Courtesy of Nopalera
Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.
Going back to the summer of 2019, Sandra Velasquez, the CEO and founder of Nopalera, a luxury, clean body care brand, visited with family in San Diego, Calif. while in between jobs. During this time at her childhood home, she started her now-business purely based on the beauty of her surroundings. The entrepreneur had an itch to learn how to create new things in her spare time, soap being her main focus. Most of the recipes she referenced called for aloe vera, though—which she didn't have on hand.
"Here in Southern California, we have plenty of nopales, which is what in English, people call the prickly pear cactus, but we Latinos call it the nopal," says Velasquez. "My parents, like most of the neighbors around here, have a nopalera, which is a cactus plant, in their front yard, so that is what I started to use instead of the aloe."
Creating this cactus-infused soap proved to be her "a-ha" moment to start a brand of her own. The plant is sustainable with nourishing properties, and she pulled from her previous experiences as a musician and a sales professional to blend her passion for celebratory, cultural storytelling and authentic self-care to bring her product to market. "I could create this brand, a high-end Latina brand, that could really disrupt the Eurocentric values in this country that we see in the beauty industry, that normalize higher price tags for brands with French and Italian names," she says.
Courtesy of Nopalera
Designing and Collaborating
Everything that goes into the Nopalera brand, whether it be the design to the naming of every product, is intentional on Velasquez's part. "You know, you're wearing the shoes that you're wearing, because of how they look with your outfits, right? We buy things based on how they make us feel," she says. "I knew that the branding was going to be critical."
She started her brand by putting any necessary payments (like enrollment for formulation school) on her credit card. She then paid a designer she knew from a previous job to create the storytelling-centric packaging and researched to find a packer to lend a hand and get her products made.
"It was just a lot of just falling down rabbit holes on the internet, asking everyone I knew, reading industry articles, following the right publications, finding people's names there, and then going and finding those people directly," Velasquez says, noting that she would attend trade shows and panels—and still connects with women of color professionals personally. "It's because I made a concerted effort, consistently, to keep finding people; you're not going to find anything unless you go and literally put yourself in the rooms."
Bath and body products are the goods that we sell, but the perspective and the mission behind it is about elevating our culture and changing the perception of Latino goods in this marketplace.
Culturally Inspired Brand
Most importantly, Velasquez credits her love for her culture as being the heart of Nopalera as a whole. "My family has impacted me and my business because they really instilled strong cultural pride in me, which I'm very grateful for," the CEO says. She expresses how her parents taught her about the pride in being Mexican growing up and to never assimilate in her life. "That cultural pride is what I have carried through in my brand," Velasquez adds. "Bath and body products are the goods that we sell, but the perspective and the mission behind it is about elevating our culture and changing the perception of Latino goods in this marketplace."
Cultivating an Audience
After completing the branding, Velasquez worked to grow her audience. "I started to advertise on Facebook and Instagram early on, even pre-launch," she says. She invested in herself during this process by taking a social media ad class. From there, she says that she began running targeted ads in areas such as California, Texas, and Arizona with large Latino populations and building an email list so she knew who to send brand messages to when Nopalera made its official debut.
"That's one of the best pieces of advice I can give to people; don't go and create in the shadows, and then all of a sudden appear and expect for people to notice," she says. "Building your email list in advance is so important, if you can, if you've already started [your business], just start building it now." This helped her get the Nopalera brand name out there from day one, and she says people still find her business today through her email list. She's also continued putting out targeted ads, as over 600 boutiques that have applied to become her stockist found the brand through the advertisements.
Rich, Quality Ingredients
The cactus is the star of the show when it comes to the ingredients in every Nopalera product. Velasquez uses every part of the plant to make her range of clean body care. For example, the green part of the cactus, which is edible and what she says is often used to make vegan leather, is featured in her soaps, like the Nopalera "Planta Futura" Cactus Soap ($14, nopalera.co), and exfoliants, such as the Nopalera Hibiscus Cactus Flower Exfoliant ($32, nopalera.co). She uses oil from the seeds of the prickly pear fruit in her moisturizing botanical bars ($30, nopalera.co), which also happens to be one of her favorites to carry around and keep her skin hydrated. Other ingredients include hibiscus, jasmine, and tepezcohuite, which are commonly found and used in Mexico and are soothing to the body.
Intention with Every Step
"The purpose of this brand is to reposition Latino goods in the premium space because we're not there," Velasquez says of launching Nopalera. Her goal is to normalize the visibility of her luxurious, Latina-owned brand on the market, no questions asked. "That's the whole cultural perception change that I want to happen, where people understand that our products are also high-end and that they deserve to be there," she adds.
She is working now to raise 1 million dollars and seeking out investors in preparation to eventually launch at a national beauty retailer like Sephora. Ultimately, though, as Nopalera grows, Velasquez wants to use her business as a vehicle to give back and provide mentorship to other business owners in the Latino community. "So many of us did not go to business school, so we don't have the network," she says. "That access is what we need: The access to information, the access to people with money, and the access to resources. That's really what I want to provide, I want to be like a resource and money funnel."