Tiny Sprouts Foods

Meet Tina and Kim, two South-Asian moms planting seeds for healthier childhoods with their brand Tiny Sprouts Foods

These days, we understand the importance of nutrition and the impact our foods have on growing children. However, when Tiny Sprouts Foods founders Tina and Kim were growing up, their parents, like many others, did not know that 90% of our brain was developed by age 5, and that every bite we ate in our first few years of life could impact our health as adults.

Tiny Sprouts Foods

Tiny Sprouts Foods co-founder, Kim. (Photo courtesy of Tiny Sprouts Foods.)

It was only after experiencing health issues as young adults that the two friends developed a passion for nutrition. Food turned into their medicine, and seeds like flax, chia and hemp became staples in their diets.

Then, they each became mothers and their children’s nutrient needs were at the top of their minds. They began including seeds into their children’s diets as seeds are the world’s TINIEST superfood, packed full of all the essential nutrients a child needs to develop and thrive. 

During this time, the women began to wonder why there were no seed products designed for children? Seeds are a perfect, easy addition to any meal after all, with their small size, neutral taste, and versatility. They’re also an excellent way to sneak in some extra nutrition for even the pickiest of eaters. 

So Tina and Kim began brainstorming and finally the foundation of Tiny Sprouts Foods ‘sprouted’ and was ironically born on Mother’s Day 2020, at the height of the global pandemic. 

Uniting their passion for children’s nutrition and functional foods, along with their combined 30 years experience in the consumer goods industry, Kim and Tina bravely left their secure corporate jobs to fully commit to their mission of planting the seeds for healthier childhood development through their business venture. 

Tiny Sprouts Foods

Tiny Sprouts Organic Superseed Boosters, which combine wholesome ingredients and contain a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals. (Photo courtesy of Tiny Sprouts Foods.)

Today, Tiny Sprouts Foods is a minority-female-founded children’s nutrition company focused on producing easy, nutrient-rich products that offer functional health benefits to the developing child. 

Their top products are their Tiny Sprouts Organic Superseed Boosters, which combine wholesome ingredients and contain a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals while boosting your little one’s nutrition and help them meet their daily health needs. 

 

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From sprouting to thriving 

While they have overcome hurdles to get to where they are today, starting a small business at the height of the pandemic was not without its challenges. One challenge was the fact that both women lived in different countries. 

Tiny Sprouts Foods

Tiny Sprouts Foods co-founder, Tina. (Photo courtesy of Tiny Sprouts Foods.)

“We are a team of two South Asian moms who reside in different countries; Kim in the USA and Tina in Canada,” they say. 

However, despite the physical distance, they found their vision and passion for the business keeps them together. 

Another struggle that many entrepreneurs, especially those in the food industry understand, was supplying, manufacturing, and sourcing. Kim and Tina encountered many roadblocks, pushing back their original launch date, but quality and food safety was a top priority so they persevered through these hurdles. 

“From product development, ingredient sourcing, manufacturing through to testing of our final products, quality and safety of our boosters will always be our number one priority. With that, however, comes a ton of extra precautions thus adding costs and always more time!” Tina and Kim share. 

“We have had to change co-packers, deal with suppliers sending us incorrect materials, and ingredients not meeting our high-quality standards. All this combined led to a launch date that was severely delayed and time & money wasted. Surely, the thought of giving up came up endlessly, but we pushed through, got to the finish line and are extremely proud of the products we developed.”

Both Kim and Tina were raised by hard working immigrant parents, so they learned firsthand the value of hard work and determination, which they now apply to their daily work at Tiny Sprouts. 

“We saw the daily struggles and sacrifices that our parents endured to provide for our families.  It has made us more resilient and flexible in a world where minority female entrepreneurs still aren’t the norm.”

Tiny Sprouts Foods

“We pushed through, got to the finish line and are extremely proud of the products we developed.” (Photo courtesy of Tiny Sprouts Foods.)

Tina and Kim are also motivated to succeed and continue to grow their business and push past challenges when they hear feedback and review of how their products have helped parents and families. 

We hear the relief and happiness in their messages knowing that their babies and children are getting adequate nutrition despite ongoing picky eating habits or other mealtime issues. Mealtime stress is real and feeding children can be deflating and frustrating – knowing that we are making this easier and less stressful for fellow moms is the best reward we can get.” 

Knowing that they are not only helping to improve the health trajectory of the next generation, but are also providing parents with the peace of mind they deserve is a great motivator and the best reward. 

“There is no greater motivation than helping fellow parents do the same for their own children.” 

You might be interested: Black and Latina moms are becoming entrepreneurs now more than ever 

To other minority women entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners, Kim and Tina offer a few words of advice learned from their own journey. 

“The struggle is real,” they say, “but the reward is unreal. There will be some very tough times, but if you truly believe in your idea, stick with it and the reward will come. It’s a journey.  It takes grit and determination to start a new business from scratch. Always keep the end goal in mind, and always remember your mission. This is what truly got us through the hard times.” 

Bibi Hidalgo

“We don’t need to do it alone” says SBA’s Bibi Hidalgo, to aspiring Latina entrepreneurs 

Bibi Hidalgo is the Associate Administrator for Government Contracting & Business Development at the SBA and is the first ever woman appointed by the President for this role. 

In this role, Bibi Hidalgo oversees and reviews procurement policies for small businesses hoping to work with the Federal Government. This includes for Small Disadvantaged Businesses, Veteran-owned firms, HUBZone firms, Woman-owned small businesses, and firms in the 8(a) Minority Business Development Program.

In her prior role, she was the SBA Government Contracting Policy Lead for the Biden-Harris Transition Team, developing policies that President Biden could execute in the first 100 days, with an emphasis on underserved communities. In 2014, Bibi and her brother Patrick Hidalgo co-founded Future Partners, LLC, which advised Fortune 500 corporate executives on procurement and minority business strategy, and created a model for how to facilitate significant opportunities for both.   

Bibi Hidalgo is dedicating her work to the memory of her brother Patrick who passed away suddenly at the age of 41 in March of 2020.

“We don’t need to do it alone” 

Working closely with Latinas and other women entrepreneurs, Bibi knows it can be easy to think we must do it all on our own in order to be seen as successful or capable, but that is not the case. 

“We don’t need to do it alone. And that’s really important for us to remember that we don’t need to do it alone. Because every day, we’re asking ourselves, is this the right thing? Am I doing the right thing? Am I alienating myself, or am I ingratiating myself, and you need to kind of touch base with someone to get a temperature check,” says Bibi. 

As women, having a supportive circle is crucial, especially in male-dominated industries where support may be hard to come by. 

“Whether you want to be an economist, finance expert, astronaut, or the best app developer, there is very much your place in your world to be there. And to and to be sure to lean on other women for support. Be sure to create that circle of support, that really wants to see you rise, and that you help each other do that. I have such a strong support system that I’m so grateful for.”

For Bibi, her support system helped her stay strong in the face of challenges and adversity. She advises women to seek out those mentors in their industry, lean into support, and also stay strong and believe in your knowledge and technical capabilities. Don’t question yourself. 

“I am the first woman appointed by the President to be an Associate Administrator of Government Contracting and Business Development. And if I have caved into some of my self-doubt, I would never be here because it’s very much a man’s world. And yet, I set that aside in my brain, and knew that I could tackle this issue, and hang with the guys on such a complicated topic. And now I’m able to lead and we’re effecting change together.” 

Jumpstart your entrepreneurial journey with inspirational titles on Audible today!

“Keep driving it home and pushing hard” 

As a woman in a male-dominated field you may not always be the most popular. You might be the first ever woman in your role, and that can be tough. 

“I very much learned in business, that you have to make tough decisions that not everyone’s going to agree with. And those are sometimes the loneliest moments, as I’ve heard other leaders say, leadership is lonely,” says Bibi. “And so that’s why you have to make sure you have that network of support, where you can get a pulse check every once in a while, and where you can continue to believe in yourself. Because as long as you do that, you’re going to be able to affect change, and then you get to look back on your career and say, ‘Yeah, I did that. It was tough. I have the battle scars to prove it. But I did it.’”

44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Photo credit: Pete Souza, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

For Bibi, there have been many challenges and wins. One story that always stands out is when she first joined President Obama’s Administration, in 2009. 

“Within a matter of weeks, my agency got a call from the White House saying that they were hit hard, they were getting hit hard on the issue of the recovery stimulus, and not enough contracts going to minority owned businesses. And so I was tasked with staffing our deputy, but what they asked us to do was do events around the country, which we did. And the challenge was that there were some folks who were not too excited about this issue…there was a lot of angst about it, and a lot of pushback.” 

Facing these pushbacks made it difficult for Bibi to do her work and as the struggles persisted she began to have doubts that she could get the job done and affect positive change. 

“I had to navigate a lot of complexities and really try to keep faith, which was hard, and it was getting harder day by day. But sometimes you don’t realize you’re at that point. At a tipping point, you don’t know until you’re there and sometimes it can get really, really hard, really tough until you get there and especially as a woman, in my case and Latina.”

However, Bibi persisted and really focused on driving home her key issues. This strategy was critical to her success. 

“If you try to be everywhere at once, you really have to pick one or two things and to drive it home. And so that’s what I did. I learned it really made all the difference to keep driving hard to keep pushing hard.” 

Her hard work was eventually recognized by higher up officials and Bibi was called to the White House to be acknowledged for her work.

“That’s what I mean by ‘don’t give up.’ Follow your instinct, follow your gut, know what’s most important. Because that changed my life permanently. I always go back to that day, that day that I got that request to go into his office, it was the last thing I could have ever imagined. And yet it affirmed the work I was doing and made me realize I was on the right track.” 

You might be interested: Latina career coach and author Cici Castelli shares key tips to unlock your success mindset in new book

Today, Bibi Hidalgo is grateful to be back and able to pick up her work where she left off. 

“So much has happened in the interim, and we have our work cut out for us in so many different ways. Businesses, minority women businesses were not always prioritized. And so we’re trying to get that back in a direction, where it is an important priority among all of our priorities in advancing socio economic groups,” says Bibi. 

She is excited to continue working to create opportunities for women and minority business owners across the country and continue working with and supporting women in business.


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From backyard chef to restaurant owner, Chef Yala shares her entrepreneurial journey and rise to success

Carmen Mercedes Baez, known as Chef Yala, is a private and executive chef and owner of her restaurant, “La Cocina de Yala” Located Bronx, NY. She is also the author of the book, Becoming Chef Yala: From A Backyard To A Kitchen.*

Born in San Cristóbal, a small city in the south of the Dominican Republic, she is the daughter of Dominican parents and was raised in New York City when her parents emigrated to the U.S. 

Growing up, Yala’s mom owned a beauty salon and this was the family business. Later, Yala would own her own salon in New York, but this was not her passion. She dreamed of cooking professionally. When her mom passed away, Yala began taking culinary classes as a part of her grieving process and soon she was pursuing her passion. 

“I have always had a curious and restless mind, which has motivated me to undertake the business; I formally started in gastronomy in 2013,” says Chef Yala. 

Yala began making food for her salon clients and eventually she set up El Patio de Yala in the backyard of her salon where she cooked food on a grill. 

“I have always had a curious and restless mind.” (Photo courtesy of Chef Yala)

Yala always continued to push and expand on her dream and when she outgrew the patio space she began renting a kitchen at a car wash. While working out of the car wash, Yala faced challenges and pressures from her landlord. The owner of the car wash saw the success of Yala’s kitchen and raised the rent unfairly while also going behind her back and trying to turn her workers against her. 

Some may view these challenges as negatives, but Yala puts a positive spin on the obstacles she has faced. 

“The positive thing I took from this is that God works in a mysterious way,” Chef Yala said during the Latinas & Success panel. Without the challenges, she would have stayed at the car wash kitchen and not pushed for something better. “If I were comfortable, I would have stayed there and not have my own restaurant today and become Chef Yala.” 

The challenges pushed Yala to the next level and showed her that she could own her own restaurant and be successful. Finally, in 2017, Yala founded her own restaurant where she could grow and expand. 

Watch the full panel below

Chef Yala is glad that today Latinas are finding success more and their voices are being heard across various industries. 

“We are being more heard, we are up there, we inspire our culture so they can see that it can happen. In my case I’m a chef and I serve the community here in the Bronx as a Dominican Latina and I have a lot people that are in the culinary field that are scared so once they see me they will be like, ‘You see Yala, I can do it like Yala.’”

Becoming Chef Yala: From A Backyard To A Kitchen

Chef Yala is always eager to give back and help others on their journeys as a mentor. Her book shares a lot of her own struggles and shows the reality of starting a business in the culinary field. She recommends her book to other Latinas and minority women looking for an honest, true story of what it’s like being a Latina chef and entrepreneur.

Her parting words of advice to all aspiring entrepreneurs is to put in the hard work to make your dreams come true.  

“I love to cook but just like I like to make a nice plate, behind that plate there’s a lot of hard work. A lot of people think it’s easy just because of what you show on social media, but no, you have to pursue your dream and you have to put in the hard work. You have to focus on this and give your 101 percent in order for you to overcome.”

You might be interested: Actress Sandy Tejada speaks candidly on overcoming obstacles as a Latina in Hollywood


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cactus water

Latina entrepreneur Sarita Lopez shares cactus water health benefits with beverage line ¡CACTUS!  

Sarita Lopez grew up eating Nopales but didn’t truly appreciate their health benefits and rich history until she began farming and selling the paddles at local markets. Since then, she has created two cactus water lines in hopes of introducing the amazing health benefits of cactus water to more of the US. 

Sarita Lopez, founder of ¡CACTUS! (Photo courtesy of Sarita Lopez)

Sarita’s career in the beverage industry began when she moved to Austin, Texas after college and soon received a job at a large soda company. After seeing the difficulties of having a beverage business, she swore she would never start one of her own.

However, all of that changed after she moved back to her hometown of Napa, CA, to start an organic farm with her family.

On their farm, wild cactus paddles grew on their land and one day a worker suggested they harvest the paddles because of their popularity in the Latino and Hispanic market. 

“Growing up, I knew what Nopales were and ate them, but never knew about their history or healthy benefits. I began to research them and spoke to family and friends familiar with this particular cactus. When I found out how much goodness was packed inside the paddles, I began to incorporate them into my life,” Sarita says. 

“Within two weeks, the eczema that plagued me my whole life began to clear up and my digestion felt better than ever. I became driven to learn as much as I could about this ancient plant and spent hours exploring its nutritional marvel, moved by the many studies about its benefits and rich background.” 

Through her research, Sarita learned the fascinating cultural history surrounding the cactus plant and its uses in medicine and wellness. 

Just a few amazing cactus water health benefits

The Nopal cactus leaf contains antioxidants, betalains, electrolytes, amino acids – plus a uniquely powerful hydrocolloid that promotes absorption and retention in your body. For generations, Latin American healers called curanderos have recommended cactus leaf for colds, skin conditions, digestion and more. 

Today’s research shows components of cactus leaf may promote health benefits such as muscle recovery, combat free radicals and oxidative stress linked to inflammation, support cardio and skin health, and may even lessen the effects of hangovers.

Nopal cactus leaves contain many amazing health benefits and have been used for centuries in Latin American folk medicine. (Photo courtesy of Sarita Lopez)

“I began to sell cactus paddles, and customers raved of their benefits and features.” 

Then Sarita found out that most of her customers were juicing the Nopales and this sparked an idea. She decided to combine her worlds of beverage and farming and launched her first cactus water in 2017, “Green-Go” which later evolved and became ¡CACTUS!

Standing strong like a cactus in the face of challenges

Aside from her passion for cactus water and sharing its health benefits with people, another motivating factor to launch her business was her desire to honor her heritage and her family. 

“I watched my father, a Hispanic scientist, face racism in his work world and while living in Napa. I swore that if given the chance, I would create something of my own, just like my dad, to help combat the idea that the color of skin would and could not dictate a person’s path in life. I am fiercely proud of my heritage and love that I have a platform to speak about Nopales, a food that has been eaten for centuries by indigenous people whom I share blood with,” Sarita shares with Latinas in Business

Throughout her entrepreneurial journey, Sarita has also learned a lot. When she first started out, there was some stumbling as she navigated this new process. 

“It’s easy to spend too much money too quickly,” she says. “Looking back, I signed with top distributors and brokers too soon and sold in too many states for the profits to make sense. I now work with the Small Business Development Center and connected with a financial advisor who helped me create a strong budget with realistic projected expenses and sales. There is a lot of free help for small businesses. I also realized the benefit of creating a business plan. Numbers truly don’t lie!”

After launching her first cactus beverage line in 2017, she received some good press and attention, but by 2019 Sarita decided it was time to evolve her brand. 

Sarita rebranded her business just before the pandemic hit, yet her company was able to weather the storm and come out strong and resilient like a cactus. (Photo courtesy of Sarita Lopez)

“I started with the product. After much research and taste testing, I moved from one unsweetened, zero-calorie cactus water in aseptic cardboard to three popular organic flavors, each lightly sweetened with organic agave (5g sugar, 30 calories) and packaged in 12-ounce recyclable sleek cans. And I changed the brand name to ¡CACTUS! to more directly convey that our product is cactus water—important given the multitude of beverage products on store shelves.”

With a new look, name, and flavors 2020 started strong for Sarita and ¡CACTUS! Even the pandemic could not sway them. 

“Just like a cactus being able to survive some of the harshest elements on earth, our company survived 2020 and we are stronger because of it,” Sarita writes on her site

Today, Sarita continues to strive for success with her company, not just for herself but for all the people who have been part of her journey and believe in her company. 

“I want them to share in the riches as well. The old cliché is true – there is no “I” in “team!” Knowing that I can share my victories with the people who have been by my side since the beginning is what gets me out of bed, ready to start a new and beautiful day,” she says. 

To other Latinas and minority women entrepreneurs thinking of starting their own venture, Sarita “really, REALLY” recommends creating a business plan! 

“Figuring out your market, expenses and sales projections helps you make sure you are on track for success. Use as many free or not-so expensive resources as possible, such workshops and classes through your local Small Business Administration.” 

“Everyone has a great idea or two, but the ones that have a chance in making that dream come to life are those who put ideas into action!” 

Grammys 2022

Grammys 2022 Recap: Latin American wins and the issue of Global diversity 

Yesterday’s 64th Annual Grammy Awards gathered stars and industry leaders to honor the best in music. Throughout the awards we had our eye on all the Latin and Hispanic artists recognized. 

In the Latin categories winning artists included Eliane Elias (feat. Chick Corea and Chucho Valdés) winning Best Latin Jazz Album, Alex Cuba for Best Latin Pop Album, Bad Bunny for Best Música Urbana Album, Juanes for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, Vicente Fernández for Best Regional Mexican Music Album, and Rubén Blades for Best Tropical Latin Album. 

Young Filipino-American singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo also took the stage for three wins for Best New Artist, Best Solo Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album. 

Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo, Grammys 2022. (Photo source: Recording Academy / Grammys on YouTube)

Additionally, the night saw performances by J Balvin, Maria Becerra, Aymée Nuviola, Rachel Zegler, Silk Sonic. 

In 2020, the Grammys decided to address some of these concerns by changing the name of their “Best World Music” category to “Best Global Music.” 

A statement, the Recording Academy said, “as we continue to embrace a truly global mindset … The change symbolizes a departure from the connotations of colonialism, folk, and ‘non-American’ that the former term embodied while adapting to current listening trends and cultural evolution among the diverse communities it may represent.”

Additionally, the Recording Academy renamed the “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category to “Best Progressive R&B Album”, since the term “urban” has become outdated and is now an “inappropriate descriptor of Black music.” However, the term continues to be used in the Latin category for “Best Música Urbana Album.” 

This year’s star-studded event certainly appeared more diverse, with both winners and performers reflecting the award show’s push in recent years to be more inclusive. However, despite recent changes, the issue of diversity and representation continues to be at the forefront of conversation surrounding the award show and many continue to criticize their minimal efforts to correct years of inequality. 

These changes, especially the change to the World Music category have received mixed responses. Many find these changes to be insubstantial and some have even argued the change to “Global” music hurts international artists. 

In the article “How not to decolonise the Grammys” author Mark LeVine breaks down the issue pointing out that the new “global” category will take the focus away from celebrating cultural music with diverse roots and traditions. The new category will include any global artist, meaning diverse artists who struggled to break out in other categories will now also have to compete against global superstars.

What was once a category to celebrate diverse music outside of “Western” norms, may now become a generalized category that many fear will become saturated with pop and commercialized music. 

In an NPR op-ed, author Ian Brennan shares his views on the issue and quotes Angelique Kidjo, one of the world’s most recognized performers in the recently changed category, with multiple nominations and wins under her belt. 

 

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Angelique Kidjo shares her vision regarding the issue of diversity and representation in the Grammys, saying: “We’ve got to educate people to understand that it’s not just commercial music that is ‘music.’ We have music in the global category that is the roots of all the commercial music that people are listening to. It’s important to go back and find out where the commercial music you are listening to comes from.

“We need to bring the topic of global music to the forefront of the Grammys. We need to have a constant discussion to improve and get better. The whole world is watching.”

Latin American artists are lucky to have multiple categories just for their music, but other ethnic groups must fight for recognition in the one “Global” category the awards show offers. Instead of making categories more general, many feel creating more categories would be more beneficial to fully celebrate diverse talent. Like the multiple Latin American categories, other cultures could have their own categories as well, so that more talent can be recognized. 

You might be interested: Ariana DeBose reminds young Latinas that dreams do come true with historic Oscar win

Latina poets

5 Latina poets to read this National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month is here! And today we are celebrating five Latina poets who are using their writing to explore themes of Latina identity and culture, advocating for their communities, and critiquing harmful stereotypes. 

These poets are speaking their truths in a world that often wishes to silence diverse voices and marginalized identities. Let us all amplify their voices and also enjoy some incredible writing by Latina poets. 

Melania-Luisa Marte

 

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Melania Luisa Marte is a writer, poet, and speaker from New York living in the Dominican Republic. Her poetry explores topics including her Caribbean roots, intersectionality, and self-love. She gained fame with viral poem “Afro-Latina” and her work has also been featured by Ain’t I Latina, Mitu, The Root, Teen Vogue, Facebook, Telemundo, Remezcla, and People En Español. 

Melania’s chapbook “Plantains and our Becoming” focuses on the Black diaspora, nature, love, and rest.

Yesika Salgado

 

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Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles based Salvadoran poet and two time National Poetry Slam finalist and the recipient of the 2020 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Teen Vogue, Univision, Spotify, CNN and many more networks and publications. 

As an internationally recognized body-positive activist her work explores the topics of body image, self-love, culture, her city and her family. 

Yesika is the author of the best-sellers Corazón, Tesoro, and Hermosa

Natalie Diaz 

 

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Natalie Diaz is a Pulitzer Prize winning, Mojave American poet, language activist, and educator. Her work weaves together her Latina and Indigenous identity in a “constellation” of work that explores themes of identity, love, culture, joy, grief, injustice, and violence. 

She is the author of the poetry collections Postcolonial Love Poem (2020), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; and When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012). 

Ariana Brown

 

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​Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican American poet from the Southside of San Antonio, Texas, now based in Houston, Texas.  She is a 2014 national collegiate poetry slam champion and has been writing, performing, and teaching poetry for over ten years. Her in her work and poetry collections We Are Owed. (Grieveland, 2021) and Sana Sana (Game Over Books, 2020) she investigates themes such as queer Black personhood in Mexican American spaces, Black relationality and girlhood, loneliness, and care. 

Melissa Lozada-Oliva 

 

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Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a “Guatelombian” (Guatemalan-Colombian) American poet and screenwriter living in Brooklyn.  Her debut book Peluda (Button Poetry 2017) explores the intersections of Latina identity, feminism, hair removal and what it means to belong. Her most recent book, Dreaming of You is a novel-in-verse explores themes of Latinidad, womanhood, obsession, and disillusionment.

Melissa initially gained fame with her viral poem, “My Spanish,” exploring her experiences as a non-Spanish speaking Latina.  

When she’s not writing, she also co-hosts the podcast Say More with Olivia Gatwood Who Is a Massive Bitch, where they dissect the world through a poetic lens.

You might be interested: 10 Books by Latinx authors to read this summer 

Valonne Smith

Natural Do founder and CEO Valonne Smith is giving back in a big way with new apprenticeship program

Natural Do, a black and woman owned natural hair care salon, is giving back in a big way.

Before Women’s History Month ends, we want to spotlight another incredible women founder who is paying it forward and creating opportunities for other women. 

Valonne Smith is the owner and founder of Natural Do, a membership salon and retail store offering natural hair care products specifically formulated for people with kinky, curly, wavy hair. 

As a woman of color with natural hair, Valonne thought, wouldn’t it be great to go to a salon and get the products and services I need? After searching for salons that catered to natural hair, she soon found that there was not much out there for this niche and decided to start her own salon with this vision in mind. 

Valonne Smith, founder and CEO of Natural Do. (Photo courtesy of Valonne Smith)

Leaning on her strength to put herself out there and engage with all kinds of people, Valonne began taking steps to build her dream business. Her vision finally came to fruition in 2016 when the first Natural Do location opened in Stockton, California. 

However, while building her business, Valonne encountered some struggles, as many entrepreneurs do. Unlike many businesses, though, the main struggle she faced over and over again was rooted in a lack of understanding from vendors and banks who did not understand her business’ niche and what they do. 

“They think we are just a regular hair salon, but because we are niche and cater to a specific client they don’t understand it,” said Valonne. “They don’t see how a natural hair salon is actually very different from the traditional salon.” 

It’s this specific client niche that makes Natural Do so unique and distinguishes them from other salons. 

Natural Do’s core mission is to educate “Curlfriends” on how to properly care for their hair and get the positive results they want, and embrace their natural hair texture using natural and organic-based products designed to nourish, strengthen, and maintain healthy hair growth.

 “My favorite part of my business that I love to see is when the stylist turns the client around in the chair and they see their hair. They look so happy and surprised that it’s their own natural hair that looks beautiful. There was no need to add chemicals or extensions. Just their beautiful natural curls.” 

Valonne is passionate about spreading that love for natural hair and continuing to educate individuals on how to care for their hair and embrace their natural look. 

Continuing her mission, Valonne is now expanding her reach with two new locations in the works in San Jose and Sacramento, along with introducing an exciting new opportunity for aspiring cosmetologists. 

With education at the center of Natural Do’s mission, the salon is now launching the Natural Do Apprenticeship Apprentice Academy, a training program approved by the Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) and the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology that allows people who have a talent in doing hair but may not have the resources to pay for cosmetology school, to be able to work in the salon and get on-the-job training all while getting paid. Under the guidance and supervision of a trainer, apprentices will hone their skills and after two years, they can then apply for the state board to get their cosmetology/barber license.

This incredible opportunity will help train more cosmetologists and barbers in the art of natural hair care and continue the salon’s mission while giving back. 

“Do what you love and have a strong interest in,” Valonne encourages aspiring entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy of Valonne Smith)

Valonne encourages women entrepreneurs and professionals to focus on their passions. Her own business was founded on her passion for hair care and a desire to educate. Through her business she has also been able to help others follow their passions by providing education and apprenticeship opportunities. 

“Do what you love and have a strong interest in,” she said. “The business or your career will have ups and downs. There would be good days and amazing days,” she continued. “And the only thing that will keep you grounded is the love and passion you have for your business or career.” 

Valonne has faced her share of challenges throughout her journey, but ultimately it has all been worth it. She hopes to continue to reach more “Curlfriends” as Natural Do expands its reach with new locations and opportunities this year, and continue to educate and spread the love for natural hair. 

You might be interested: Meet the Frías sisters founders of Afro-Latina beauty brand LUNA MAGIC 

Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose reminds young Latinas that dreams do come true with historic Oscar win

Ariana DeBose makes history as first openly queer, Afro-Latina actor to win an Oscar.

Yesterday’s 94th Academy Awards ceremony saw a major iconic first for Latinas. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose won her first Oscar in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake.  

Rita Moreno won her Oscar in 1962 for the same role, becoming the first Latina woman to win an Oscar. Now, 60 years later, Ariana makes history as the first Afro-Latina to win the award. With Ariana’s win, the two actresses have also become part of the exclusive club of performers who have won Oscars for portraying the same character. 

Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose as Anita in West Side Story. (Photo via Anita DeBose on Instagram)

“Your Anita paved the way for tons of Anitas like me. And I love you so much,” Ariana said to Rita Moreno in her speech last night. 

In her acceptance speech, Ariana also reminded young Latinas, DREAMers, and anyone who identifies with being different that dreams do come true and there is a place for everyone in America.

“You know what, now I see why Anita says, ‘I want to be in America,’ because even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true. And that’s really a heartening thing right now,” she said.  

She thanked her mom and family for helping her and supporting her on her journey. Reflecting back on her childhood and how far she has come Ariana said, 

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate.” 

“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.

The Oscars also saw another historic first for Latinas when Disney’s Encanto won Best Animated Feature. With this win, producer Yvett Merino became the first Latina to be nominated and win in the category. 

“I am so proud to be a part of a film that puts beautiful diverse characters front and center,” she said in her speech, “and that people everywhere are seeing themselves in the film.”

Historic wins like these will continue to pave the way for future Latinas and women of color, just as Rita Moreno’s win paved the way for Ariana DeBose.

As more diverse representation in media becomes mainstream, young girls and women will see themselves and their stories reflected back. Seeing other Latinas and women of color succeeding will show them that their dreams can come true too and that achieving success is possible. 

Meet the Frías sisters founders of Afro-Latina beauty brand LUNA MAGIC 

The sister-duo behind Afro-Latina beauty brand LUNA MAGIC shares their entrepreneurial story and how they built a successful business during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

LUNA MAGIC co-founder, Shaira Frias. (Photo courtesy of LUNA MAGIC)

Afro-Latina and Dominican-American sisters Mabel and Shaira Frías couldn’t be more different, however their shared passion for beauty and lifestyle brought them together to create their very own beauty brand that celebrates their mutual love for their multicultural heritage.

Founded in Los Angeles with a mission to introduce high-performance cosmetics, bold flavor, diversity, inclusivity and vibrancy to the beauty industry, LUNA MAGIC draws inspiration from Latin culture, creating bold products that embody the phrase “in living color.” 

“We’re inspired by the rich cultures and music of the Caribbean & Latin America, the hustle and bustle of NYC and the glamour of Los Angeles. Luna Magic is a women-led and Afro-Latina owned company,” the sisters say. 

Mabel and Shaira began their entrepreneurial journey in 2019 with the launch of their UNO Palette, Matte Liquid Lipsticks and lashes. Makeup lovers themselves, the sisters had noticed there was a lack of representation while shopping for cosmetics in retail stores. Combining Mabel’s background in e-commerce retail and Shaira’s background in makeup artistry, they decided to create a brand that could represent the underrepresented.

LUNA MAGIC co-founder, Mabel Frias. (Photo courtesy of LUNA MAGIC)

“We know from industry data that the multicultural customer (especially Latinas & African-Americans) spend a sizable amount of money on makeup and beauty products, but there needs to be a better way for beauty companies to speak to this consumer base in an authentic way, and that is where our company comes in,” they say. 

LUNA MAGIC promises to serve their diverse customers by offering quality products that complement a range of complexions, at prices that are accessible to all. The sisters are excited to interact and engage with their customers both on social media and in real life. Seeing how much customers love their products and their company’s message makes them feel proud of how far they have come to bring their vision to life. 

“Being the first beauty brand with Afro-Latina co-founders, for us we are in a space where we can evolve the narrative on what it means to be beautiful and shape our vision along with the input of our amazing customers and community.”

As the sisters reflect on their journey so far, they also note some of the challenges they have faced and overcome. One of the biggest challenges they faced was launching their company during a global pandemic. 

LUNA MAGIC is a vibrant brand inspired by the sisters’ multicultural heritage, Latin culture and music—in living color. (Photo courtesy of LUNA MAGIC)

“When we first started LUNA MAGIC, we were hungry, eager and excited!” they say. “What many people don’t know is that we launched the company during a global pandemic. We are proud that we were able to weather the journey of launching in Walmart and Target, and continue to have the drive and motivation to champion for our customers and still achieve success in such a disruptive time, is what continues to give us the motivation to keep growing our business.” 

Their mission: to introduce high-performance cosmetics, bold flavor, diversity, inclusivity and vibrancy to the beauty industry. (Photo courtesy of LUNA MAGIC)

Another challenge they faced early on was figuring out how to work together as business partners. 

“People also say don’t go into business with family, which at the early stages of launching our company we quickly understood why,” the sisters share. “This is our first time working together as business partners and although we are only 15 months apart, we are both so different in every sense of the word.We had to sit down and see what complimentary skills we each brought to the table and be honest about our strengths and weaknesses.” 

LUNA MAGIC founders Shaira (left) and Mabel (right) Frías. (Photo courtesy of LUNA MAGIC)

In the end, their business partnership has only strengthened their sister-bond, making them better communicators, listeners, and friends. 

“We learned to be committed to listening to each other and focus on finding solutions when we hit roadblocks. We’ve learned that having multiple ways of thinking about something is actually a competitive advantage; as they say two heads are better than one.” 

You might be interested: 5 Afro-Latina-owned self-care brands to support

Now, having learned from their own experiences as new entrepreneurs, the Frías sisters want to give back and offer some words of advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs just starting out. 

First, they encourage all new entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with like-minded business people and create a community.” Networking, building business relationships, and finding mentors will help you go far. 

“Use others as a resource and knowledge-share, but also know how you can contribute. The more you expand your network, more opportunities come to you and knowing how to create win-win partnerships.”

Their second key piece of advice is to take advantage of grant programs and business accelerators that can help grow your business. 

“Apply to as many grant programs as you can,” they say. “Programs like Target Accelerators, Glossier Grant Program, Chase for Business Small Business Owners Program have elevated LUNA MAGIC and ourselves as business owners. These are lifelong relationships that we will continue to come back to, and that truly believe in helping minority and women-owned businesses.”

Moving forward, Mabel and Shaira are excited to launch their first entrepreneurship empowerment initiative, “Mentor Magic.” The program’s mission is to help uplift and empower fellow female entrepreneurs just starting their own businesses by providing actionable steps and resources to elevate themselves as entrepreneurs, leaders and business owners. 

To learn more visit lunamagic.com