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High-End Jewelry Designer Launches New Affordable Line For mitu And I’m Ready To Whip Out My Card

Mercedes Salazar has always been fascinated by jewelry. As a child, she was drawn to sparkly gems and intrigued by the intricate stylings of indigenous artisans in her homeland of Colombia. Yet, it was the stories behind her mother’s favorite trinkets that inspired the jewelry designer to turn her passion for pretty stones and threads into a career and also preserve stories and culture through her medium.

“My mom used to have pieces she [wore] when she was young, and she would tell me their history.”

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

“I wanted to know the stories behind all the treasures. That’s what they were to me: treasures that connect people with something special — a memory, a special place, a belief or the universe,” Salazar, 41, told FIERCE. Today, the Bogotá-based designer’s brand of jewelry, purses and home goods intentionally tell tales.

Inspired by her love for Mexican culture, Salazar released a limited-edition two-part series of Mexican-inspired necklaces exclusively for mitú.

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For series, the Mexican-trained jewelry designer was inspired by one of Mexico’s most distinguished art forms: papel picado. In the delicate form of decorative paper, Salazar designed three necklaces in the phrases Amor Eterno, Viva México and Amor. The second part of this series highlights some of Mexico’s most beloved icons, La Virgen de Guadalupe, el corazón sagrado and la calavera.

Salazar is so detail-oriented with her jewelry that even the packaging is beautiful.

Aimee Sandoval Picazo

Each jewelry piece is shipped in a colorful cloth duster and placed in a sturdy board backing that elaborates on what makes papel picado so special to Mexico’s culture.

“These sayings are inspired by the decorative paper that fills the streets with color during Mexican holidays. During the 19th century, field workers in Puebla imitated Chinese art paper to create this art form that is now known as a staple in Mexican culture,” reads the card.

As with most of Salazar’s jewelry, this collection — which is not sold anywhere else in the world — is 18k gold-plated brass and is nickel-free, perfect for people with sensitivities to metals.

Aimee Sandoval Picazo

You can shop this exclusive Mercedes Salazar x mitú jewelry collection here.

Started in 2001, Mercedes Salazar’s handmade pieces are fabricated out of materials native to Latin America and assembled through traditional techniques of Colombian artisans.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

The vibrant, time-honored collections preserve history in their construction and spark conversations about beauty, culture and spirituality.

“Because the pieces are handmade, they are all unique, they are all different. They each tell an important story about the place they are made, the community of the artisans who created them and the way they live there,” she says.

In 2007, just six years after she started her brand, Salazar began building alliances with local artisans in indigenous communities throughout Colombia.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

Currently, the brand works with 10 different artisans from the South American country in a collaboration that Salazar refers to as a win-win: the artisans learn modern design while using precious, age-old techniques to craft necklaces, earrings and bracelets that will be worn by shoppers worldwide.

According to Salazar, ancestral techniques are infused into many levels of the manufacturing process. Its crochet technique comes from the Wayyú indigenous community of la Guajira. The straw-weaving style stems from the Zenú artisans of Córdoba. The iraca palm-weaving originates among the artisans of Nariño. And the werregue palm-weaving derives from the Wounaan Nonam community from Chocó. 

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

“By making local artisans a part of the chain of production, we don’t just improve the quality of our designs but it also makes their quality of life better. As we get bigger orders, we need to hire more artisans, which inspires them to teach their family and friends and keeps these techniques alive. It’s a beautiful exchange,” she says.

And nearly two decades after Mercedes Salazar first launched, the brand has grown beyond its founder’s wildest dreams.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

At 23, after studying jewelry and goldsmithery at the Artisan School of INBA in Mexico, Salazar returned to Bogotá and started Mercedes Salazar Jewelry, beginning with a small line of contemporary jewelry made of recovered materials, like buttons, leather, metals nuts and bolts. In just four years, Mercedes Salazar opened its first store in Bogotá. That same year, in 2005, they made their first export to the US. Currently, in addition to having five Mercedes Salazar shops across Colombia, including in Medellín and Cartagena, the brand has become global. The company is currently present in 19 markets across the Americas, Europe, the United Kingdom and Asia, distributing internationally through its website and retailing at department stores and online shops like Nordstrom and REVOLVE.

“I believe that when you have passion and love for what you do, the magic happens,” Salazar says of her rapid success.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

Running a mission-driven, hand-crafted jewelry business hasn’t been without its difficulties.

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

For Salazar, the hardest part about building her brand has been finding the correct market for her designs. In 2015, for instance, she started a project called “Proyecto Peligro” that aimed to improve the lives of incarcerated men in Bogotá by training them on crochet techniques. The program was multipurpose. To start, the handwork, Salazar says, was meditative. Additionally, the designs they created — plastic ribbons that said “peligro” and resembled “caution” barrier tapes — reminded them and those who wore the pieces that the only danger in life is not giving people second chances. While the project was meaningful to Salazar and the men involved, she was forced to end it after a year and a half because she wasn’t able to attract the right market for the pieces they were creating.

“It was really difficult to sell the final product. I never found a real distribution market, and at the end, I had to buy all the pieces from the guys involved in the project,” Salazar said. “In order to keep this brand alive, sometimes those beautiful projects are temporary. That’s why I take really good care of the artisans I’m working with. I don’t want to repeat that.”

And she rarely has had to halt new ventures. With hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and clients like Katy Perry, Colombian singer Kali Uchis and Spanish actress Paula Echevarría, Mercedes Salazar is beloved and growing.

Salazar will soon launch Tropicália, a brand of handmade home goods like candle holders and lamps, which will also be created through traditional artisanal techniques. 

@mercedessalazar / Instagram

“What’s really important for me is that my employees and team grow stronger every year, I become more and more conscious of the things I do for my country, that the women who wear my designs feel free and special, and that we can continue to tell beautiful stories together,” she said.

Purchase a Mercedes Salazar x mitú necklace for yourself or a loved one from the mitú shop

FIERCE has teamed up with Mercedes Salazar to produce an exclusive line of handcrafted, 18k gold-plated and nickel-free pieces. Click here to shop.

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El Pollo Loco Creates Hispanic Heritage Month Grant To Support Latina Small Businesses

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El Pollo Loco Creates Hispanic Heritage Month Grant To Support Latina Small Businesses

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Covid-19 has devastated millions of Americans with job loss. Unemployment skyrocketed as the federal government failed to create and execute a plan to combat the pandemic. El Pollo Loco is stepping up and giving our community a chance to keep business doors open and community members employed.

El Pollo Loco is giving Latina business owners in the greater Los Angeles area a lifeline in these uncertain times.

The Latino community is the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs and business owners in the U.S. According to a Stanford University study, Latino business owners grew 34 percent while every other demographic grew 1 percent over the last ten years.

However, Covid has changed things. Latina-owned business are some of the hardest hit and the sudden loss is impacting our community. According to the Pew Research Center, Latinas experienced a -21 percent change in small business ownership and jobs since the Covid downturn.

El Pollo Loco is offering $100,000 in grants to different Latina-owned businesses because of the pandemic.

The fast food chain has started a GoFundMe to keep the donations going. El Pollo Loco has already pledged $100,000 to help Latina small businesses and the GoFundMe promises to keep the donations flowing. For every $10,000 raised in the GoFundMe, El Pollo Loco will donate it to a Latina small business. The GoFundMe has raised over $100,000 at the time of this post.

#WeAllGrow Latina partnered with El Pollo Loco to give Latina business owners this lifeline.

#WeAllGrow Latina and El Pollo Loco are asking the Latino community to help find Latina small businesses that deserve the grants. Instead of making the decision themselves, #WeAllGrow Latina and El Pollo Loco want you to nominate your favorite Latina small business for the grant.

“This year has been unlike any other, leaving Latina-owned businesses disproportionately impacted,” Bernard Acoca, President and Chief Executive Officer of El Pollo Loco, said in a statement. “Given the critical role brands are expected to play during the pandemic and on the heels of Hispanic Heritage Month, we felt compelled to find a way to support the people and city we call home.”

In order to nominate a business, here is what you have to do.

Credit: weallgrowlatina.com/fundlatinafoodjefas

Using social media, nominate your favorite LA-based Latina small business and tag @elpolloloco and @weallgrowlatina while using #grantcontest and #FundLatinaFoodJefas. You can nominate the business up to five times.

People are already nominating their favorite food places in LA.

You have until Sept. 15 to nominate your favorite Latina small business. You can help them win $10,000 and mentorship from El Pollo Loco to help Latina business owners in LA keep their doors open. You can learn more here.

READ: California Is Poised To Become The First State To Offer Unemployment To Undocumented Workers

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How ‘Latinx With Plants’ Bloomed From Instagram To An L.A. Shop Reconnecting The Gente To Plant Healing Properties

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How ‘Latinx With Plants’ Bloomed From Instagram To An L.A. Shop Reconnecting The Gente To Plant Healing Properties

Growing up, Andi Xoch’s aunt encouraged her to speak to plants. Her relatives usually laughed at the sight of a woman talking to her in-house flowers, but Xoch was intrigued. As a little girl, she acknowledged that there was life inside the pots, so conversing with them seemed standard. More than two decades later, that seed of curiosity about flora bloomed into Latinx with Plants, a digital community and IRL Los Angeles-based shop that teaches Latinxs of their ancestral relationship with herbage.

Sprouted in the spring of 2019, Latinx with Plants started as an account on Instagram. Through the page, Xoch wanted to provide representation of Latinx plant parents that she felt was lacking despite the community’s deep and vast connection with herbs and gardening.

“We’ve had a long connection with plants even before the trend started,” Xoch, a Mexico City-born, L.A.-raised organizer and artist, tells FIERCE.

“I wanted to represent that, to show that we’ve been part of this world even if it’s not presented in an Instagrammable form.”

For the past few years, so-called plant porn has dominated Instagram content. With hashtags like #plantgang and #urbanjungles, the growing trend has helped produce a new generation of young people with green fingers that are boosting sales of houseplants and inspiring even the basement recluse to be a plant parent. In fact, a National Gardening report found that 83 percent of the people in the U.S. who took up gardening in 2016 were between the ages of 18 and 34. Even more, it reported that 37 percent of millennials grow herbs and plants indoors, more than the 28 percent of baby boomers who do the same.

However, with the exception of a few accounts, including Xoch’s friend D’Real who created @blackwithplants and inspired her to make a similar account, many of these digital spaces are overwhelmingly white. This, Xoch says, ignores the history Latinxs have with plants and the sustainable practices they developed while gardening for decades.

“You walk onto our people’s front yards and you see their food: plantains, avocados [and] chayotes. And it’s all sustainable; they use pots made out of buckets and cans. It’s beautiful,” the 32-year-old says. “This is who we are. This is our culture.”

As Latinxs, Xoch says that our Indigenous roots have been forgotten or intentionally kept from us but that we can reconnect to our origins through inherited practices. Among them is ancestral medicines. At her shop, several elders come in and casually inform Xoch about the healing properties of her different plants. While the whitewashed mainstream plant blogosphere has co-opted much of the everyday traditions practiced within low-income communities of color, she finds comfort in knowing that these remedies are being passed down across generations through word of mouth and are not being commodified. 

These informal educational encounters is one of the reasons why Xoch established her brick and mortar in August. Aside from selling an array of plants at the Boyle Heights-located shop, she wanted to create a space where new plant parents and señora gardeners can enter and feel welcomed, experience the joyous power of verdure and learn from one another. 

She says that her mission is to build community and help people who feel depressed, anxious and alone, particularly amid the Covid-19 pandemic, experience the healing power of plants.

“Plants can be an asset to you because, whether you think it’s just for the plant’s sake to be alive, you are actually participating in a self-care act by nurturing your plant,” Xoch says. “They force you to get up every day and help you realize a lot of beautiful things about yourself that you forget to acknowledge: the caregiving, the attention, the love, the dancing, the singing — all the things that make it bloom are also exercises in self-love, self-care and self-preservation.” 

A newbie business owner, Xoch says she now has another objective, though: to offer a non-traditional example of success and to be honest about the struggles of entrepreneurship. 

On paper, Xoch’s road to becoming a boss seems swift and simple: She learned the location of a potential property on a Sunday, visited it on Monday, signed her lease on Wednesday and opened up shop the following weekend. However, the reality is much more complicated. A high school dropout, her lifelong dream to open a business was halted because she lacked the confidence, capital and connections to get started. Even when she did launch the store, the experience was far from easy. Xoch opened her small business from the ground up on a tight budget amid a pandemic and while her father sat ill at a hospital where doctors thought he would die.

“I want people to know this is real shit that people go through. We have the load of the world on us, we are caring for our relatives and we are trying to make sure our business is doing well,” she says. “I walk in [my store] and that alone is defying the odds.”


Follow Latinx with Plants on Instagram. For those in Los Angeles, visit the shop, which is complying with Covid-19 regulations and operating by appointment only, at 2117 E Cesar Chavez Ave.

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