When an acquaintance delivered Alicia Estrada a message from God in late 2011, it wasn't the first time that a man she hardly knew told her something that would change her life forever.
The first was back in the early '90s, when Estrada was at Cal State Fullerton studying accounting and one of her professors told her to drop out of school. Drop out? "But I'm great at numbers!" she protested.
His message had nothing to do with her aptitude for accounting. He'd noticed that she had a talent for fashion.
Estrada was the fifth in a family of 10 children, raised in working-class Long Beach. (Her dad worked at General Motors.) "When we turned 15, 16, we all had to get jobs to contribute. If you made $300 at Carl's Jr., that money was going to Mom and Dad," she recalls. Estrada sewed all her own clothes and got creative out of necessity: She'd turn old shower curtains into skirts and once made an entire dress out of bottle caps. She called her designs, jokingly, Stop Staring! — because people did stare, and she loved it.
Talent like that, her teacher knew, shouldn't be ignored. "He'd become a professor, but he was really an artist," Estrada says. "He felt like he'd thrown away 20 years of his life."
The message got through: "It made me realize that fashion wasn't just fun. It was something I was passionate about."
Sixteen years later, Stop Staring! employs more than 25 people at its headquarters in Paramount. Estrada's sexy, feminine dresses are carried in more than 1,000 boutiques in 55 countries, and Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Eva Mendes have been photographed wearing them.
Estrada did it all without investors, selling pieces out of her bedroom and pouring the proceeds back into the business. (When her father tired of customers knocking on the front door, she moved to the garage.) She was picked up by her first boutique, on Melrose, because she used to personally hawk her clothing outside concerts and auto shows — and the owner liked what he saw.
That accounting professor, clearly, knew his stuff. Which is one reason Estrada was inclined to listen when, in 2011, a fabric salesman she deals with, a guy she'd met only once in person, called her and explained that he was also a rabbi — and that the Lord had come to him in a dream. "He wanted me to tell you that He wants you to have children," he told her. "Not just one but many. He told me that the answer to your question is yes."
Estrada is a committed Christian. Unbeknownst to the rabbi, she and her husband had been praying about that very question. "I actually never wanted children," she says. "I was one of those women who was really happy with my career."
But something began to shift around the time she turned 40 — and who can say no to a message like that? Two months later, she was pregnant.
Today Estrada can't stop gushing about 6-month-old Solomon. "I hate to admit this to the public," she says, "but Stop Staring! has become No. 2. No. 1 is this baby."
Of course the rabbi's message had a second part, too, and the busy CEO isn't ruling out the "many babies" part.
"Now that I'm 41 and I have this baby, oh my God, it's so much work," she says. "But who knows? We may be adopting!"