids that are intended to spark conversations among families about bias and inclusion. Founder Nadine Fonseca said she wanted to create a way for people with children to talk about diversity after she and her family moved to a “homogenous area.”
You can purchase individual print and digital editions of Mighty Kind’s publications, as well as sign up for subscriptions. The company’s Greetings issue explores the different ways people say “hello” across the world.
When Andrés Felipe Quintero and his wife Carolina Llano, Min & Mon’s co-founders, moved to the U.S. from Colombia, Llano wasn’t allowed to work due to her visa.
“She used her energy to develop a fresh concept for handbags,” Quintero said. “From that idea stemmed a dear desire to preserve the multigenerational leather tradition in Colombia that was disappearing for cheaper wages due to fast fashion.”
Min & Mon’s Francis Wallet features a zip-around closure, two slip pockets and eight interior card slots. It’s large enough to fit your Covid vaccination card, and also has an interior zipper pocket as well as a detachable handle.
Muchacha supports women-owned businesses throughout the entire coffee-making process from farmer to roaster, according to Diana Hoyos, the company’s CEO and founder. She sees Muchacha as a “common point” for women in different parts of the coffee industry to come together and tell their stories.
“It is difficult to prosper even more so in the Latin community, so I decided to create an ecosystem where we all win and have the opportunity to grow,” she said.
Muchacha’s Coffee Inés is a medium Colombian roast with notes of vanilla, cocoa and honey. Muchacha roasts and ships coffee once a week so it's as fresh as possible when customers receive it.
Hector Saldivar, founder and CEO of Tia Lupita Foods, said that the Mexican food brands he came across in the U.S. often “used a bunch of artificial ingredients, junk, binders and fillers,” and lacked authenticity.
“I felt I needed to introduce the bold genuine taste of Mexican food to the U.S. grocery marketplace,” Saldivar said. The company is named after his mom, who sent him bottles of homemade hot sauce she made when he moved from Mexico to California.
Made from ripe red chili peppers with toasted spices and vinegar, Tia Lupita Foods’ Hot Sauce offers a medium spice level with hints of sweetness.
Hannah Matthew Martinez and Hannah Brock Silva co-founded Salut to help people make cocktails and mocktails at home with natural ingredients and no added sugar. The co-founders told Select that Hispanic Heritage Month “reminds us of one of the reasons we started Salut: to create real moments with real drinks. Like our culture, Salut is about unity and celebrating those special moments with those you love.”
Salut’s Espresso Martini Infusion Bottle features coffee beans, dates, oranges and cinnamon sticks. It infuses liquid with a sweet coffee flavor. To use the infusions, you add liquor, wine, water or other liquids like milk or sparkling water to the bottle and place it in the refrigerator for one to five days. Once it’s ready, you drain the bottle’s contents and serve.
ShopLatinx Community Powered Nalgene (presale)
Brittany Chavez initially founded ShopLatinx on Instagram in 2016 as a way to highlight Latino-made products. In October 2020, she officially launched a curated marketplace that features over 300 products from Latino-owned brands, which she says is expanding in the coming weeks.
“When we celebrate cultures, I think it’s important to uplift the source,” she said. “We've made it our mission to not be monolithic or stereotypical — you won't see a screen printed shirt with a taco on it. You'll find products that pay homage, in one way or another, to the Latinx experience or celebrate our culture in a way you feel proud to have in your home.”
The Community Powered Nalgene 32-ounce water bottle is part of ShopLatinx’s recently launched merch line featuring products with messages of empowerment and community. The water bottle is BPA-free, lightweight and features a wide mouth design and measurement markings on the side so you know just how much water you’re drinking throughout the day.
Wool & Indigo sells home goods like pillows, throws and rugs, as well as items like candles and essential oils.
“Being Afro-Latino presents a unique set of challenges in my area of businesses,” founder Cat Foulks said. “However, it’s not something I polarize or focus on.”
She sees Hispanic Heritage month as an “opportunity to showcase my heritage and the resilience of our people. We come from so many different backgrounds, and the many talents we possess are endless.”
This blanket from Wool & Indigo is constructed from natural cotton and has pom-pom tassels around the perimeter.
Latino-owned businesses: Skincare, apparel and more
We reached out to businesses around the U.S. that we verified as majority Latino-owned and, from that, compiled this list of companies in a wide breadth of industries that you may want to check out.
Beauty and skincare
- Bésame Cosmetics
- Chaos Makeup
- Dominique Cosmetics
- Hause of Curls
- Reina Rebelde
- Sigma Beauty
Clothing and accessories
- Clare V.
- Coco and Breezy
- El Cholo’s Kid
- Gladys Tamez Millinery
- GRL Collective
- Hija de tu Madre
- Isla & White
- Johanna Ortiz
- Lola Y Tula
- Min & Mon
- Selva Negra
- Shop Latinx
- Sunday Energy
- Yellowcake Shop
- Yo Soy Afro Latina
Home and kitchen
- Mumi Design
Wellness and fitness
Books and education
Food and beverage
Hispanic, Latino and Latinx: What do they mean?
The Census Bureau defines a Hispanic-owned business as at least 51 percent owned by a person of Hispanic origin, encompassing “Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban and other Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” a representative told us in an email. That’s akin to its definitions of businesses with majority Black, women and Asian American and Pacific Islander owners.
But it’s worth noting that some Latinos reject “Hispanic” as a pan-ethnic blanket term, arguing that the term was largely imposed by the government during the Nixon era and that its original use as a term for Spanish speakers ignores the indigenous communities and diverse languages spoken across Latin America, as well as excluding Latinos who aren’t fluent or aren’t interested in becoming proficient in the Spanish language.
“They'll say that they're Cuban or Mexican or Mexican American,” he said. “The pan-ethnic terms get used some, but not as much as the country-of-origin terms do.”
The main reason you see a “Hispanic” category on the census is that it’s convenient to simplify ethnic terms under an umbrella term for bureaucratic purposes, said Carolina Sternberg, associate professor and chair of the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies at DePaul University.
The rise in popularity of the words “Latinx” and “Latiné,” which many Latino businesses have embraced as more gender-inclusive terms, has added more nuance to the discussion.
“We prefer its gender-neutral nature and its inclusivity of all the cultures of Latin America, not just the ones that speak Spanish,” said Babba Rivera, the founder and CEO of Ceremonia, who personally identifies as Latinx.
Latinos are generally split on using newer, gender-neutral terms. A widely cited Pew study found only one in four Latinos have even heard of the term “Latinx,” and only 3 percent actually self-identify as Latinx. Salinas noted that the terms still don’t capture the complexities of identity, and that many Latinos have gotten too used to census definitions. Critics say it’s a U.S.-centric approach to the Spanish language or that it’s a “trendy” word that takes away from major issues facing Latinos in the U.S. today.
“Many solely identify as Latino or Latina and feel that Latinx simply isn’t made for them,” said Cristobal Salinas Jr., an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University.
His solution: “It's better to ask than to make assumptions,” he said.