In 2017, the Trump administration started to enact its hardline immigration policies. See: trying to end DACA, enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy for people illegally crossing the border, enacting a ban on Muslim-majority countries, the list goes on. The conversation about politics and immigration started entering all areas of life: the dinner table, hair salon, workplace, and more — leaving many affected by the president's language about immigrants searching for community.
Enter: Leslie Garcia and Karen Garcia. That same year, the duo started the streetwear and empowerment brand Daughter of an Immigrant. Leslie and Karen use their clothing to call attention to the many children of immigrants who proudly want to be seen.
At theSkimm, we're kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month with a conversation with the co-founders – who were recently tapped by FootLocker for a capsule collection – to hear their perspective about starting their business, the message behind the brand, and some advice for those looking to start their own biz too.
Give us a Skimm about yourselves.
Leslie: "Prior to Daughter of an Immigrant, and concurrently, I work in legal tech. That was the day job for a long time. And then Daughter of an Immigrant was something that we [me and Karen] worked on together after [work] hours.
"I met [Karen] over 20 years ago at church and we've been friends ever since. We've been through lots of ups and downs together. And this project has been something that we've been able to cultivate together.
"I'm a daughter of an immigrant. My mom is from Mexico. I'm from Chihuahua, Mexico. And my dad was from Havana, Cuba. He came to the US as a refugee. I'm also a dog mom. I love to read. And I'm addicted to coffee like everyone else."
Karen: "For me, I have always been interested in helping people. And [Leslie] and I have been a team for a long, long time. Daughter of an Immigrant is one of the special projects. But for years we've done toy drives and events together. So this feels like the force that we are together.
"I was born in Nicaragua and I was brought to the US at nine months. So I am an immigrant and I'm a daughter of an immigrant. I pride myself in that and I love to celebrate our history and our stories.
"At my full-time job, I am a clinical program manager. I work in social services in the department of children and family services. And the other thing I love are shoes, so I have a lot of kicks. I've been married to my husband for about 24 years. And I'm also a dog mommy."
Do you remember that exact moment that you looked at each other and said: 'That's it, we're creating this brand?'
Leslie: "There were multiple moments. The [Trump] administration at that time was starting to use language, like at that news conference where he is speaking about Mexican immigrants and calling them rapists. I remember that moment. Karen and I thought 'this is ridiculous, this isn't who we are like.' [It was] the feeling of someone [who isn’t part of our community] speaking about our stories. And it felt like we didn't have control over that. It was not the truth.
"And during that time, I was dealing with some discrimination at work related to the same thing. There was an incident there where I was told, 'you're really lucky that your family assimilated. If not, you would be picking fruit right now.'
"I was shocked. I couldn't believe that someone would say that to me and I really didn't know how to take it. It was confusing. After that moment, what I really came back [to] was 'don't you know who I am?' And then I thought, maybe she doesn't. And in a very obvious way, I said, 'Let’s put this on a T-shirt because you don't know who I am. And, I need to remind you who you're speaking to.'
"And there were a lot of those kinds of moments ‘till finally, Karen said we're not going to leave this place until we do this thing that we've been talking about for a while now. And I said, 'Fine. Let's do the thing.' And maybe two days later, Trump reversed the DACA ruling.
"And I was so happy that we had somewhere where people [could] go. At that time, our community [was] looking for each other. It was a real blessing to create a space for them to find each other."
What is the messaging you want people to see when they check out Daughter of an Immigrant?
Leslie: "For someone to feel seen. That's always the intent. Behind our language and our brand voice is: How do I make you feel like someone else is seeing, validating, celebrating, and supporting you? And it's true with every [social media] post. It really is an invite [saying] there's space for you here."
Karen: "I love to put that net out there which says 'you belong. And you're enough.' And that I do belong as a clinical program manager. I do belong as a receptionist. Whatever job it is that you have passion for — you do belong there. And there is room. And if you don't find it there, we will be here. You will always be welcomed."
How did you decide on the name Daughter of an Immigrant?
Leslie: "I always think we shouldn't have named it that. There’s a million other names. It's a long name. It's not a sexy name. Right? And when you're talking about business and econ and fashion — immigrant is a hard word. It's a tough name.
"But over the years, we've doubled down on it. It is our name. This is a celebration of that identity, and how it shows up in the world. As a brand, the identity of being a daughter of an immigrant informs everything we do. And that combines not only who our families are, but us as women. [The name] brings in a bit of both. And the experiences there, within that paradigm, [are] layered.
"You start talking about the oldest daughter of an immigrant household — that life is different than the youngest [or] the middle child. You really get to drill down. That's the fun part. This is who I want to celebrate. This part of me is what I want to celebrate."
Daughter of an Immigrant comes with an embedded activism message about immigration and perceptions of immigrants, among other things. Why did you decide to marry clothing with your message?
Karen: "It's that statement piece. You can put it on wherever you go. I wear mine with the blazer at work and a Zoom meeting, or with my kicks and joggers.
"I'm wanting to let the world know who I am, and I'm here to stay. I see it that way, like them [the customer] searching through their closet and saying: 'Today, I'm going to wear my Daughter of an Immigrant or Love Your Neighbor shirt today.' And know that they're walking in [the room] with so much pride, celebration, and not being ashamed [of their identity]."
How did you know you were financially prepared to start your business?
In unison: "We didn’t."
Leslie: "We wanted to test the idea since we were first-time entrepreneurs — especially since it was our first time in apparel. We wanted to test if there was a community for this. We started with drop shipping to test our idea, which helped us [reduce] risk and the overhead [costs].
"And we were able to kind of order shirts as we got orders. It wasn't until then we started to do live events. I needed inventory...[and to] find a production team to help us. But at the beginning, I think that's probably one of the wisest things we did was just test the idea and see...is there a buyer for this? Is there a customer that wants this? And thankfully there was."
How were you able to build your financial safety net around your business?
Leslie: "One of the best ways was not having that overhead [cost]. And letting the money stack until now, when we’re able to invest. It's been a lot. Learning, trusting, and watching the numbers, paying things off as quickly as we can.
“We don't like to sit on debt or inventory for too long. We're about to enter our fourth year, so I want to be clear: we are still learning this. We were very slow and steady. We watch our numbers, and we've learned to read them to answer questions like: How much can we spend here? What do we have to wait for? What's coming up? I think that's still something we're learning."
Karen: "And building your credit — even our own personal credit in order to get business credit. Make sure you're being wise with your [personal] finances too.
"We've put in a lot of our own money for [Daughter of an Immigrant]. And I think we started with $1,000. And then from there, we started with the drop shipping. Then production, and screen printing, and embroidery. so it can build. You have to stay patient and you have to stay counting numbers."
Do you have a financial role model or a mentor in the retail industry?
Leslie: "I wish we had [one] for the business, that would be helpful...when it comes to money stuff, I'm a millennial in that way. I read the Financial Diet... and then a lot of your normal money books.
"Our accountant helps us a lot. He was the one that said, ‘get business credit. You're going to need it. You're going to need the bigger limits to be able to build this up.’ And he was right. We've done a lot of the research and learning on our own."
Karen: "Trial and error. We love asking questions. So whenever we get the opportunity to run into anyone that we’ve seen their creative process and we're like, 'Oh, that’s such a good idea. How do we get into that?' We're constantly asking questions and doing the research."
What's the best investment you made in your business or yourself, stemming from Daughter of an Immigrant?
Leslie: "We hired an intern [Kristy Perez] and she’s been incredible. She’s been adding to the team. And having someone to help and assist has been helpful. And was also a decision we didn’t take lightly. Our best investment has been the support."
What's one piece of advice you can share for other women starting their own businesses?
Leslie: "Don't be afraid to answer the call, whatever that call is. You're being called to do something. There's something really sacred in that. ‘Cause, you're probably made to do that thing. And find your support."
Karen: "I would say you are enough. And if you answer that call, it's going to take patience and bravery. And you're going to hear no, you're gonna run into adversity and a lot of challenges, but stay your course.
"Don't be afraid to eat alone at that table, because someone's always watching and you're inspiring somebody no matter what. Don't ever give up."
What's the most impactful lesson you learned as a daughter of an immigrant?
Karen: "The story and the narrative of my family's journey — for them to get here and to dream for me... I'm creating hope for the next generation that there's progress and we can move forward."
Leslie: "I am so much more resilient and powerful than the world might give me credit for. And it's OK. They don't have to give me credit for that. That truth is, my family's journey here [to the US] empowers me, and that's enough power for me to be able to do what I need to do and get it done."
Skimm'd by Kamini Ramdeen and Maria McCallen
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"I just really encourage people to find time to meditate, to sit down. Does it feel good to pursue whatever it is that you're pursuing? You're successful because it feels good."