Ramona Ferreyra, recent winner of the 2018 Latinas in Business Inc. Pitch Competition and founder and CEO of Ojala Threads — a unique clothing line for babies of Hispanic heritage– shares her journey as a Latina entrepreneur.
A Dominican-American born to a single mom in New York City and raised by extended family in the Dominican Republic, Ramona was instilled with resilience, boldness, imagination, and strategic thinking from an early age.
“Growing up with very little, I would make things for myself all the time,” Ramona explains.
She learned how to be strategic with her resources, using them effectively and economically. For instance, in high school she would recycle old shirts to make herself cardigans. This eventually helped her build her business where she is able to utilize her resources on a tight budget.
Upon returning to the U.S., Ramona managed the first urban Gap Kids and Baby while completing her BA at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She then moved to Hawaii where she lived for ten years and also completed her Masters Degree and two additional graduate certificates at Hawaii Pacific University. Ramona has also undergone leadership training at the Kennedy School at Harvard and the Center for Creative Leadership.
Throughout her career, Ramona has led outreach efforts for the FBI and Department of Defense, focused on community engagement and environmental resilience.
Clothing for babies of Hispanic Heritage, motivation found in the family
In 2017, she decided it was time to start something new: her clothing company Ojala Threads, which creates unisex bodysuits inspired by and for babies of Hispanic heritage. The idea came about after volunteering to watch her nephew, Jadiel, for a week as he recovered from meningitis.
During that week Ramona realized that the clothes her nephew wore did not reflect who he was. They did not speak to his identity as a baby of Hispanic heritage. She recalled how when living in Hawaii, she would regularly purchase baby onesies inspired by the local culture.
“The pieces were unique and beautifully allowed parents to reflect their pride,” says Ramona.
She was inspired to launch her own line that would do the same for Hispanics and so, that very same week, she began to research the feasibility of starting her business.
Born from this idea that one’s clothing should reflect their identity and heritage, Ojala Threads is more than just clothes. They are also a “parenting tool” as Ramona says.
“Our products are recognition that our children are an extension of our identity, a living legacy. As parents we are responsible for instilling upon them lessons and stories that eventually mold them.”
Ramona’s idea that Hispanic babies can and should have their own clothing that reflects their heritage is a “bold one” but one that is catching on. She comments how whenever she does pop up events “folks are shocked that they have this option.”
Lack of funding, a common thread for Latina entrepreneurs
As with any new business ventures, there are always some obstacles. A lack of funding was the main struggle Ramona encountered early on. No longer able to hold traditional employment due to health reasons, Ramona has been on disability for three years now and saving money to put toward the business was difficult.
“After applying to numerous business competitions and losing every single time, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign,” says Ramona.
The campaign was a “humbling” experience. The goal was $15,000 but in the end only $2,600 was raised.
“The emotional side effects of missing my goal, and not being supported by the majority of my friends and family, were a huge hit to my ego. I was pretty demoralized and simply stopped asking for help. But I decided to do what I could with the money we raised.”
With that money, Ojala Threads ran their first design for babies of Hispanic heritage in 250 shirts. For the second round of inventory Ramona had to take on credit card debt.
After losing, I finally won!
“I would advise anyone in my position to hang on, after losing non stop I finally won!” says Ramona of winning the 2018 Latinas In Business Pitch Competition. The winnings will go toward printing two additional designs for Ojala Threads.
Despite the struggles, Ramona has never let them get her down. She is always looking to the positive.
“I love how far we’ve gotten with so little. I know one day I’ll have employees, achieve our corporate responsibility goals and think back to operating with a $100 monthly budget.”
She encourages anyone to go for their ideas that they are passionate about. There may be rough patches, but in the end it will be worth it. “Remind yourself daily of why you are pursuing your business idea. My inspiration was my nephew; whenever I felt like I couldn’t go on I looked at his pictures wearing my first design and kept going!”
She believes it is also important to find mentors and resources to guide one throughout the process as these become invaluable when times are tough. Make a business plan, too, she advises as it is important to establish the key pillars of your business before you start spending money.
Ojala Threads has been quite the journey so far, but it is one that Ramona loves and would not trade for anything. “This entire experience is my favorite story!” she exclaims.
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