Bloomberg Línea — During the pandemic lockdown, Sandra Velásquez dreamed up Nopalera, a Mexican line of luxury botanical bath and body products that in less than two years has positioned itself among Latino consumers in the United States and has secured retail partnerships with stores such as Nordstroms, Credo Beauty and Whole Foods.
Sandra Velásquez traded her music, which mixed cumbia and rock in Spanish, for entrepreneurship. After singing and playing with her band Pistolera on big stages and opening concerts for artists such as Los Lobos and Lila Downs, in 2019 she decided to venture into entrepreneurship in a country where Latino entrepreneurship is less visible than that with Anglo-Saxon surnames.
The entrepreneur, originally from San Diego, California, came up with the business idea after spending a summer with her daughter trying to learn how to make soaps and natural products on YouTube.
Aloe vera was the recommended ingredient in the videos, but Velásquez tells Bloomberg Línea that she switched to using nopal cactus because it is abundant in California and a symbol of Mexican identity.
“The nopal is the most Mexican of all plants, and all Mexicans grew up eating nopal, the nopal is the symbol of the Aztecs,” says the entrepreneur of Mexican descent.
In addition, nopal is a better ingredient than aloe vera, says Velásquez, because it is more sustainable. It is possible to cut a cactus stalk and the nopal will continue to grow easily, which is not the case with aloe vera.
Nopalera’s products - which range from soaps and lotions to scrubs - also have other ingredients common in Mexico such as cacao and tepezcohuite (known as mimosa in English), which Velasquez says is one of actress Salma Hayek’s beauty secrets.
What started as a hobby turned into an opportunity to build a beauty brand for Latinas.
“There wasn’t a Latina luxury brand, so I had the idea of creating this high-end Latina beauty brand to fill that space,” Velásquez says.
Velásquez studied how to make her product formulas, worked on branding, funded by her credit cards, and spent a year building the brand from the time she had the idea in 2019 to launching on Nov. 1, 2020, the date of Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
Launching Nopalera in the midst of the pandemic was good timing, says Velásquez, as people were at home and looking for luxury experiences, and a self-care trend emerged.
Nopalera is currently distributed in 350 US boutiques such as Nordstroms, Credo Beauty and Whole Foods, and is in talks to enter Sephora. All of these stores applied on Nopalera’s website to distribute their products.
“Seven-hundred have applied, but we have said ‘no’,” Velasquez says, because she would be unable to meet the demand at this time.
The entrepreneur with Mexican roots says that the success of her brand is due to the fact that in the United States, 20% of the population is Latino and 60% of those Latinos are Mexican and know the nopal.
The challenge of raising capital
Velásquez’s goal is to create a brand that people will feel proud of and identify with. But the road has not been easy, as it has been complicated raising capital.
At the beginning of November, Nopalera closed a $2.7 million investment round with L’attitude Ventures. But before that, Velásquez had suffered what many Latino entrepreneurs suffer from, not being able to secure investment for their ventures.
“Three venture capital funds told me ‘no’ because they already had a Latino brand in their portfolio, but why not have two?” Velásquez asks.
According to a 2021 Bain & Company study, Latino-owned companies receive less than 1% of the funding available from top venture capital and private equity investors.
“The problem is that they think that Latinas or Latinos are creating brands only for other Latinos, so they think the market is too small,” Velásquez says.
However, she points out that Latinos can also create global brands that highlight their culture. “It can also be aspirational for everyone as L’Oréal has been in France,” she adds.
“People also see us as a very small group that can’t have much of a market, but the reality is that Latinos are the ones who are going to change the US economy because it is the community that is growing more than other groups,” says the entrepreneur who has won the Startup of the Year award at a Latitud Ventures event.