As Hispanic Heritage Month gets underway this week, there are a myriad of influences and forms of expression to recognize and celebrate. Beauty is one of the most culturally significant, especially in Los Angeles, and Latina-owned companies based here continue to highlight products that address specific needs of the community and beyond. Here, we spotlight three companies who found success by tapping into these markets only to discover that their concerns and aesthetics had the power to reach a wider population too, thus redefining the industry for customers from all ethnic backgrounds. With support and collaboration from their families, friends and clients, the inspiring mujeres empresarias (female entrepreneurs) behind Beauty Creations’ colorful low-cost makeup, Rizos Curls brand’s spiraling tress successes and Melt Cosmetics premium high-impact viral makeup looks, reflect the very triumphs and traditions that this month is meant to celebrate.
According to Nielsen IQ, the world’s leading consumer intelligence company surveying buying behavior and trends, Hispanic consumers are some of the most engaged in beauty and self-care, from hair to cosmetics to skin, making up 18.5% of the revenue in the U.S. beauty industry as a whole. “Hispanic consumers are not one-size-fits-all, and it’s not just because of the diversity of appearance, although that does factor in heavily,” states Nielsen’s latest data and study report. “Hispanic consumers’ approach to beauty is deeply influenced by our country of origin, our acculturation, our families, by our heritage [and] perhaps most of all, our pride in our appearance, which is deeper than just vanity. It is dignity.”
Born in Mexico, Esmeralda Hernandez came to the United States at the age of nine, and she seemed destined to excel in business, learning the value of hard work and connecting with others face-to-face. Alongside her single mom, she worked at L.A. county swap meets from the age of 12, selling everything from Barbie dolls to hair products. At 15-years-old, while making money selling perfumes and hair care, she noticed a hole in the market and sought to fill it — cosmetics targeted to fellow Latinas, with whimsical and colorful packaging, that didn’t cost a fortune.
“My goal was to create an accessible and affordable beauty company for all,” Hernandez says of her company. “I envisioned a beauty brand that was cuter than the competition at the time. Many other brands were branded with black packaging, and I wanted to stand apart from the rest. That was the inspiration for me choosing pink as our signature color.”
She founded Beauty Creations along with parent Bebella Cosmetics in 2016 with an adorned eye on inclusivity and low price points. With her brother Miguelas Hernandez CFO and sister Ruby Hernandez as head of product development, the company has generated $40 million in sales annually, expanding globally to 38 countries.
Now headquartered in a state-of-the-art facility in Santa Fe Springs, the brand’s corporate offices and distribution center has a lab for development and in-house manufacturing. They also have two retail stores, in the Del Amo Fashion Center and Los Cerritos center malls.
Hernandez is thinking pink once again with her latest venture, a new skin care line called BeautyCreations SKIN, which offers a full cleansing system featuring creams, serums, toners and foamy washes, all at more reasonable prices than similar name recognition-driven products such as Kylie Jenner’s SKIN.
At the launch party for the new line in Downtown L.A. recently, she’s friendly and very hands-on, speaking with influencers, media and supporters, as we all try beauty treatments and samples. The aesthetic is feminine and very glam, two traits a lot of Latinas love when it comes to their products and purchases. Finding both repped by affordable brands isn’t always easy, either.
“Watching our company grow from selling a handful of products to thousands has been incredible. Starting as a family owned business, we have grown so much,” Hernandez shares, adding that getting there hasn’t always been easy. “Being taken seriously in a male-dominated manufacturing industry was a major challenge, but I didn’t let that stop me. Having my voice heard and expressing my vision was very important to me.”
Julissa Prado encountered obstacles on the road to helming her own brand, too, especially when she got into the actual research and development part. But before that, her line developed organically and it was all love, especially from fellow Latinas. Originally from Mid City and Pacoima, the curly haired Chicana business major developed a passionate side hustle by sharing the DIY home remedies that helped her tame and style her own thick head of ringlets. It started in high school, with friends and then friends of friends, and soon enough she was styling strangers and selling her anti-frizz and conditioning concoctions — in Ziploc bags no less — directly to consumers in her community.
“I was a freshman and during prom and homecoming season the seniors would book me to do their hair,” Prado says, sharing her story with LA Weekly during a spirited video conference. “Pretty much everyone had wavy curly texture, but we all straightened it back then; I mean, in the 2000s, the flat iron just had us completely in a chokehold, you know? I went on this mission to understand my hair. Back then, clean beauty did not exist and curly texture products did not really exist either. I started using natural ingredients from my house. When you grow up in an immigrant household, you have different traditions and people in your family that use natural ingredients for everything from stomachaches to dry hands. There were recipes that use aloe vera for your scalp, or egg white on your face. So I started kind of mixing my own stuff and I came up with these little formulas.”
“I remember the very first day I went to school with my hair curly,” she continues. “All of a sudden, everyone that was asking me to flat iron their hair, was asking for help to bring out their curly hair and wavy hair. I was just meeting more and more of these ‘undercover curlies’ as I call them, which are people that you would never know had textured hair.”
Encouraging Latinas to embrace their hidden waves, Prado kept making her products on a small scale as an undergrad at UCLA and during her time at Wake Forest for graduate school in North Carolina (she has a master’s degree in business). After school, she worked at PepsiCo and Nestle, but her consumer acumen led her to take a leap into the hair care industry officially. After saving $50,000, she approached her brother about her business plan.
“My parents wanted me to put a downpayment on an apartment or something, but I really wanted to make my hair recipes professionally,” she says. “I thought that even if it doesn’t end up becoming a big business, and I’d just sell it on the weekends at like, farmer’s markets. Either way, I felt in my heart that it was what I really wanted to do.”
Noting that curly brands were limited and that none targeted Latinas, Prado’s family ultimately supported her dream. In addition to her brother, who helped with photography and her website, her cousin drew the logo by hand, and her cousins served as models.
“My headquarters was my tio Juan’s garage off of Washington and Crenshaw, and I would just drive down Washington and pick up all my cousins, like off of Bronson, off of La Brea, off of Rimpau. I have a huge Mexican family — my dad has 13 brothers and sisters — and I have almost 100 cousins just in L.A. Everybody helps. When we finally launched in 2017 I didn’t have any money, but I had like 100 Mexicans who were hauling ass every day, helping me however they could.”
In less than two years, Rizos Curls hit $1 million in sales, but not before many in the industry dismissed Prado’s ideas for ingredients and treatments. She says a Jamaican female chemist was the key to creating clean formulas that actually worked as she envisioned. Six years later, the brand has a prominent display at 120 Target stores nationwide and name recognition among kinky- and wavy-haired consumers of all racial backgrounds. The brand’s Latin-ties will always be front and center, though: “Rizo” means curl in Spanish, after all.
In addition to expanding the line with new products, Prado spends a lot of her time giving back. The Rizos Curls Small Business Summit took place in 2020, joining the #WeAllGrow Latina Network to inspire future business women. Prado also is currently involved with a couple of initiatives that seek to help Latinas with big aspirations succeed. She’s partnered with Colgate and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation on “Haz La U” (Make the U), a college grant program for high school seniors of Latin descent.
She’s also joined Always® on this past Spring’s Always Soñando National Scholarship, which was open to Hispanic and Latina students across the country. It features a content series and academy aimed at “showing the next generation of Hispanic and Latina leaders how to find their confidence, master their period care routine, and dream big.”
Celebrity makeup artist Lora Arellano had her own big dreams and she met her now-business partner Dana Bomar while both were working at adjacent makeup counters at a mall department store in Woodland Hills. Arellano was with Mac Cosmetics and Bomar was at Smashbox. Both young women had strong followings on social media, which was just starting to manifest the power of “influencers” in terms of promoting and selling goods and services.
“Instagram was taking off, with all these makeup artists starting to show off their skills, way before it was overly saturated as you see now,” Arellano — who’s ranked as a top “MUA” on social media and did makeup for Rihanna — recalls during a recent Zoom interview. “Back then, a company had sent me something and I posted about it and they were like, thank you so much, we got this much in sales because of your posts. I thought they were just being nice sending me stuff, but I realized there had to be something to it. I mentioned it to Dana over lunch and we both wanted to start a lipstick brand. Dana is a go-getter and like, two days later, she found out how much we needed to start a company.”
Melt Cosmetics was born soon after, in 2012, and just like Hernandez and Prado, the women who created it say that no one really took them seriously at first. They had no money, never took out any loans and simply used what was in their personal savings accounts. Even more novel, they weren’t looking to do wholesale, but rather, they intended to sell their products directly to consumers solely via social media: Instagram linking to a website, which wasn’t really done 10 years ago when they started.
“Laura and I both could see this trend before it happened,” Bomar says. “We were also posting things from the Nordstrom counter, promoting stuff through Instagram. Nobody did this yet and I remember telling Lora, we can sell Mac and Smashbox from social media, so we can absolutely sell our own thing. That part was really exciting.”
Heavily inspired by Arellano’s Mexican heritage, the brand’s bold, highly pigmented shades and gorgeous, artful packaging stood out in what quickly became a crowded market. Starting with saturated matte lip colors that last, they offered signature reds, nudes and even a blue shade, all of which sold out within hours of launch, thanks to the pair’s eye-catching Instagram showcases.
“Everything has been built the exact same way — we launched five lipsticks, sold it, then reinvested into those lipsticks and expanded to a new category, and so on. We are so hands-on with everything so, if we’re putting it out there, we love it and we think it’s the best,” says Bomar, who is not of Latin descent but says Hispanic influences permeate the brand. “Everything is obviously influenced by Lora’s background and upbringing. So many collections and things we make are directly connected to it… that influence is always there.”
“I would say over 80% of our customer base is Hispanic,” adds Arellano, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley after her parents came to California from Michoacán, Mexico. She points to Melt’s stunning Day of the Dead collection as one of their most popular items — it features two eyeshadow palettes, “Muerte” with deep, rich shades of red and teal and “Vida” with bright greens and oranges straight out of the garden; both are adorned with a half-skull design of roses that create a full art piece when placed side by side. The besties threw a huge fiesta to launch the line in 2019, with Aztec dancers, an altar and more. Arellano even flew in relatives from Mexico to enjoy the event and celebrate.
La Vida Linda
Today, Dia de los Muertos’ vibrant florals and calavera face makeup is recognized and worn by all in October and beyond, but for those of us who grew up with it, there’s a nostalgic significance that adds to its beauty. It may be why Latinos in general have an affinity for the dark stuff, from goth bands to spooky movies. Arellano’s own tattoos reflect a lot of this ominous imagery, which makes her the perfect person to represent and create it. Melt has captured the stand-out-in-the-crowd vibe that many Latin people, especially in Los Angeles, favor better than any other brand out there (and it’s sure to be popping in their upcoming Nightmare Before Christmas collab with Disney coming out next month).
We should note here that we did love what LA Ink’s Kat Von D (also Latina) did with her Sephora-exclusive brand for the same reasons we love Melt. But when the tattoo artist stepped away from it in 2020, the rebrand lost a lot of its alternative edge and the magic that Kat’s Mexican-American roots and illustrations brought to the products.
Of course, several Latina stars have followed with collaborations and self-care items with much success. Selena Quintanilla’s estate joined Mac cosmetics to release a line inspired by the late Tejano singer in 2020 and it was one of their biggest sellers ever. More recently, L.A,-based popstar Becky G launched Treslúce Beauty (a combination of the Spanish words for “three” and “lucir,” which translates as “to look good”). Then there are the two biggest multi-hyphenate Latina superstars on the planet (also both Angelenas currently) who are killing the game: Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo Beauty skincare) and Selena Gomez (Rare Beauty).
From richly folkloric hues, designs and influences to chola street style and hacks (for this old school Latina writer, visible brown lip liner, thin brows and black cat-eyes achieved by burning a Maybelline eyebrow pencil with a lighter to apply, were commonplace growing up) to Old Hollywood high glamor as seen on original Silver Screen queens like Rita Moreno and Carmen Miranda, the influence of Hispanic culture on beauty trends past and present is significant and indisputable, and it’s only getting bigger and better. Beyond representation and practicality, it’s about culture, work ethic, family, self-expression, and celebrating la vida (life) — ideas and inspirations that go way beyond skin deep.
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