How a Millennial Social Entrepreneur Continues to Scale and Support Mexican Artisans Amidst COVID-19
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve created an interview series to feature inspiring Latinx entrepreneurs whose stories of determination represent our community’s unwavering drive to seguir adelante.
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Published: June 15, 2020
I learned about Brenda García and her business, Agave Girl Boutique, when I was browsing Instagram one early morning. Wow, did I fall in love. I shared their products on my stories and immediately had people reaching out about their products and merchandise.
Growing up, Brenda’s parents always told her, “Don’t rely on ningun cabron!” — a motto that she took with her as she built her business. Brenda had the passion, the determination, and an idea; now, all she needed was the merchandise. It all fell into place when Brenda met an entrepreneur in Jalisco, Mexico, who wanted to expand his artisan crafted goods business to other pueblos. Intrigued, Brenda inquired about his interest in doing wholesale to expand to the United States. He quickly agreed, and Agave Girl Boutique was born.
In a matter of three days, Brenda conceptualized a logo, learned how to use Shopify, and built a website by herself. Within the first few hours of launching on Instagram, she had a few hundred followers.
I knew they needed to be featured in this series.
Interview date: May 8, 2020
Melody: “Tell me about Agave Girl Boutique.”
Brenda: “Well, I started when I was 25 as a side hustle out of my parent’s house. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I wanted to be a business owner. I loved the products these Mexican artisans (mostly female) were making and figured I could resell in the U.S. while continuing to give them business in Mexico.”
Melody: “That’s very interesting. What do operations look like at home?”
Brenda: “Well, we use everything really. I work from essentially anywhere. My dad is a landscaper, so when I need to take photos, I usually ask him to help set the look I am going for. Sometimes I tell him, ‘Dad, me puedes hechar unas flores por aqui?’ (Dad, can you add some flowers here?).
I have a mannequin, but I work with my family and friends to do the modeling.”
Melody: “That is amazing. What are your goals for Agave Girl Boutique?”
Brenda: “I want to be the Mexican version of Anthropologie. There is so much talent in the handbags, accessories, and home items. The thing that I love the most is that these items are not “inspired by,” like what you read in other stores. These products are actually made in Mexico by Mexican designers!”
Melody: “The Mexican version of Anthropologie — I love it!
Speaking of your suppliers and distribution, during COVID, how have you had to pivot? What is not working anymore or what is working?”
Brenda: “We have been fortunate. Right now, our suppliers are still working but following mandates. Mexico has been more strict than the U.S. in that respect. Many businesses, if they don’t follow the mandates, are being permanently shut down and fined.
This hasn’t happened to any of our distributors yet. Fortunately, my shoe suppliers have been sent home with work. My distributors have been picking up the work from the home of the artisans.
My business has been impacted with delays in shipping. What would normally take 14–21 days is now taking 3–6 weeks. This includes both production and transportation.
UPS and Fedex are only open 2–3 hours a day, so we have had to be strategic about our times.”
Melody: “That all sounds so complicated. Can you share more about the distribution chain?”
Brenda: “Well, it starts with our artisans. Usually, they work out of a workshop with approx. 10–12 people. Now, they have had to take home as many materials as they can to continue making the products.
Then the owners of the workshops have had to go to their homes to pick-up the artisan products. Right now, they are actually trying to open smaller workshops to have 4 people working out of each workshop to comply with health mandates.
Finally, the owners take the products to UPS or Fedex, and then they send it to me here in Los Angeles. That part of the process hasn’t changed.”
Melody: “Wow — that seems so tedious. I am happy you have been able to figure it out. How have your sales been affected? It doesn’t seem there is a lack of demand, more so a delay in distribution? Are your customers okay with that? How are they responding?
Brenda: “The demand is still there, although some customers have asked for refunds to pay their bills, so there has been an added layer of activity. Nonetheless, customers have been more understanding. What we have been doing is communicating more frequently and openly, letting our customers know that shipping is taking longer.
We don’t explain this in detail, but if the artisans don’t have string or yarn to make the product that they need, they can’t just go outside because the roads are closed and towns are shut down. So one person has to go to the main city on the one day things open up in Mexico because they don’t know the next time they’ll be able to do so.
That being said, our sales have been through the roof — we have increased by double. Surprisingly, there was a spike right after COVID was announced.
I was also able to hire a marketing person, who has been doing an amazing job!”
Melody: “What would you say has been the hardest thing as a business owner during COVID?”
Brenda: “Adapting to the supply change. I have also been working longer hours, up until 2am sometimes.
However, I know several businesses that have had to lay off some of their employees. I just feel blessed that I have not been in a position to need to do that.”
Melody: “What’s next for Agave Girl Boutique?”
Brenda: “In the next couple of months, I want to work on making sure I have everything in stock and figuring out how to meet demand more efficiently.”
Melody: “That’s great. What resources have you relied on?”
Brenda: “Here in Ventura, there is a nonprofit, Women’s Economic Venture (WEV), that has a program to help women entrepreneurs properly setup a business plan. They offer financial help, have mentors, and assist with finding the right loans, if needed. That network has really been helpful for me.”
Melody: “What help do you need now?”
Brenda: “I think it is critical to spread the word about artisans and why we should support them. If we don’t support our artisans, then our traditions fade.”
For Brenda, keeping her business alive was more than meeting quotas; it was about celebrating her heritage and continuing to support artisans. What excited me the most about Brenda was that she was a millennial woman running an international business.
And even more exciting? She just got the keys to her warehouse! Pushing through all the boundaries, Brenda is not letting COVID get the best of her or her business. Adelante, bella!
Learn more about Brenda and her artisan business by visiting her website and social channels (Facebook and Instagram). If you are able to offer support or would like to contribute to the success of her business, feel free to ping me, and I can make an intro.
If you’d like to support Brenda and more exceptional entrepreneurs like her during this crisis, spread the word about this series and share this article with family and friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Email.
We want to hear what you think about this article or refer any entrepreneurs for this series. Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by: Jessica Salinas