Written by Vivan Nunez for Forbes.com
This Latina Fashion Designer Shares All She Has Learned Since Selling Her First Dress
Alexia María started designing clothes for herself long before she ever designed a look for anyone else. Over time, and thanks to word of mouth and a strong social media presence, María was able to build a brand that has led to actors like America Ferrera and singers like Gwen Stefani wearing her looks.
In growing the brand from a business that sold primarily to friends and family to one that can be shopped at two flagship locations – one in California and one in New York — as well as online, María had to learn to juggle the demands from both the creative and business side of any new business.
“It takes a lot of discipline and a great team to give your 100% to both sides,” shares María. “With the help of my amazing team, I am able to completely focus on design when I need to. With their support I am able to let go of the business side for a while and just dive into designing.”
As an immigrant and Latina in the fashion space, María understands that women are layered and that the clothes they choose to wear reflect their heart above all.
“If you are comfortable with what you are wearing, you will be confident and be the best version of yourself,” notes María.
Below María shares her advice to other designers and entrepreneurs, how her Latinidad has influenced the trajectory of her career, and how she navigated making the jump to being a fashion designer.
Vivian Nunez: How did you make the jump from pursuing design as a passion to making it your job?
Alexia María: At first, designing for my friends and family was a hobby for me. I would meet them at my home and end appointments over tea and girls talk -- it was comfortable and casual. As word started spreading about my designs, I started receiving calls from friends of friends and then eventually from complete strangers. That is when I realized that my passion and hobby could become something more. So I sat down, did the numbers, and took a leap of faith. I decided to start my own brand and design my first ready-to-wear collection. It became my full time job, working around the clock designing my collection and putting together my first fashion show. In the Spring of 2014, I launched my first collection and shortly after in August opened my flagship store in La Jolla, California.
Nunez: What goes into building a brand like Alexia María?
María: Building a brand is all about successfully executing your vision into a memorable experience for your customer. For me, it has involved being consistent and incorporating the brand ethos into every aspect of the business whether it be in the content for social media to the construction of the clothing. Building Alexia María has not been just about designing clothing women want to wear but about designing clothing women can wear.
Nunez: What advice do you have for Latinas who want to launch their own brands?
My biggest piece of advice for Latinas is to always believe in you and stay true to yourself. Launching a brand is part of a learning process in which you have to trust yourself every step of the way. People are always going to have opinions; you are going to make mistakes, and some days you are going to feel like quitting. It is during these moments of doubt that we must turn to ourselves and not lose faith. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to start a brand but it takes even more self-belief after to sustain and grow a brand.
Nunez: How has your Latinidad played a role in how you've managed and grown Alexia María?
María: I come from a long line of smart, hard-working Mexican women who have taught me to never give up and that everything is possible through hard work and dedication. As a Latina fashion designer and business owner in the United States, I’ve always seen and used my Latinidad as an advantage to manage and grow my business. I grew up in Mexicali, Mexico, which is a border town, and I crossed the border on a daily basis to attend school in California. My binational background gave me the opportunity to grow and expand my brand simultaneously in two distinct markets. I have been able to foster professional working relationships and client relationships not just in the United States but in Latin America as well.
Nunez: What has been your biggest lesson learned thus far?
María: The biggest lesson I have learned so far is that there is no one right way to do things. When I first launched Alexia María, I was worried about not following the conventional ways of running a fashion brand. I constantly thought to myself “I should be doing this” or “I need to be there.” I have learned that there is no set recipe or formula for success and what may work for some may not work for others. You have to always stay true to yourself and trust your instincts.
Nunez: What myth would you debunk for any aspiring designers?
María: I would debunk the myth that as a fashion designer you have to live in New York or Los Angeles to be able to launch your fashion brand. It wasn’t until after four years that I started Alexia María that I made the decision to open a store in New York. The brand is based in San Diego, which is not the most fashion forward city, but I do not feel that it was a disadvantage for me. On the contrary, it allowed me to gain experience and ultimately prepare me to thrive in a city where fashion is a very competitive industry. We are living in a digital era where there are so many platforms that allow us to share our talents and reach millions of people. For me, our online presence, social media, digital magazines, and blogs were instrumental tools that gave me the ability to reach women from all over the world -- something I never imagined I could do within the first few months of launching Alexia María.
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