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Franca NYC co-founder, Jazmin de la Guardia on how art connects us through common language

Jazmin de la Guardia is the co-founder of Franca NYC, a small Brooklyn based design studio that focuses on handmade ceramics. 

 Franca NYC was born from an idea: There are common threads that bind us. No matter where you come from or where you are going, there is a commonality to be discovered. This common language, or lingua franca, is what we strive to achieve.  Craftsmanship, design, and artistry make up the foundation of our work, and we continue to seek out ways to bring the soul of lingua franca to each piece.

Born in Paraguay, with a mother from Uruguay and a father from Cuba, Jazmin grew up with a passion for travel and art. That passion eventually led her to Pratt Institute in NYC where she received her Bachelor’s in Printmaking. Following her education at Pratt, Jazmin took her skills and passion for art to co-found Franca NYC with her business partner, Sierra Yip-Bannicq. 

The idea for their ceramics design studio came about in 2016, after both women expressed an interest in owning a business. 

“We were both working in small design studios at that time and as much as we loved our jobs, we were both really excited about the idea of starting our own business,” said Jazmin. “We decided to launch our brand at NY NOW, where we got a lot of exposure all at once and thankfully started getting orders to get us through those first months.” 

The women chose the medium of ceramics to be the focus of their business because it was something they both loved and had been drawn to back during their college days. Focusing on ceramics also had the benefit of being low-cost. Starting out, Jazmin and Sierra had a very limited budget, like many new entrepreneurs, so making their products in-house from start to finish without having to make a huge investment in machinery and production equipment was a big advantage. 

Jazmin working in studio. (Photo courtesy Jazmin de la Guardia)

Jazmin recalls one of her fondest memories of these early days, while she and Sierra worked in their first studio making their products. 

“Sierra and I are working long hours in our first studio, just the two of us, making what felt like a million cups and mugs. We felt like we were melting, we had no AC and the studio was so hot the tar from the rooftop—we were on the top floor, walk-up—was literally melting into our space. The kiln was firing and it just seemed like we were inside a giant oven. Even though the situation seemed less than desirable to most people, we were thrilled to be there and would not have wanted it any other way. For us it was all worth it because we were working towards building something of our own and being independent.”

The threads that bind: Leveraging social media and community 

As they developed their business, they learned to navigate challenges and obstacles and leverage their strengths. 

One of the biggest challenges they faced as their business grew was learning to be flexible with their production volume. Jazmin shared that there were many times when they had more orders than they could accept, while other times when the flow of orders was much slower. 

“It was important for us to try and keep our staff throughout the year so we decided to try and ride the slower times as best we could,” said Jazmin. “During the slower moments, we relied on social media to keep up with brand awareness. Thankfully things seem to be more stable now and we feel we can plan our production accordingly, but I would say trying to be as flexible as possible was key to us growing as a business.”

Franca NYC leveraged social media to stay connected with customers and build their network. (Photo Source)

Through the use of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, Jazmin and Sierra were able to stay connected with customers and gauge what products they were interested in. It’s this connection, both online and in their local community in NYC that has been their strength and helped Jazmin and Sierra drive their business forward. 

“Thanks to our community we were able to ask for advice when we needed it and learn from our peers. We’ve been very lucky in this sense,” said Jazmin. 

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Jazmin admits that at the beginning, she never would have even thought to reach out to other people, or even strangers, to ask for advice or just chat about their experiences as a business owner. 

“Now I can say it’s one of the things I recommend most people do, especially women. A quick Instagram or Messenger DM can go a long way,” Jazmin said. “Always reach out to other women. Creating that network and community will be not only great for your business but will also help you get through some of the overwhelming times you’ll inevitably go through as a business owner.” 

As Franca NYC’s message states: There are common threads that bind us. No matter where you come from or where you are going, there is a commonality to be discovered.

Jessica K Asencio

The power of community, the legacy of D&I leader Jessica K. Asencio (RIP)

All loses of loved ones sadden us, making us reflect on how ephemeral life is. However, sometimes we are impacted by the loss of someone special, who went above and beyond to make a difference in this world, and for that, she will always be remembered. I am honored and humbled to be part of this beautiful celebration of Jessica K. Asencio’s life. Susana G Baumann, President and CEO, Latinas in Business Inc.

  What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us.” – Helen Keller

Jessica K Asencio (RIP) (Photo Courtesy of Jessica’s friends)

Today we take a moment to celebrate the life and legacy of Jessica K. Asencio. Born in Ecuador and raised in Brooklyn, NYC, Jessica dedicated her life to supporting Latino-Hispanic causes and uplifting their voices in the workplace. Jessica became a D&I leader, and was recognized as a Diversity Champion at JPMorgan Chase.

She also served on the Global Adelante Board–JPMorgan Chase’s Latino/Hispanic Business Resource Group– and founded the Latino Networks Coalition (LNC), originally inaugurated in 2010 by JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte and Thomson Reuters. The coalition was launched with additional partners including American Express, Bank of America, Citibank, Credit Suisse and The New York Times.

Jessica K Asencio’s leadership

“Jessica Asencio was an incredible diversity and inclusion leader and a leader in Hispanic causes, but most importantly she was an incredible friend,” says Patricia Pacheco de Baez, Bank of America HOLA NY Executive Advisory Board Emeritus Chair.

“She was such an influential leader,” describes fellow colleague and friend, Hedda Bonaparte.

“She was a leader who led by example with optimism, strength, devotion, and focus,” says Alicia Garcia, friend, and Latino Networks Coalition’s Leader.

“You were our very own fearless leader,” says friend and HISPA founder and CEO, Dr. Ivonne Diaz-Claisse.

Across all testimonials from friends and colleagues, this sentiment reoccurs. Jessica was an extraordinary and passionate leader who left a lasting impact on everyone she met.

Latino market growth

Banking on Latinos for Growth – LNC Executive Board members & speakers: (left to right) Patricia Pacheco Baez (Bank of America Director), Roberto Peralta (Societe Generale Head of Institutional Client Relations, Roberto Ruiz (Univision EVP & event sponsor), Jessica Toonkel (Reuters News Correspondent), Alicia Garcia (LNC Executive Board Co-Chair), Christian Narvaez (Societe Generale Vamos Latino Network), Rosa Ramos-Kwok (Bank of America MD), Carlos Hernandez (J.P. Morgan Head of Global Banking & lead host sponsor), Juliana Gomez (Univision Director), Jessica K. Asencio (LNC Board Founder & LNC Univision Program Steering Committee Co-lead), Lili Gil-Valletta (CulturIntel CEO & Co-founder), Henry Agusti (Bank of America Head of Digital Banking), Don Perez (LNC Executive Board Member & Program Leader), Alex Reyes (Citrin Cooperman Partner), Flavio Cosenza (Chase Bank Executive Director of Marketing), Charles Neugebauer (LNC Univision Program Steering Committee Co-lead)

At JPMorgan Chase, Jessica K Asencio served as the Global Markets Corporate & Investment Bank CAO, where she was responsible for overseeing global talent management, training, and leadership development. Prior to this role, she also served as Vice President for Corporate Marketing & Communications. In all her various roles at JPMorgan Chase throughout her career, she was responsible for developing and implementing firm-wide marketing and communications programs designed to support strategic initiative and key areas of focus. And as with all her work, she always approached every project with a vibrant, optimistic energy.

“I have known Jess since December 2001 when I moved to NYC to work on a high priority project, and Jess represented the Communications Team for JPMC Latin America,” says dear friend and JPMC Colleague, Don Perez. “I was profoundly amazed with her energy, positive attitude, desire to make a difference, commitment and honesty, all testaments of her spiritual strength.”

Jessica K Asencio with friends and LNC Board Members Alberto Flores, President at XP Contractors Inc. and Don Perez, former colleague at JPMorgan Chase (Photo courtesy LNC)

At the time, Jessica was already involved with the JPMorgan Chase Women’s Initiative Network but not yet with Adelante. When Don Perez became Chairman of the Hispanic/ Latino employee group a few months later, Jessica was one of the first people he recruited.

“I needed all the elements of her spiritual side and positive influence with other members to include JPMC Executives,” says Don. Jessica’s tremendous energy was so valuable and necessary to all the work she did that everyone who worked with her recognized it instantly.

Jessica K Asencio

Jessica K Asencio, LNC Executive Board Chair and Founder, and Vice President, Corporate & Investment Bank CAO at JPMorgan Chase speaking at “Banking on Latinos for Growth: Breaking the Code” forum. (Photo courtesy LNC)

“She opened her network to me and many others, which I am grateful for,” says Alicia Garcia, Senior Program Manager, Customer Proposition PMO (Trading & Regulation), and Refinitiv Latino Network Global Co-Chair. “The LNC was started by sharing best practices across our Latino BRG/ERGs and bringing us together as a ‘familia’ under one voice. Her legacy will continue as her values are ingrained across our LNC members and partners.”

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“Jessica K Asencio was a caring, sharing, and an inspiring Latina leader who was committed to Hispanic inclusion at JPMorgan Chase. Through her visionary initiative, she brought together Latino employees resource groups from multiple NYC companies when she co-founded the Latino Network Coalition. The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) partnered with Jessica on many occasions, including her annual toy drive charity event during the holiday season. I was proud to call her my friend. She will be very missed. May she rest in the peaceful arms of the Lord,” Cid Wilson, President & CEO, Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) also shared.

Jessica and the power of community

Jessica believed in the power of community. We are stronger together than apart. In the world of business, people are often told they must be separate, individual, and independent to stand out and get ahead. Our Western society at large constantly feeds us this idea of the individual, making us believe that to be strong we must not rely on others or seek help. But that was not Jessica’s message. As a diversity and inclusion leader, she lived by the incredible power of communities and the importance of standing together. And her communities became “familia.”

“She always focused on the good in each person and that was her biggest strength. Her patience and admiration for people was unconditional. She always supported all the different groups and Latino/Hispanic associations with her entire heart and insisted for all of us to do the same,” says Patricia Pacheco de Baez, Director in Corporate Investment Bank at Bank of America, and HOLA NY Executive Advisory Board Emeritus Chair. “I recall her calling me over and over again to support many groups because she used to say ‘If we don’t do it, as Latino/Hispanic professionals, then who will?’ Her theory was that each of us have an obligation to stand up for each other and for our organizations.”

LNC Puerto Rico and Mexico Hurricanes’ Fundraiser at Copacabana 2017 (Photo Courtesy LNC)

“Inclusion is what comes up for me,” says Lucy Sorrentini, Founder & CEO of Impactful Consulting. “Although she and I had never met before, it was as if I knew her my whole life. She taught me what it really means to be in a community and how to lead as a servant leader. It was never about her. It was all about the cause.”

When working on the Adelante Board, Hedda says, “Her enthusiasm and commitment to make us the top Networking Group was so invigorating that she took us all on the same journey.”

Her influence was such that she could bring people together like no other. Everywhere she went, she made lifelong connections and helped others do the same.

“I met Jessica at the Women of ALPFA workshop in 2016,” Oneida Nolly Araujo shares. “Since then, I was impacted by her diligent and effective leadership. She always was willing to help anyone with a smile on her face. After the convention, Jessica became my mentor and more than my mentor, my lovely and dear friend for a lifetime.”

“She was a remarkable and gifted connector, introducing people with similar backgrounds, experiences, interests, upbringings. Always thinking of others first,” says Frank D. Sanchez, who met Jessica in 2011 after moving to NYC from Colorado. “Jessica made everyone feel we were part of something bigger than ourselves, even before knowing what we were a part of.”

“Her desire to elevate the power of our community in numbers combined with her ability to create consensus and bring us together as leaders will forever be remembered,” says Lili Gil Valletta, CEO & Co-Founder of CIEN+.

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Jessica’s legacy on building relationships

As a diversity and inclusion leader, Jessica was naturally a connector. She was passionate about connecting people and building relationships, and she made lifelong connections with everyone she met.

Months ago, Jessica asked her friend Ivonne, “What word comes to mind when you think of me?”

Instantly, Ivonne typed: LOVE. Jessica radiated LOVE toward everyone. LOVE filled her work as she put it into every project.

“You were, you are, and you will forever be LOVE to me and to all of those who had the good fortune of meeting you,” Ivonne writes. “Your LOVE is an example to all of us, your LOVE is something I will never forget.” As the founder of HISPA, Ivonne will ensure Jessica’s legacy of LOVE lives on by giving the “Jessica K. Asencio Scholarship” at the next New York City HISPA Youth Conference.

Latino market growth, Jessica K Asencio

(L to R) Maria de los Angeles Corral, Education for Excellence; Alicia Garcia, Reuters; Charles Neugebauer, Univision; Jessica K Asencio, LNC; Susana G Baumann and Tathiana Carrasco, Latinas in Business Inc. (Photo Latinas in Business Inc.)

The communities and relationships Jessica built will not forget her. Her legacy lives on through them. She will be remembered as a courageous and influential diversity and inclusion leader. She will be remembered for her positive energy, her kind soul, her genuine attitude, and her love and commitment toward building communities and uplifting Latino and Hispanic voices.

“She built a legacy on relationships,” says Jonathan Wunderlich, Dream Project Development Director. “I only hope I can follow in her footsteps and continue to listen, to care, and build from there.”

We can see in her testimonials the impact she had on just a few of the many people who were lucky enough to know her. Her relationships have spanned decades, and even with those she only just met, it often felt they had known each other forever.

“Jessica taught us the power of friendship and showed us how to genuinely live life to its fullest,” says Frank D. Sanchez, from Rhode Island College.

Jessica’s glowing personality

Jessica’s warm smile drew everyone in. She was always genuine, enthusiastic, and ready to help others.

“My initial impression [of Jessica] was someone with a huge smile and equally huge heart,” shares Lucy Sorrentini, who met Jessica 4 years ago at a social gathering for members of the LPC (Latina Philanthropy Circle). “She was warm, down to earth, committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, an ambassador for and on behalf of the Latinx community, a kind soul, and an incredibly intelligent woman who was on a mission to create real change. After we met, her first words were ‘I’ve heard so much about you and the LPC, how can I help?”

This is the type of person Jessica was, one who was always willing and ready to lend a helping hand, and to do so with love and dedication. She took people under her wing, like Hedda Bonaparte, who was one of the many lucky individuals who Jessica mentored throughout her many projects.

DREAM Project

Members of the LNC Board including Alicia Garcia (Thomson Reuters), Patricia Pacheco de Baez (Bank of America), Susana G Baumann, (Latinas in Business Inc.), Junot Diaz (2008) Pulitzer Price for Fiction,  and Jessica K Asencio. (Photo courtesy LNC)

“I don’t believe that Jessica ever gave up the chance to help inspire and bring someone along with her,” says Hedda. “She taught me not to be afraid to show my abilities and what I can bring. I will miss Jessica especially for the warm, inviting smile she always shared and the hugs that followed. Her famous goodbye: ‘un fuerte abrazo’ I send to you, my friend.”

Patricia Pacheco de Baez and Jessica K Asencio, LNC Board Members and best friends (Photo Courtesy LNC)

“With her dedication to philanthropy, her vision, kindness, and authentic approach, Jessica was never a ‘let me get back to you’ person,” says Jonathan Wunderlich. “She was a ‘does a coffee at 4:30 PM Friday work?’ type of person. She was a straight-talker, a truth-teller, so when Jess said she would do something, it got done. She taught me to inject love into what we do, to be real, and avoid getting caught up in the casual side of connections in NYC and the world of giving back. She taught me to fight when it was time, but to always draw opposition in love, care, and attention.”ns

“Life is short and our legacy is created while we are living on earth. Hers is one many of us will remember forever,” says Lucy Sorrentini.

“She was my biggest cheerleader,” shares best friend, Patricia. “My confidant and my big sister who believed in me more than I believed in myself at times. She encouraged me to reach out to the stars and to always push to become the best version of myself. She has left such an emptiness, but her teachings and her love toward us will stay forever in our hearts. We will continue pushing forward the agenda of the advancement on the Latino/Hispanic causes and we will continue her hard work and build on her legacy. May you rest in peace, Jessica, and we will always remember you every step of the way.”

Jessica, the testimonials of your friends and colleagues are the mark of a life, while short, very well-lived. Your work and legacy will continue on in the power of the communities you built and the lives you touched.

This article was a collaboration between Victoria Arena, Editor, and Susana G Baumann, Editor-in-Chief, LatinasinBusiness.us