BRITTANY CHAVEZ: “LIFE’S TOO SHORT, BET ON YOURSELF”
LATINNESS: You recently made a cross-country move to New York City. What inspired that decision?
BRITTANY: I came out to New York for two things. One was love. We actually met in New York ten years ago and now I live out here, so it’s been beautiful. New York is also Shop Latinx’s second largest market. It feels really good to be here surrounded with so much vibrancy and culture, something that I’ve missed.
LATINNESS: Before getting into Shop Latinx, we want to know about your background and heritage.
BRITTANY: Okay, so I’m Latina. I’m Central American: Guatemalan and Nicaraguan. My mom’s side is Guatemalan and my dad’s side is Nica. Their respective mothers immigrated to the United States. My parents met in the same apartment complex when they were teenagers in Koreatown, Los Angeles, and thus, I was born.
My mom ended up a single mother. My heritage wasn’t something I was necessarily super proud of growing up, but over time, I’ve learned to love it. Shop Latinx was really a product of me craving community and like-minded Latinas.
I don’t really speak much Spanish, unfortunately I’m an Americanized Latina, but what I’ve found through building community is that there are so many women like me. I’ve realized that a majority of my search for identity was because, as Latinas, we’ve been reduced to a monolith in the media. Celebrating the diversity within latinidad has really helped in my process of developing pride in where I come from, my lineage and the women in my family tree.
LATINNESS: Latinidad is such a fascinating topic, we could discuss it for hours. Was there a particular moment you recall that set this search for discovery in motion?
BRITTANY: I think it was in 2016, in my late twenties, when I finally started to feel pride in my culture. It was inspired by a trip to Guatemala and Nicaragua, which was combined with the height of the presidential elections and all the anti-Mexican and anti-Latino rhetoric that was being spewed. Those two forces combined really gave me pride in who I am and where I come from.
Growing up was really challenging though. There is this duality to my upbringing that a lot of people can relate to. I went to school with predominantly white kids, and there was this shame when my grandma pulled up to pick me up. She was a housekeeper and had this old, beat up Civic with a rosary. I would see my grandma and run to the car. There was this shame and embarrassment, even with the food I’d bring to school. But, in 2016 is when I doubled down on my pride, and it feels really good.
LATINNESS: That’s the year you launched Shop Latinx, isn’t it? What sparked the idea?
BRITTANY: I came across the statistic that we (Latinos) had, at the time, 1.3 trillion dollars in annual buying power. It was also during this time that I was coming across a lot of curated guides and articles about products made by women or for the Black community, and I wondered: “Where are all the products made by Latinx and for Latinx?” I found nothing. There were Hispanic, Latino, Latina, but nothing like this, so that’s where the idea for Shop Latinx came about.
It was just an Instagram account and, within weeks, it amassed a couple of thousand followers. I’d simply post a new brand that I came across, and because there was nothing like that, it brought so many business owners together, as well as consumers.
Consumers finally felt seen because they weren’t just shown a taco on a t-shirt or a random Target collection. It was a page made with so much love and intention. It was a resource and a tool for me to build a community of people I could relate to.
LATINNESS: In October 2022, Shop Latinx announced that it raised a million dollars in venture capital funding led entirely by yourself. Congratulations! Can you walk us through your business journey?
BRITTANY: What I’ve been saying recently is that there are kids that go to Harvard Business School. Well for me, my Harvard Business School is building Shop Latinx, where I’m learning in real-time because I don’t have a business background. When I first started building Shop Latinx, I was an Uber driver and a nanny. I only had admin work and internships under my belt.
Being a first time founder is such a huge learning curve, and it exposed me to so much of myself. The day I announced that I raised a million dollars, I had a crazy panic attack because I didn’t know anything about money or finances. My relationship with money wasn’t healthy. It’s exposed me to so much of what I needed to work on, and I’m happy to say that I spent the first year working on that.
I also recognize that there aren’t a lot of Latinas, especially with my type of background, that get this opportunity. Only .2 percent of Latinas get venture capital funding– I think less than 100 have ever raised a million. So I’m happy to be here and I’m just learning as much as I can, and it’s been so fun.
LATINNESS: What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
BRITTANY: The biggest learning lesson has been to always take the risk. The worst thing that could happen is– I don’t even think it’s a failure, it’s just a learning opportunity.
LATINNESS: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in this entrepreneurial journey?
BRITTANY: There are two things. One is information overload. Everything from hiring to raising to firing, just people management. I’m a manager, I’m a leader, I’m the visionary, I’m HR, I’m the financial modeler.
Then two is that there’s a parallel between myself and my company, and I need to be able to overcome these fears in order for Shop Latinx to now thrive.
I was in an accelerator program last year, and because of my money trauma, I had neglected working on a financial model. When you raise money, it’s all about the numbers. Investors gave me money based on data and what I’ve built so far, and what I had built was a community. I still didn’t understand retail and merchandising, nor the logistics behind retail. All this to say that I think the biggest challenge was fear around money.
In this overwhelming amount of information, I had to learn, retain and then implement in a record amount of time. In hindsight, though, I’m at a place now where I just got off the phone with an investor, and he was like “Brittany now you’re speaking like a true retailer.”
LATINNESS: As an online retailer, you’re competing with giants like Target, Sephora or Net-A-Porter. Aside from the obvious, what sets Shop Latinx apart from these competitors?
BRITTANY: It’s our understanding of this very nuanced, very broad US Latino market. We’re the fastest growing demographic in the United States, and I’m confident that we understand her better than a Target or any other distributor could, and it’s because we care.
Our community, this Latinx community, isn’t just relegated to one month out of the year. It’s not performative. There’s an authenticity to the way that we speak to this consumer. Second to that would be our storytelling. The way that we promote a product is going to be very central to storytelling.
Our tagline is “The destination for discovery”. So you might go on Shop Latinx and find that one of your favorite brands is actually Latina-owned and you can read her story.
LATINNESS: When selecting brands and hiring talent, do you apply the same criteria?
BRITTANY: I’ve collected a lot of data these last couple of years working with the brands in our marketplace, all of whom are really amazing. We’re making that transition from calling ourselves a marketplace to an actual e-retailer. When you think about marketplaces, you think open platforms, like Etsy and Amazon, whereas we want to be more hypercurated, like a retailer. With this current marketplace model, it’s on the brands to ship out their products. With Shop Latinx, we want to be able to own that customer experience from beginning to end, so we’re going to move all the products in-house. Everything– from the curation to the packaging– is going to change.
I’ve recently made this amazing hire whose name is Wanda Colón. She is a Puerto Rican woman who was the former Vice President of Merchandising at Barneys New York and managed the distribution deal with Virgil’s Off-White and Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God into Barneys. She and I are so aligned with what this new vision for Shop Latinx looks like.
What’s funny– well actually, it’s not funny– but it was really Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop which made me see that she’s doing something very special for a specific community, and I want to be that storyteller and retailer for the Latin community.
LATINNESS: How have the discoveries of these brands and connection with the Latinx community influenced your own latinidad?
BRITTANY: It’s made me more comfortable in my skin. It’s also given me the awareness that there exists a range of Latinas and Latinos and Latinx. Growing up in Los Angeles gave me a very close-minded view of latinidad. There’s a vastness of latinidad and it’s really opened my eyes to different cultures, traditions and the pride we all have. There are so many things that bring us together, like food and family, but it’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic, it’s this spectrum.
This woman used to work with me who was Honduran, adopted into a Jewish family, so she was Jewish and didn’t speak Spanish, but Shop Latinx made her feel seen. What’s cool about what we do is that we celebrate the English-speaking Latina that grew up in Wisconsin, but uses Shop Latinx to find community. Shop Latinx has shown me that there isn’t one certain way to be Latina. We’re not one size fits all. We’re not a monolith, and that’s, in fact, what makes us so beautiful.
LATINNESS: You’re very self-motivated. What drives you?
BRITTANY: To be honest, that’s something I’m still working through.
So for some time it was this passion and love for this community, and then I turned Shop Latinx into a business model and there was this fear that I had to be successful. This past year fear is what drove me. There was this fear of “I don’t know how I got here.” The year prior I was on EBT and unemployment, working as a nanny, and I just don’t know how I got here. I thought, “This is my one shot. This is my one opportunity to make it, and I can’t mess this up. Brittany, you better work 12 hours a day or else you’re going to go right back where you came from.”
Now I’m in a place where I do my best to not be driven by fear. I think I’m such a self-starter because I understand that life is finite and this is the one lifetime that I’m here as Brittany Chavez. I want to experience all the things and I see so much potential in what we’re building. I think it’s fucking brilliant, and I don’t say so myself. When I talk to people about it, no one’s ever been confused or asked “Why? Is there even a market for that?” That’s never a question. It’s just like, “Can you execute?”
If this company is going to be successful and the success of the company is determined by how well I can execute, then, ok, game on.
LATINNESS: How do you deal with imposter syndrome?
BRITTANY: I have to phone a friend sometimes because there will be moments where I just spiral out and dig myself into a hole. Social media doesn’t make it better, and we live in an age where we’re forced to compare ourselves, our lives to a facade that’s on the internet. I can get down on myself, so I definitely look to my mom, my best friend or my boyfriend to hit me up. Everyone needs a good talk-me-off-the-ledge conversation.
LATINNESS: What advice would you offer to younger generations?
BRITTANY: Life’s too short, bet on yourself.
Images courtesy of Brittany Chavez.