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Latina entrepreneur brings best crafts of Puerto Rico to fair trade designs

If you have visited Puerto Rico, you know that Old San Juan is a “Must See” in the island scenery. This old historic district offers the best crafts of Puerto Rico combined with beautiful views, restaurants, art, museums, history, sculptures, music, dance, bars and nightclubs.

And if you haven’t, then prepare yourself for a treat. You will be walking around an old city in the tropics – it is very hot and usually humid. You must wear sun screen and a hat, and bring a bottle of cold water with you. You may even consider carrying a sombrilla for shade. And for all of it, just consider buying a Concalma tote bag right there, in the heart of Old San Juan.

Concalma cover best crafts of Puerto Rico

For the last few years, news from Puerto Rico has been related to high unemployment, corruption and government mismanagement. However, in the midst of all the negativity coming from the news, the people of Puerto Rico continue to be its bright spot.

Case in point is Matilsha Marxuach, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, who has made a name for herself. With a background in Design and Fashion, Matilsha has been on a dual mission- promoting her creations while generating employment for others.

Matilsha Marxuach Concalma best crafts of Puerto Rico

Matilsha Marxuach Concalma Founder and Designer

Matilsha knew the moment she finished her schooling that she would one day open her own business. She had become obsessed with the idea of recycling and eco-preservation, a new push in the Enchanted Island to preserve its scenic views and natural environmental beauty.

She became aware that women were spending more on quality and not quantity when choosing certain accessories or pieces of clothing. Her initial plans were to open up a boutique with second hand items but she also knew that the best crafts of Puerto Rico came from its rich source of labor and skilled artisans.

Blessed with a strong work ethics, she worked hard and opened her first store in Puerto Rico ten years ago but business was difficult in the first few years because the country was mired in a deep recession. Locals were only buying things they needed. Luxury was a forgotten item for many Puerto Ricans.

Matlisha’s initial venture into the world of business was a collaborative effort with a women’s co-op, which supplied labor for a third party to make hand-made designer bags, totes and clutches. When the third party textile business went bankrupt, the workers started to work for her.

She opened her store Concalma –with calm/at ease– in 2006 and has never looked back. Inspired by local culture and concepts of friendliness and functionality, she created a product that is relatively cheap, elegant and also helps build local communities.

With the use of social media and the quality of her products, her business began to pick up. Soon she saw tourists venture over to her shop instead of the ritzy malls. She could hardly keep up with production, and the rest is now history. She recently was one of eight finalists of the AccessLatina Business Accelerator program.

Concalma “with calm / at ease” brick and mortar store

Concalma store best crafts of Puerto Rico

Concalma store is one of the attractions in Old San Juan

Located away from the posh hotels selling purses and bags at exorbitant prices, Matilsha’s Concalma store has bags that can match any budget. Plus, her bags are environmentally friendly and look immaculate. The artistic bags are made of cotton with nylon liners and all the fabric is exclusively acquired from Puerto Rico suppliers.

The majority of her messenger bags are not only functional but elegant. They come with fine hand-made details and a mixture of fabrics. Prices vary from $35-$120.

In addition to offering their products, Concalma’s mission is to raise awareness about the importance of fair trading partnership with local producers and suppliers of the best crafts of Puerto Rico, based on transparency and respect that sustains equity in international trade.

While most Puerto Rican entrepreneurs have set up their businesses for the international markets, Matilsha is one of the few pioneers who believe in the term “going local.” The importance of local design and manufacturing as well as promoting sustainable practices makes Concalma a quality and creative design store with products that are the result of sustainable, social and responsible actions.

Doing business Concalma

Totebags Concalma best crafts of Puerto Rico

Totebags Concalma one of best crafts of Puerto Rico

Over the past few years, Matilsha has continued to produce a line of product that matches the store’s Spanish name “Concalma,” meaning to “approach everything with a sense of calm.”

Concalma serves as a marketplace for its own product line of designer tote bags and also distributes other best crafts of Puerto Rico from local designers or brands.

She fervently encourages local consumption and production, which has also created employment in this city with massive layoffs. While her major business is selling hand-made bags, you can also pick up some high quality exotic Puerto Rican coffee in her shop.

Matilsha still maintains her down to earth personality and her motto is to always please the client. She is well aware of her destiny and is embracing it with delight. Nothing makes her happier than to see people carrying her bags and to see her artisans well rewarded.

She has received recognition for her work and her creations as the 2014 winner of the “Microentrepreneur of the Year” by the Citi Foundation and the Puerto Rico Community Foundation; and the 2009 finalist of Guayacán, Inc.– EnterPRize Business Plan Competition.

Conscious buyer or conscious shopping

Concalma store Old San Juan

Concalma store in Old San Juan sells fair trade designs

Concalma designs and sells its products with the life cycle of the product in mind. They have set up different ways to encourage conscious shopping at its brick and mortar shop in Viejo San Juan –it doesn’t matter where buyers had acquired their product.

If you have been using your Concalma bag for a while and you are ready to give it up, you can visit the store and trade it in for a new one with up to a 15 percent discount, or you can do a straight exchange for a used one available at the store. Finally, feel free to buy used bags in store at a discounted price.

“We are happy to share with our customers the culture of conscious shopping, fair trade and solidarity in the economy,” Matlisha said.

Decenia Vega Cacao Puerto Rico

Latina entrepreneur converts chocolate cravings into plant cloning business

Puerto Rico is most well known for its famous beaches, all year round good weather and great food but one industry is slowly gaining national attention, plant cloning. And one smart entrepreneur, Decenia Vega Rodriguez, is a fast rising star in this area of innovation and one of eight finalists at AccessLatina accelerator program.

Decenia Vega Rodriguez founder and owner of Semila LLC plant cloning

Decenia Vega Rodriguez founder and owner of Semila LLC

Her company Semila LLC has developed copies of cocoa and other agricultural products that are resistant to pests and have high yields of reproduction. In just a few years, Semila LLC has become a promising star in the world of agriculture and business in Puerto Rico and abroad.

Chocolate cravings create a booming industry

Surveys have shown that chocolate cravings run high among American women. Comfort foods like chocolate can supply nutrients that keep a woman’s hormonal system functioning properly and brain chemicals in balance, according a study conducted by Paul Rozin, Eleanor Levine and Caryn Stoess at the Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

A growing industry at expected over $98 billion for 2016, cocoa plants are native of the Amazon basin and other tropical areas of South and Central America, the wild varieties of cocoa tree still grow in the forests. Now, cocoa growing area has extended to the Caribbean and beyond.

Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in a narrow belt 10 degrees either side of the Equator because cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates with regular rains and a short dry season.

“I realized that cocoa was a product that had a growing demand and was only harvested in tropical or subtropical countries. So I presented the idea of cloning cocoa plants to my husband thinking he was going to say it was very risky. To my surprise, he told me it was an excellent possibility and that I should quit my job to fully devote my time to the development of this initiative. A bit scared, I did and decided to start learning all about this crop. Every day the passion was bigger and today I am very happy to have started this adventure,” Decenia told LIBizus.

Plant cloning a growing agricultural initiative with global perspective

Cocoa plants cloning

Cocoa plants cloning

Luckily for her initiative, at that time the Red Empresarial de Innovación (REDI) of Puerto Rico was also seeking entrepreneurs who would be interested in offering innovative and technology-related projects to participate in its business incubation program. The program would also help with the startup costs and pay for the basic amenities to run a business. And Decenia, with her go-getter attitude and confidence, was one of the first few people to have benefited from this program.

Today Semila is harvesting cocoa directed to the manufacture of fine chocolates and sold in boutique markets. Her client portfolio is composed of high income professionals, farmers, public and private institutions related to the agricultural industry. Currently she is developing a plant cloning facility with a capacity of 30,000 units in different growing stages. She has plans to export Puerto Rican cocoa to chocolatiers who work with gourmet delicacies in Europe.

Decenia faces obstacles as a woman entrepreneur

Cocoa seeds plant cloning Semila LLC

Cocoa seeds from Semila LLC

Like agriculture almost everywhere, the industry is dominated by men and Decenia faced many obstacles because she was a young female entrepreneur. In fact, she had to prove many businessmen that she knew what she was getting into and was knowledgeable about her field of expertise. Once men around her became aware of her capabilities, her business started to improve and opportunities arose. Today obstacles are related to acquiring technical knowledge and constantly trying to be innovative.

A sexist remark that became a sign of encouragement

Decenia tells the story that has stayed with her as a sign of encouragement for her work. A few years ago while presenting Semila plant cloning she was dressed with high heels and was wearing makeup. She received many questions at the end of her presentation but one man asked her how she worked the land and yet managed to look so beautiful.

“This was the only question I was unable to answer but towards the end of the presentation I showed a photo in which I was working on the land. He then held out his hand and said, “I admire you for what you have accomplished.” To Decenia these were the words that provided her with more motivation that ever.

Latinas who are thinking of starting their own business

Decenia Vega with plant cloning

Decenia Vega working at her plant cloning farm in Puerto Rico

According to Decenia, women have the potential to achieve their dreams. They need to plan, acquire the knowledge about the specific industry they wish to enter and learn the process. She adds, “Expect success and failure, be realistic and do not expect overnight miracles. Do it step by step, BUT DO IT.”

Decenia states, “The virtues of being a Latina entrepreneur were being able to multitask, be effective, have charisma and sense of perseverance, and love for our roots and cultures.”

She does remember that the beginning was not easy as she was all alone. Except for her husband, she did not have much external support. However, she was determined to succeed and knowing that failure was not an option, she persisted.

She goes on to say, “Charisma has helped me present what we do in Semila and the love to my roots has given me strength to contribute to my country, innovate in an industry with great potential like agriculture and improve the economical development of the island.”

Today Decenia can be found working at her company in Puerto Rico and is still as thirsty for success as ever. When not working, she loves to be outdoors, reading and spending time with her family.

 

 

hair extensions 5

Latina entrepreneur makes hair extensions’ glamour accessible to all

Slowly and surely a new class of diverse and eclectic Latina-owned businesses is cropping up, each with varied stories of success. Today Latina entrepreneurs’ ventures can be found in an array of markets ranging from beauty products, clothing, health, and even locally grown food.

hair extensions Lux Beauty Club

Lux Beauty Club hair extensions

In the past decade, several Latina business women have inspired others to follow their path- and one of them is powerhouse, Victoria Flores. Born and raised in Mexico, Victoria spent a good deal of her youth in Texas, where she went to college and earned her degrees in political science and masters of business administration. Being used to hard work, she set out to achieve her American dream.

From making money for others to making dreams come true

Victoria Flores, co-founder Lux Beauty Club hair extensions

Victoria Flores, co-founder Lux Beauty Club

Because of her education in finance, Victoria’s first job was as a regional manager with Themis Capital; she was then recruited as an associate by Morgan Stanley and then became President at Adriana Carador Designs. After a 5 year stint, she became a manager at Katz Capital.

Despite all the financial success working for others, Victoria somehow had bigger aspirations; she wanted to do more in life than just being an executive finance officer. Her eureka moment came when watching TV- she realized she would venture into the hair extension business.

The hair extension business a hard industry to tackle

The hair extension business in this country is chaotic, prohibitively expensive and with a growth potential of almost $500 billion. Almost 70 percent of the customers are African-American women but less than one percent of them own a hair extension shop. Worse, Latino females were seemingly shut out both as customers and owners.

There are hundreds of beauty shops all over the country that target African-American women. Getting a hair extension is difficult because most of these beauty shops offer no guarantee and the extensions often vary in quality. Even a mere try out costs money and the client has to pay a deposit which is often never refunded if there is an issue with the extension.

Because of her own prior experience with hair extensions, Victoria now saw a niche for women of all colors.

What if we start a hair extensions business?

Color pop hair extensions

Color pop hair extensions

Wanting her own business, in 2012 Victoria became a partner with Leslie Wilson and launched Lux Beauty Club to create a one-stop shopping community where customers could buy hair and beauty products on a regular basis.

Wilson and Flores hit on the subscription box idea, and Lux Beauty Club was born.

Today, Victoria Flores offers individual hair extensions to people with all type of budgets. This business caters to luxury hair extensions which are delivered to the door. Ramona Singer has partnered with Lux Beauty Club as their lead Brand Ambassador.

“What is different about our hair extension business is that it offers a range of hair extensions that are affordable and personalized. There are no exorbitant fees or deposits,” Victoria said to LIBizus.

Within a few months, her business skyrocketed. Today Victoria Flores is a widely sought spokesperson for many national hair and salon chains. Now she is living her American dream.

Lux Beauty Club, the booming hair extensions business

Over the past 5 years, the Lux Beauty Club has been booming. Victoria has created a small network of customers and followers and her clients range from housewives to celebs and corporate women who simply want to look gorgeous with their hair. But most importantly, she bypassed many of the pitfalls that happen to new start ups by building a successful business. She was recently selected as one of 8 finalists at the AccessLatina accelerator program.

A complete line of products include all textures and colors hair extensions

A complete line of products include all textures and colors hair extensions

Paying forward a Latina legacy

Victoria Flores has never forgotten her roots and she frequently gives advice to the newer generation of Latino females who want to venture into business. As a thought leader, Victoria has also authored a book, “The Menhatten Project,” a “a fun, extremely sexy and laugh-out-loud funny page-turner, featuring whip-smart women and to-die-for men,” according to Alisa Valdez own review. The book reveals a Sex in the City Bridget Jones meeting Ugly Betty, piece based on experience while working as a single female in New York.

Beyond commercial businesses such as the Lux Beauty Club, most Latina entrepreneurs also have a very strong emphasis on positively uplifting local communities and inspiring others to make their dreams come true.

When not working at the business, Flores loves to support other non-charity non-profits, explore the many new culinary spots in Miami, learning about the latest in digital devices and spending time with her family. If you are lucky you may catch her at the beach in Miami or at her favorite restaurant in Chelsea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latina entrepreneur achieves American Dream growing healthy food

Cindy Cruz Agropek founder and CEO in Puerto Rico

Cindy Cruz Agropek founder and CEO in Puerto Rico

Cindy Cruz Torres is the CEO of Agropek LLC, a small agricultural business dedicated to the cultivation, harvest, and sale of healthy food. Cindy, one of AccessLatina Accelerator finalists, has proven once again that hard work, perseverance and dedication can overcome any obstacle and bring success. However, the road to success for Cindy was anything but easy.

According to the Brookings Institution, nearly 13 percent of the US population is foreign born accounting for nearly 40 million individuals. Immigrants coming to the USA are allured by the American Dream, the belief that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can achieve success.

This belief universally resonates in many people like Cindy Cruz. Even though there is no guarantee that they will achieve success, Cindy stands at the top of the heap revealing that the American Dream is still alive and well.

So how did it all start?

According to Cruz, she was not a business-minded person and like many nationals from Puerto Rico, had little money working for someone else. However, the economic crisis in 2010 led to her being laid off.

“At the time I was pregnant with my first child. Living with my parents gave the time to ponder about my future,” she recalls, and soon the first seeds of a business venture evolved in her mother-in-law’s backyard.

She glanced over the landscape and thought that perhaps she should venture into the agriculture business. Locally, there was a serious shortage of quality foods; however, Cindy had no acumen in business, had never taken any economic classes and knew of no one in business.

“I did not even know what being an entrepreneur meant and had no idea how to start a business,” she shared with LIBizus.

Facing the challenges to achieve healthy food

Agropek workers healthy food

Cindy with Agropek workers in beautiful Puerto Rico

Although she had attended the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce and obtained degrees in accounting and forensic psychology, Cindy faced a major obstacle, lack of capital investment.

Everyone she spoke to asked about prior experience in agriculture and her business plan, none of which she had.

But most importantly, her biggest challenge was lack of confidence, great insecurity and the fear of failing. “I did not have a lot of savings and it would destroy many lives if I lost everything in a foolish business venture,” she affirmed.

She did not know what the toll of a new business venture would have on her lifestyle and pregnancy. Would she be able to cope as a mother, wife, daughter and business woman all at the same time?

Preparing for the future takes time and investment

Cindy then spent the next few months reading about her potential future business in agriculture. She spoke to many people, read the local laws, invested in workshops and seminars. She spoke to other business people and her family.

“The conclusion was that if I did not try I would never know,” she recalls. She was keenly aware that the path to any business was fraught with difficulty because the economy was poor and unpredictable.

In 2010, she finally launched Agropek on a small scale offering non-processed foods. However, her competitive edge was that her products were distinguished by quality and freshness. Then in 2015 Agropek added new products as processed (value-added products).

Within a few months, her customers started to make positive comments about the high nutritional value and durability of the healthy food. Over the next few years, her business started to expand.

By 2015, she had enlisted several other Latino business women to help start other stores in Puerto Rico. Today, Agropek is a profitable business that has created jobs for Latinos and Americans as well.

Looking back at the past five years, Cindy points out that her success was largely due to her ability to function as a leader who was able to multitask.

“I knew that failure was not an option and had prepared well for the business, despite having no background in the corporate world,” she shares.

Reaping what you sow

Value-added products are natural with no preservatives

Value-added products are natural with no preservatives

Today, she continually faces challenges but is not afraid to tackle them. “Success,” she says, “ also builds confidence.”

Even though she initially aimed her business at Latinos, the overwhelming popularity of her products has attracted people of all races and cultures. She strongly feels there is a need for more Latino women to enter the business world because there are opportunities for those who work hard.

“Latino women have always had the ‘work-hard’ spirit , one virtue which is difficult to find. For Latinas who want to venture into business, I encourage them to create good work ethics and develop strong social bonds. There will be disappointments and failures along the way, but the path for those who persist is marked with success,” Cindy said.

As to why Agropek has succeeded when there are so many other similar businesses, Cindy believes her foods are focused on “Healthy and Responsible Eating.”

What makes a good entrepreneur? “A successful entrepreneur should have the following qualities: passion, vision and perseverance. My favorite quote, which she abides by in daily life is, ‘Make a habit of helping others, or at least to do no harm’,” she shared.

As our politicians continue to debate the economic benefits of Hispanic immigrants, they should constantly be reminded that many profitable American companies were developed by individuals born outside continental USA such as Cindy.

Foreign born individuals are more likely to start a business than someone born in the USA. Businesses like one that Cindy Cruz operates also employ many Americans. Her success epitomizes that even today, one can achieve the American Dream.