culture

From Popup To Retail Store, These Two Business Partners Have Created A Space For Latino Brands

Javier Rojas

When Luis Octavio, 36, and Gladys Vasquez, 40, met in 2016 they thought of a crazy idea. Both were struggling vendors trying to make a name for themselves but could never find the right event to get their names out there. Octavio sold his line of embroidered hats and balloons, while Vasquez had her graphic design brand.

“When Luis asked me if there was an event solely dedicated to Latino vendors I said ‘No’ and then an idea dawned on us,” Vasquez said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why isn’t there an event or space catered just for Latino vendors?.”

That crazy idea became a reality this month as both Octavio and Vaquez opened up Molcajete Dominguero Tienda, a retail space in Boyle Heights solely dedicated for Latino vendors to sell their products.

They wanted to create a space for Latino brands to promote and elevate themselves.

Photo by Javier Rojas

Octavio had a marketing background and Vasquez had some experience with accounting, so together they knew they could make this a reality. With
only $50 invested from each of them, Molcajete Dominguero Tienda started as a monthly pop-up event on Sundays in 2017. They would host vendors that would sell everything from Latino-inspired jewelry to concha themed pillows.

But everything didn’t start off so smoothly. Initially there was skepticism from vendors about how all this would work. Many didn’t know what to think of their idea of an all-Latino popup event and if their products would even sell.

“We reached out to probably 100 vendors and only 35 responded,” Vasquez said recalling their first popup at Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights. “We didn’t really know what we were doing and didn’t know if a single person was gonna walk through that door.”

Those fears quickly left as they saw a forming line of about 30 people. By the end, they had well over 450 people attend their first popup event. “We couldn’t believe it and it was in that moment our hard work, in a way, felt validated,” Vasquez said.

Things only went up from there. Octavio and Vasquez began hosting monthly popups across Los Angeles and even in San Francisco. Their brand quickly grew on Instagram and realized they needed a permanent space for their business.

In just two years, they became the largest Latino popup in the country and now have a retail space dedicated to Latino brands.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The vision that Vasquez and Octavio had in 2016 has become a reality. From Selena pillows to Frida Kahlo fanny-packs, Molcajete Dominguero Tienda gives Latino vendors a space to showcase their brands. The name, Molcajete Dominguero, is a play on words from the traditional Mexican stone tool used to grind various food products. It is also a representation of the various vendors they bring together on Sundays at their popups.

Their current database has over 400 vendors from LA to San Francisco that either have their products sold at the store or at popups. Vendors typically pay $150 to have a space at a popup event and get promoted on their Instagram page.

“We feel like this is important to so many people that feel like they don’t see themselves when they go into big retailers,” Octavio said. “We want people to come in here and feel at home. Whether it’s the colorful wall murals, the fresh smell of Fabuloso or the familiar sound of Spanish music playing, we’re trying to create something special.”

Having the store in Boyle Heights is no coincidence. The largely Latino working class community has welcomed and embraced their business.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The location of the store in Boyle Heights has great meaning. Vasquez grew up in East LA and Octavio in Santa Ana, so both know the importance of having a business in a predominant Latino neighborhood. They say that many community members have welcomed them and have been getting regulars at the store already.

“This business is needed especially in a place like Boyle Heights where identity is important,” Octavio said. “These brands need a home and we feel like they found one here in East LA.”

Their grand opening this month was an indicator of their success as
well over 500 people showed up. Octavio said there was a line around the block and people waited almost two hours in the rain just to get in.

A local community artist has already left their mark at the store
with a mural of Mexican singer Maria Felix. There is already future plans to have two more artists paint murals outside the store. Octavio also hopes to host various workshops that will benefit the youth in the area as well. Earlier this year they hosted a Pinata making workshop and a Loteria night for the community.

“We need these spaces like this so we could feel apart of something. Tell me where you can find a pinata or a serape wall,” Octavio said. “People here in Boyle Heights now can go to a place where they can find Salvadorian, Puerto Rican or Mexican goods all in one.”

Having a brick and mortar store is just the first step of many to come.

Photo by Javier Rojas

The store has been a dream come true for Octavio and Vasquez that they say happened by just taking a risk on what they envisioned three years ago.

“Look we’re not the first to have a pop-up or a Latino-inspired one, however we are the first to think of this on a larger scale,” Octavio said. “The inspiration has always been to elevate our comunidad.”

The business partners say this is just the next step in what they envisioned for Molcajete Dominguero Tienda. They will soon be taking their popup to Chicago this year and hope to get some vendors hop on board from the East Coast. There has even been plans to have an online business with some vendor products but for now the store is their main focus.

Vasquez says the most humbling part about this entire journey has been building a relationship with vendors. “Getting to know about the people behind the brand and hearing their story makes this all worth it because we know how much this platform means to them as much as it does to us.”

It’s because of this sentiment that the store recently changed their tagline from “Where vendors grind together” to “Where brands grind together”. Octavio says this is more than just about one person, it’s about uplifting a community of people and seeing them all rise together.

“We’re not calling them vendors anymore. They’re brands and we’re trying to elevate them,” Octavio said. “Big box retailers we no longer need your space because we’re now creating our own.”

Molcajete Dominguero Tienda is located in 2195 Whittier Blvd. in Boyle Heights. 

READ: Patty Delgado Is Changing The World Of Latino Fashion With Her Own Store Hija De Tu Madre

The College Cheating Scandal Highlights The Different Paths Many Face Getting To College

Culture

The College Cheating Scandal Highlights The Different Paths Many Face Getting To College

karla_estrada_222 / oliviajade / Instagram | Getty Image

When Denise Ocana heard the news the about the college admissions scandal, she wasn’t surprised. Ocana, 25, worked weekends at a swap meet with her parents to save enough money to attend UCLA, her dream school. Coincidentally, UCLA was one of schools embroiled in the the nation’s largest admissions scandal. Whether it’s working multiple jobs, studying long nights for the SAT or applying for endless scholarships, Ocana is one of many individuals that have to make every sacrifice possible to even have a chance of attending college.

While some were shocked to learn of reports that wealthy parents essentially paid to get their kids into elite schools, the news is a shot of reality. It’s also a glimpse into the two different playing fields people face when applying to their dream school. The scandal has started discussions about why factors such as donations and legacy status are part of the admissions process, which has traditionally benefited wealthier families.

The college admissions scandal reinforced the belief the process can be gamed by those with wealth and influence.

@karla_estrada22/Twitter

Like Ocana, Karla Estrada, 28, wasn’t surprised when she heard about the scandal. Estrada, a UCLA graduate, said it reaffirmed her belief that a portion of her classmates “got some help” in the admission process.

“It was common knowledge that some bought their way in but to have it confirmed was satisfying in a sense,” Estrada said. “But there’s some bitterness because it’s not fair to just have it handed it to them and have us have to fight for it.”

Estrada was an undocumented student which made getting any type of financial assistance nearly impossible. She worked full time to save for school and had no financial help from her parents. There was no federal aid available for her let alone enough scholarship money for her to pay tuition. For these reasons, Estrada had to find a sponsor to help her get enough money to attend school.

“We barely had enough money to eat let alone for school. I had to get sponsorship so I literally showed up to random companies to speak to their CEO to ask if someone could pay for my college,” Estrada said. “Lucas Oil and Lite Source ended up helping and because of them I was able to afford college.”

The scandal has started a discourse around affirmative action.

@EricaLG/Twitter

The admissions scandal highlights the racial and economic disparities that plague access to higher education. Yet when many students of color get access to these institutions, a stereotype follows them. The notion that affirmative action is the only reason they are there. At times they are accused of taking slots from white students just because of their ethnicity or race.

Izaak Ramirez, 27, disagrees with the notion that students of color get into college easier based on the color of their skin. Ramirez applied to seven colleges but didn’t get into UCLA, his dream school. He had to go the community college route despite having a 3.7 GPA in high school.

“It was overwhelming and I sat there and cried because of all the efforts I put forward felt wasted in a way,” Ramirez said. “Being a person of color or a Latino doesn’t automatically means you’re getting through that door.

Ramirez knows what accessing an elite school means in terms of getting a career and making a name for yourself. Grads of elite universities tend to earn annual salaries that are as much as 50 percent higher than all other college grads. That alone is worth making countless sacrifices to get themselves into these institutions.

Even during college things don’t get easier for many.

@hija_dl_trueno /Twitter

Ocana is currently in a graduate program at California State University, Northridge where she is pursuing a degree in Public Administration. Yet as she pursues the next chapter in her education, she is still reminded at times how hard it is to stand out at these institutions. Ocana says at times she feels she’s competing against the system and the admissions scandal reminds her how easy it is for some.

“No one’s surprised by the news and honestly it was just a matter of time before everyone knew,” Ocana said about the scandal. “If we all had the money to pay to get into college we’d all be here but what’s the pride in that. If my option was CSUN or USC , I’d still go to USC but that’s not how it works.”

Despite the advantages that some may have, hard work is something that will always be valued.

@latinoheritagela / Instagram

While the admissions scandal has shined a light on what’s wrong about the college application process, it’s also highlighted what’s good. For the number of those that try to cheat their way in, there’s more that are working harder just to get their chance.

Estrada is an example of this hard work. No legal status, limited financial help but a work ethic that few can match. Today, she is a immigration law & criminal defense paralegal trying to make a difference in her own community.

Despite the negativity the scandal has brought, Estrada hopes it starts a much needed conversation about the reality that so many Latinos and people of color have to endure in college.

“Sometimes we believe that we don’t belong here even though we have earned our seat in the classroom,” Estrada said “We have to constantly prove to the world we are good enough and then prove to ourselves. I say we are more than good enough.”

READ: UCLA Men’s Soccer Coach Jorge Salcedo Is One Of More Than 50 People Indicted In College Bribery Scandal

Paid Promoted Stories