Founders of Trenza Discuss Latina Entrepreneurship and Community
Tell us about yourself. Include where you're from, what you do, how you’re thriving and anything else everyone should know about you.
Rachel Basoco: I am a born, raised, and proud Houston Texan now living in New York City. I've worked my way through a variety of roles through established fashion retailers, to data focused startups challenging the industry, and now currently work a 9-5 job to help continue to pay off the #studentloans while we continue to build Trenza. I'm lucky right now in that my time outside of work is filled with love, friendship, laughter, and Trenza—in all its adventures!
Analisa Cantu: I was born on the border, by the sea. I’m from Brownsville, Texas—the southernmost tip of the state—about ten minutes from the border crossing into Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Professionally, my background is in creative development and project management for small to mid-size global tech and media companies. I was just shy of 19 when I got my start, strictly because I had to pay my way through college and at the time, tech in Austin were the only folks really paying their interns. Over time, I began pitching myself as a contractor because they'd pay me more. At a very early age I got a front row seat to how the world worked, and by the time I was 23 and packing for New York, I intimately understood the language of engineers, designers, product, and sales teams. In its simplest terms though, aka the way I explain it to my parents: While someone can write all the great copy and/or create the beautiful designs, someone still needs to be in charge of making sure that project is translated well cross-functionally and actually gets out the door. That’s where I come in.
How do you identify culturally?
RB: I identify as Latinx. My father is Mexican-American and mother is Irish-American. My bi-cultural identity has always felt seamless and transparent.
AC: I identify as Mexican-American. My dad’s maternal side is German, and I joke that’s the only reason my siblings and I are remotely “tall”, (I’m 5’8).
Rachel and I discuss identity quite a bit because she feels very comfortable identifying as Tejana, whereas I don’t. I grew up deeply immersed in border culture, and first and foremost, consider myself a Mexican-American. We had Charro Days growing up, and Spring Break was referred to as Semana Santa. When I got to university, and even now, I find myself having to proof my writing and speech. I tend to ‘uptick’ words that otherwise wouldn’t be because I was raised around so much Spanglish, and/or I’ll reverse my English sentence structure to match a Spanish one. For example, I’ll almost always put the adjective after the noun, which is mostly fine in Spanish, but not in English.
How does your cultural background inform your thinking and sense of being in the world? How has it informed past decisions, successes, failures?
RB: Growing up, a huge part of my adolescence was built on assimilating into mainstream culture. Spanish was no longer spoken within the household after I entered kindergarten for fear that it would hold me back (a story that resonates with many Latinx non-Spanish speakers today) and my life revolved around becoming something I was not. This, of course, included relaxing and thinning my hair to make it straighter with less volume and wearing blue contacts to better fit in with what I saw in magazines. I was so fixated and driven towards letting go of my culture because I had adopted a perception of myself and my community that was harmful.
When I entered high school and joined The National Hispanic Institute, things changed. My curly hair, brown eyes, and curves were all celebrated. My last name became something of pride and my sense of self and community shifted. It was the exposure and immersion to a pool of talented, intelligent, and beautiful people who looked, spoke, and had the same experiences as me that challenged me to rethink what it meant to be Latinx. Now, when I look for something with Trenza, I seek within my community first. We have the resources, talent, and capital to produce on our own—we just need the spaces to exchange and celebrate it in.
AC: As someone that was born on the Texas border, went to university in Central Texas, worked that market, and now works the New York City market, I very much learned how to navigate multiple cultures at once. In the words of Nathalie Molina Nino, who speaks to something similar in her new book: I knew what was cool here but not there.
I’ve worked for a major dating app, a wine technology company, the agency that handled Patron Tequila’s creative, an organ donation technology company, SEO companies, a shipping tech logistic company, Yelp Austin, a female owned and run international career advancement platform, a diversity recruitment start-up. You name it. My work through the years has forced a heightened sense of consciousness on me when it comes to brand management. I have a perspective that no one else comes to the table with, as a woman and a Mexican-American woman at that. I have my ear to the ground on communities that others may not have access to, and most importantly, I know how to authentically engage with said communities.
What led you to create Trenza?
RB: A couple things led me to create what is now Trenza, so it's hard to pinpoint an exact reason. The culmination of missing sisterhood from college, moving to a large city and wanting to meet like-minded Latina creatives, and the need to challenge the trends within the fashion and retail industry ultimately brought me to Trenza. I wanted a space online where I could shop Latina brands made by, and for, Latinas in addition to being able to connect my own values of community first (it's why we donate 10% of every purchase to a Latinx-serving non-profits) both through content I could connect with and local events where I could engage with other women.
While there were already women only spaces, or spaces designed for creatives, there wasn't a one-stop shop where I could get it all and have it be tailored for me and my community. So we built it. We built the spaces we wanted to exist, brought on the women we admired and wanted to celebrate, and now we continue to empower ourselves and our community through the content, commerce, and community events. We are shifting the mentality, within ourselves and outside our community that Latinas are not just consumers of products but producers, owners, and investors of products.
AC: I have to give Rachel all the credit on the initial seed that Trenza was. She came to me, about two years ago, when I was still in Austin with the idea for the e-commerce portion of Trenza. As someone who was unsatisfied, but still heavily involved in local Latina groups, I wasn’t convinced of Trenza’s potential at first. I pushed her and said that Latinas were in fact, owning the digital spaces where they physically could not, or were left out, and that I felt the larger problem is that our stories weren’t being included in mainstream media.
From this came the idea to make Trenza three-fold: commerce, content, and community. My strength is in execution. Rachel’s is in ideation and retail. To this day I produce our community events, our to-be content, and Rachel handles everything commerce. Whereas I’ve been told I can be “painfully” honest, she’s the people master. She is definitely the “nice” one in our business relationship. But she’ll also text me 20 ideas for new this or that within 2 hours, and I’ll have to veto 19 of the said ideas and tell her to keep her eyes on our current sheet. I’m naturally extremely pragmatic and execution oriented, where she is creative and a big thinker. It’s why we work well; she pushes me when I need to be pushed, and I keep her in focus so we can actually get things to the finish line.
What are Trenza’s future goals and aspirations?
RB: Analisa is much better at the immediate goals, but I can spill the beans on what the dream is in 5 years. I truly envision a physical space in New York City where the front portion of the space is acrylic and white pop-up space for use of our rotating vendors and the back portion hosts a kitchen, stage, seating area, library, access to computers, and community space. I'd love for the entire space to have housing on top—where Latinas can truly live, work, and upkeep the community space in New York.
Outside of NYC, we envision pop-ups and local community organizations building out Trenza in Austin, L.A., Miami, and Denver. We see Trenza bringing on Latina college designers to help build out the private label. We see our #Jefa vendors growing their assortments online and us bringing on more as we grow too. Of course, this is the manifestation of my dream, so I'll put it out in the universe to do its thing.
AC: 1) Get really good at producing events for our demographic, in line with the like-minded brands that want to reach them. We’re in a unique position where we don’t just cater to the millennial Latina, or a Latina in a certain industry. Our community is incredibly diverse, and our most mature member is 65, I believe.
2) Subscription model. We need to monetize more efficiently, and this subscription model would enable us to give our members better benefits, first access, while at the same time allowing us to be more flexible with who we work with.
3) Identity-focused e-commerce capsule collections. We want to start tying the e-commerce capsule collections to a curated identity each month. This gives you a reason to come back, but also allows us to be that much more intentional when we are filtering vendors for the month.
What inspires you and who do you look up to?
RB: My community—it's really that simple. I am in awe of what we can, have, and do accomplish. Every event, photo taken, unit sold, or abrazo after has been because of the inspiration that I receive from the women who I've surrounded myself with. It’s cliche, but honest.
AC: My younger self, and my older self. Particularly when I produce events, I think back to what I wish 12 year old me had access to. I was lucky to grow up in the age of the internet, but still, I was so physically disconnected as a citizen of a border community. I tell people that I really think the only reason I had such a large worldview for myself at such a young age is because I read so many books. I knew there was more out there. So, baby Analisa, but also older Analisa. In 5 years, I’ll be 30, and I constantly think: Okay, by 30, ideally what have I accomplished for myself and in turn, what have I given back to my community?
As I’ve grown older, I’ve also realized how privileged I was/am. Both of my parents went to university. They are documented. They are still happily married. They work 9-5 jobs, which enabled them to take me to the library and to after school sports and extracurricular activities. We still didn’t have a lot, but damn, I had so many opportunities for growth that other children didn’t. So I guess I constantly think: How dare I? How dare I waste that?
What is your best piece of advice to other Latinas aspiring to be leaders or entrepreneurs?
RB: It's not something glamorous. It takes hard work, failure, accepting rejection, and breakdowns every once in a while. However, you must be remain authentic to yourself and your values. One of my mentors gave me this piece of advice while I was confronting some issues, "When building a business, organization, or community think of yourself as making soup. You as a person can only provide the bowl and soup base because we can't do everything on our own. This means that you need to select and be careful who you bring on board and how you interact with them, but you must be okay with what they do and not change the bowl or base at any time. For instance, if you believe chicken broth is the best soup base and you're hoping for caldo so you add carrots... but then coconut milk comes along and splashes in... now you've got Tom Kha Thai soup! Still delicious, but very different than what you had originally planned. Remain true to your base, be okay with changes, and make sure the soup is edible."
AC: or context, I was an extremely rebellious child and teenager. I saw the traditional gender roles that my community/family tried to establish at various points, and I fought them, hard (thanks, books). I constantly questioned. I never took anything at face value, and I still don’t. A few things have helped me as a leader, and then generally as a woman of color in the world:
1) In the words of Aminatou Sow, the high road can be overrated. Be kind, don’t be a doormat. Ask for what you want, no one is a mind reader, and then take it.
2) Have an unapologetic filter. You have to know what to let in one ear and out the other if you want to thrive, otherwise you'll be a ball of anxiety trying to please everyone. For example, If I listened to every single piece of advice, and more often than not—unsolicited piece of advice—I’ve received from someone, I’d be a speech therapist in South Texas right now (my mom's dream career for me). And there isn’t anything wrong with that, but that wasn’t what I wanted. For the most part, the positions I’ve had are positions I had to carve out for myself, especially as the internet has been ever evolving.
3) You have to be tough, have some moxie. As my dad used to say: "Sometimes shit hits the fan" So when shit hits the fan, let yourself sit in that shit for a minute. Recognize where and when you fall short, gain a deep understanding of your patterns. Because it’s by building that extremely keen sense of self that you become unbreakable. This has been one of my largest assets—I’m persistent. I will bet on myself every time (which also means I am extremely self-critical, but that's another story). You know that quote, “Fall down 7 times, get up 8?” It’s true, you need to do that in life in order to succeed, but what people fail to mention is that the ability to mentally get “back up” and put yourself out there again after a failure, is a muscle. Train for your mental battles as much as your physical ones.
What other Latinx driven projects do admire or support:
RB: I particularly admire the non-profits we support—Lucha Latina, The National Hispanic Institute, RAICES, and KIND. I also love New Latin Wave in NYC, the La Mujer initiative in AZ, and the makers of the Austin #FridaFriday pop-ups. I'd love to collaborate with more movers and shakers to create a coffee table book about what it means to be Latina—bringing on board the likes of Gina Rodriguez, the mujeres of Orange is the New Black, designer Carolina Herrera, and politicians like our friend Alex Ocasio-Cortez.
AC: On one end, I’ll copy Rachel’s answer on here, as well as all of our vendors. But on another end, some of my personal favorites aside of the above are: Neta RGV, a bilingual multimedia platform based in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border—they’re on the front lines, give them your money and your attention. Ojos Nebulosos, an Afro-Boricua/Dominicana photographer who recently moved to the states. Jolt Texas, Elisabeth Rosario and her Latinx Collective newsletter, Janel Martinez - creator of Ain’t I Latina?, the list could go on!