Over at BeLatina News, we love to highlight Latinx-owned small businesses. However, what truly catches our eyes and gets us even more inspired are the small businesses that go the extra mile and dedicate their e-commerce to help others. This month, we had the pleasure of getting to know Adelita’s Apparel, an immigrant-owned tiendita curated by two sisters, Yajahira and Atziri Peña, that does just that.
Putting their efforts together, the sisters brought to life this hands-on-passion project that sells products that advocate for serious issues, such as their ABOLISH ICE t-shirt, and serves as a space that supports DACA students by creating funds for their annual renewal process. Adelita’s Apparel also has a Binder Fund to help our LGBTQ+ community, and on top of that, they also have created a digital library with important resources to help their community.
The Peña sisters have definitely thought it through in terms of inclusivity and compassion, making sure to include the LGBTQ+ community and highlighting mental health awareness, which are at times looked upon as weaknesses in the Latinx community.
To get an inside look at their meaningful apparel store, we spoke to Atziri Peña about what makes their family-operated business stand out — from the way they manage as a small business and about their absolute goal of helping out their undocumented community.
Tell us about Adelita’s Apparel. How did this project come to be? How long have you two been working on it?
We have had Adelita’s Apparel for more than three years. We started in 2017. We started because we were college students, and we needed a way to pay for our books. We used to have a different business: my sister used to sell vintage clothes, and I would sell band shirts, and that’s how we made our money. We decided one day that we wanted to do something a little more meaningful and a way to actually help our community. So we started Adelita’s Apparel in 2017 with the money that we both made separately.
The reason why we did the DACA fund was that we were in college struggling to pay this $500 fee every two years, and what people don’t realize is that $500 is a lot as it is, but a lot of these families are paying this for more than just one person. We pay three of them in our family, so that’s already $1,500 every two years.
Something that caught our attention about Adelita’s Apparel was the DACA Renewal funds. First of all, how does Adelita’s Apparel choose artists for the collection?
We just ask people to contribute. It’s based on whoever wants to actively help out. We don’t turn anyone around. If somebody doesn’t actually sell or have a store but wants to donate something, we accept that too. We have many people who travel outside and bring souvenirs and send them to us to sell them. We also have artists donate the designs and tell us what they want them to be used for.
One hundred percent of what you buy from that collection goes to the DACA fund. We don’t take a price cut. The artist or the person who donated [the merchandise] does not take a price cut either.
As far as the DACA Renewal funds go, are you choosing applicants? Or how are you distributing them?
So, the DACA renewal funds, the way that we choose who gets to apply is really simple. We opened the application, and anybody could apply. Right now, they [the U.S. government] are not accepting new applicants, so it’s strictly just renewals that we are doing. We only ask for their name and their expiration date — it doesn’t really matter where they’re from. It’s not just based in Los Angeles. It’s based on whoever does apply. The only downfall is that we are such a small brand, so when we open the DACA fund, it’s only for sometimes five people, other times 10 or 20. We then close it, and once we fund the number of people we have, we open it back up. It’s an application that opens and closes.
You also do Binder funds. How did this come to be, and how do you work on this? For those who don’t know, tell us what a Binder fund is.
A binder is what people, either Trans or Non-binary, use to hide their cleavage. It helps people feel more comfortable with who they are, and we started that because we realized that we have such a big LGBTQ+ community. A big problem about that is that most people who are LGBTQ+, especially in a Latinx household, are not open about it. What comes with that is that you’re not so open to asking your parents to give you money to fund a binder because they’re not going to be open to the idea, or it’s going to out you. So we decided that it would be a cool idea to fund that and help people pay for it because it’s almost like a bra — you can’t just buy one bra and be fine for months. You have to buy like two or three. It does add up.
How did you start getting involved in the community? What would you advise others who are trying to do the same?
One of the biggest things that helped us become involved in the community is that we grew up going to the swapmeet. My mom used to work at the swapmeet, so we were always around that community. We are undocumented ourselves, so it helps us understand and talk about the issues without it being so one-sided. We understand what our community needs. A lot of people don’t even know that DACA costs up to $500. Sometimes we have people asking us how much it costs, thinking it costs like $100, and when we tell them how much it is, they’re like, “Oh my God, I thought I was going to be able to fund a whole one! But I’ll come back when I get that money and help out!” So we are able to create more awareness through that.
The best advice I could give is that the community always comes through. When we talk about our DACA fund or binder fund, we always get thanked for our work, but this is a community effort – not just an effort by us. One of the biggest pieces of advice is creating a community and really listening to the people you’re supporting and uplifting. And, know that you’re not alone. Many people are scared to start a business or just try to take that leap of faith to do what they aspire to do, but it always takes that one person to do it!
As a small business owner and immigrant, what challenges have you faced in the e-commerce world?
A lot of it is people not taking us seriously. People think that our dad owns the business because they don’t see it as woman-led commerce. It’s tough, especially when we do shirts. Many people who sell shirts are male, so a lot of the business deals sometimes have to go through my dad so that people don’t take advantage of us.
What is your goal for Adelita’s Apparel?
Right now, we are trying to release our lipstick line. This is our second year working on it. Other than that, creating more spaces like we’re doing and bringing in more inventory that is more reflective of who we are as people.
Anything else that you’d like to add?
One of the things we would like to add is to invest in your undocumented community, especially now that we are not getting as much funds or help as we should be — especially our street vendors!