By Raven N. Garza
AUSTIN, Tx.—It’s exciting to think about owning your own business someday. By creating a company that’s uniquely yours, you can dedicate your time towards work that you’re passionate about while surrounding yourself with people who believe in your vision. Elena Flores, Founder of Sew Bonita, did just that by turning her sewing hobby into a successful business that reflects her love for all aspects of Mexican culture.
As a self-proclaimed Chingona (“badass woman”), Flores creates and sells uniquely sewn items like cambaya bags and vibrant hoop earrings, as well as one-of-a-kind t-shirts and accessories.
Flores was raised in Eagle Pass, Texas, a border town along the Rio Grande River. She started sewing in 2014 and, for the most part, taught herself everything she knows.
Considering the systemic and economic barriers that often prevent many from achieving their goals, I was curious about her personal journey as a Latina business-owner. Latinx-owned businesses are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, but there continues to be a huge lack of resources and opportunities for our community.
This is especially true for Latina-founded companies, making up about 0.37 percent of all venture capital investment. COVID-19 has posed even more challenges for minority-owned businesses, but the spirit of entrepreneurship continues.
Here’s what Elena had to say about her career, influences and experiences:
What’s your daily routine as the owner of Sew Bonita?
Because I have a full-time job, I work Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If my day isn’t that busy, I’ll do a quick ride on my Peloton when I get home and then get to Sew Bonita. My weekends are my Sew Bonita days. I love my weekends, where I get to create, make and hustle.
What has been your proudest achievement up to this point?
Probably evolving and growing as a small business. You are a completely different person with each passing year, and that’s good. Your business is meant to change you for the better. I am also super proud of the work we’ve put within our community and supporting other small business owners.
How has your business changed since the start of the pandemic, and what were some of the hurdles you encountered?
Because I’m an online brand, my business has stayed afloat. People love shopping, and they love supporting small businesses, and I feel that shopping online brings a little bit of normalcy to our current climate. Our major hurdle was taking our in-person market, Loca for Local, to a curbside event. That was super challenging. We knew we didn’t want to do an in-person market for the safety of our vendors, customers and community. We completely changed the game by creating something so special with an online marketplace and curbside pick-up.
You’ve mentioned that you’re mostly self-taught. Were there moments that you felt like you needed to get more traditional training to be “taken seriously?”
The way to be taken seriously is to take yourself seriously. I didn’t start Sew Bonita as a business. It was first a hobby. With more growth, I knew that I had to take big steps to become a business and feel validated. This quickly grew and I had to give it wings. You always have room to grow, and the only way to grow is to learn. In any field, learning is key. There’s much to learn, and I’m open to it. I’m always studying, reading, and brain-picking techniques that will improve the quality of my product and allow me to become a better sewcialist.
Were there any Latinx business owners that you looked up to as a child? If not, did you ever think about that lack of representation?
No, thinking back, I don’t remember seeing many Latinx, women-owned businesses, but I grew up in a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico. Representation was all around me, from the barber, florist, butcher and more. I remember going to the seamstress with my mother and being fascinated by this tiny woman who made a ball gown out of thin air from her home. She was doing this to provide for her family —not necessarily a “business,” but she was hustling. Looking back at it now, she provided a service that was probably taught to her from generations before. Sewing, creating, and making comes from within, and it can also be taught; how amazing it is to use those skills to make an income.
In your opinion, what do you think needs to change to allow more Latina business-owners to succeed?
Education to resources. There’s so much out there to help Latina business owners grow and succeed. Some services are free and provided within small communities. I think we have this innate fear that maybe holds us back, and then we tell ourselves, “we can’t do it.” But honestly, even joining a tribe of like-minded women can help exponentially.
What was the biggest barrier you faced as an aspiring business owner? How did you handle that challenge?
The challenge for me is having a full-time job, a side hustle, a social life, and being a community leader. I do all of the above, as much as I can, when I can. Setting schedules, using a calendar, committing to events, and even learning to say no is part of the job. This is a continuous learning experience for me, and I welcome it.
Do you have any tips or advice for young Latinas who aspire to become business owners or entrepreneurs?
Just Start. Start with fear and nervousness in your gut, but start. Once you get the first step in, you’re good. Always trust your instinct, and buy your domain name! Your online presence is crucial, especially nowadays. Be authentically you. Your brand is you, and people love an authentic person, flawed and all. Seek help. I totally believe in a self-made mujer, but there is nothing wrong with reaching out to your fellow creatives for guidance or advice. I’m thankful for each one of those fellow Chingonas that I call my amigas.
Flores currently lives in Corpus Christi with her husband and four furry children (she’s both a pitbull mom and a cat mom —what a great pair, honestly!). To learn more about Sew Bonita and Flores’s culturally empowered products, be sure to check out sewbonita.com.
About the writer:
Raven Garza is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s in English Literature and is now the Content Marketing Manager at Popspots. She has a background in the entertainment industry, tech startups, and art history. Garza is fond of covering live music, Latinx life and culture, and LGBTQ+ topics. Her works have been published in Austin Startups, Do512, Front Row Center, and Latinitas Magazine. To de-stress, she enjoys crowd surfing at punk shows around town.
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