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 makes 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 with the same colorful fabric her company used to make aprons, Bennett was able to pivot.
“We shifted our entire 16,000-square-foot factory into a mask-making machine within 24 hours,” Bennett recalled 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. She’s part of a larger wave of Latino business owners who have enjoyed success as entrepreneurs and survived the effects of a crippling pandemic. Many of these Latino businesses are stronger than ever nearly two years later — and Bennett’s is just 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% in the 10 years prior to 2020, compared to just 1% for all other small businesses, according to the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, or SLEI. 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 during this time period, 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% of Latino business owners reported that their business had been affected by Covid, according to SLEI. About 30% of Latino-owned businesses “closed permanently or temporarily because of Covid,” noted Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Latina-led businesses had it even worse: Twice as many Latina-led companies experienced pandemic-related closures compared to male-Latino-led businesses, according to the SLEI — a gap that holds among businesses owned by women of any cultural background.
But Latino business owners have expressed encouraging signs of a comeback in the past year. Hector Saldivar, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Tia Lupita Foods, noted that things have changed quite a bit from last year’s supply chain issues, which led to struggles with shortages of packing materials, labels and ingredients.
“Corporate buyers are starting to book meetings and review new items — this has helped us increase our distribution and penetrate new doors,” Saldivar said, adding that Tia Lupita is now at major retailers like Kroger and Costco. However, he said the company continues to struggle with high cost of supplies due to rising inflation, as well as labor shortages, which businesses across all sectors are still grappling with after a mass resignation in 2021.
Latino-owned businesses are edging towards recovery
Cavazos said Latino-owned businesses are rebuilding and recovering — Latino entrepreneurs, like many others, are successfully responding to the pandemic by rapidly adopting technology and e-commerce, noted Marlene Orozco, lead research analyst at SLEI. She said Latino business owners are "leveraging technology to make processes more efficient" and noted that there will likely be long-term benefits from these changes.
One of those business owners who learned to adapt is 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.”
Though the majority of schools have returned to in-person learning, Fonseca said the digital sales of the company’s magazines that got her business through the pandemic are still thriving in 2022 as teachers ask for licenses to teach the content in classrooms and keep it in school libraries. “Clearly people are wanting to learn more about how to talk to their kids about anti-bias, anti-racist topics, and looking for ways to do good in their communities and how to have more representation in the pages that they bring into their homes,” Fonseca said.
Latino-owned businesses are still grappling with pandemic-related challenges that have exacerbated the issues they’d already faced for years as minority-owned businesses, including lower loan approval rates. 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 2022
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 create her own Latino-inspired candle brand in 2020. “Navigating language, culture and heritage has always been challenging but most of all, the feeling of what home means,” Gallardo told us. While looking at more Latino-owned businesses to support during the pandemic, Gallardo said she didn't find candles on the market that spoke to her and the culture she grew up with. “I set out to create a collection of Latina-inspired candles to share la cultura with the rest of the world,” she said.
But starting a candle brand during the pandemic came with a unique set of challenges: On top of a glass shortage that affects her business to this day and skyrocketing costs of everything from wax to fragrance oil, it was tough to sell a new scent-based product online without the in-person shopping experience. “I really had to hone in on my story and create a story behind every fragrance,” she said. Now, Bonita Fierce is the first Latina-owned candle brand sold at Nordstrom, and it recently became part of the inaugural cohort for the Ulta Beauty MUSE Accelerator program, which provides financial support for BIPOC-owned beauty brands.
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, the brand says. 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% 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.
Ceremonia’s The Scalp Power-Duo comes with the brand’s Aceite de Moska oil and Scalp Masajeador. When used together, the products are designed to enhance shine, nourish and exfoliate the scalp, according to the brand.
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 Relaxed PJ Set comes with shorts and a shirt made from the brand’s sustainable TENCEL modal fabric, which Eberjey says is temperature-regulating and machine-washable. It’s available in sizes ranging from extra small to large and comes in colors like Heather Grey, Navy, Rose Cloud and Acai.
Bennett said she “hated” the uniforms she previously wore while working at a restaurant. This motivated her to make aprons that not only looked good but also felt amazing to wear, she said. “It makes me really proud that I get to represent the Mexican hustle and can do attitude here in the US,” Bennett said.
Hedley & Bennett is no stranger to releasing fun and colorful aprons, and the brand has several product lines and collaborations under its belt: Hedley & Bennett unveiled a Beatles-inspired line of special edition aprons this month after partnering with Rifle Paper Co. for the second time last month to release aprons featuring floral, hand-illustrated designs. The Strawberry Fields Apron from the Rifle Paper Co. partnership is constructed from a cotton and linen fabric blend, 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,” Moise noted, 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, according to the brand. It contains ingredients like hemp, palo santo and peppermint oils, avocado butter, coconut oil and tea tree oil.
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.”
Though Mighty Kind isn’t producing any new magazine issues at the moment, you can purchase individual digital editions of Mighty Kind’s publications (the company’s Greetings issue, for example, explores the different ways people say “hello” across the world). Fonseca said she’s taking time to rethink the company’s business model to make the content more financially accessible before pumping out new issues.
Part of Mighty Kind’s restructuring is fueled by the recent banning of books by authors of color — including Latino authors — and criticisms of what’s taught in school libraries and classrooms across the country. “With the political climate the way that it is, it's really hard to be in a space that talks about racism and bias, [especially] in a space that's geared towards young students,” Fonseca said. “It can be an uphill battle. I just want to hand someone a magazine and say, ‘Tell me where you don't agree with kindness and empathy in these pages.’”
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 Victoria is a medium Colombian roast with notes of sweet panela sugar, fruit and chocolate, according to the brand. Muchacha says that it 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, the Tia Lupita Hot Sauce offers a medium spice level with hints of sweetness, the brand says. You can also purchase it in bulk, ranging from three bottles to 12 bottles.
Cherie Hoeger created period care brand Saalt with a mission to provide reusable period care products to those experiencing period poverty, fueled by her family in Venezuela not having easy access to period products while the country grappled with political instability. The brand offers a variety of reusable period products, ranging from menstrual cups to leak-proof underwear, the latter of which we previously covered in our guide to period underwear. Earlier this year, the brand launched its Saalt Disc, a menstrual disc the brand said can be used for up to 12 hours during the day or at night and is reusable for up to 10 years. It comes in regular and small sizes.
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, the brand says. 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.
Brittany Chavez initially founded Shop Latinx 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 Shop Latinx’s merch line — which it launched late last year — featuring products with messages of empowerment and community. The water bottle is BPA-free 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, the brand says.
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.
Latino-owned beauty and skincare brands
Latino-owned apparel and accessories brands
- Carolina K
- Clare V.
- Current Boutique
- El Cholo’s Kid
- Gladys Tamez Millinery
- Hause of Curls
- Hija De Tu Madre
- Lola Y Tula
- Lucia Diaz
- Min & Mon
- Selva Negra
- Shop Latinx
- Sunday Energy
- Super Smalls
- Viva La Bonita
- Werk Mija
- Yellowcake Shop
Latino-owned home and kitchen brands
- Bonita Fierce
- Casita Michi
- Concrete Geometric
- Guelaguetza Designs
- Hedley & Bennett
- Latinx with Plants
- Lucky No. Candles
- Luna Sundara
- Melanie Abrantes Designs
- Mumi Design
- Rebeca Flott Arts
- Soraya Hennessy
- Vela Negra
Latino-owned wellness and fitness brands
Latino-owned books and education brands
Latino-owned food and beverage brands
- De La Calle
- Doña Vega Mezcal
- Espolòn Tequila
- Fresh Bellies
- Kin Euphorics
- The New Bar
- Progeny Coffee
- Tia Lupita Foods
- 787 Coffee
Hispanic, Latino and Latinx: What do they mean?
The Census Bureau defines a Hispanic-owned business as being at least 51% 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 it 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 and excludes 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% actually self-identify as Latinx. Salinas noted that the terms still don’t capture the complexities of identity, and 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.