This Chicana CEO Redefines Corporate Success With Her Brand, Nopalera

Sandra Velásquez Nopalera BELatina Latinx
Image courtesy of Sandra Velásquez.

Sandra Velásquez always thought her destiny was on a stage with a band and a microphone. But life would show her that her mission lay elsewhere.

Just before the pandemic, Sandra visited her family in California. As often happens with the calls of destiny, she realized that her path was closer to making soap than singing to audiences.

At her family’s home, Sandra learned to make soap, substituting aloe vera for the prickly pear cactus from her mother’s garden – el nopal. That’s when the question hit her: where are the high-end Mexican beauty products?

That’s how Nopalera, a Mexican luxury bath and body brand that elevates the value of Latin products, was born.

“It may seem like a jump from being an indie musician to being an entrepreneur, but the mission is the same,” Sandra told BELatina. “I’m still a cultural storyteller, just through a different medium and using a different paintbrush.”

Velasquez has grown her cactus-inspired vegan brand into a $0.5 million company in the first year. She attracted dream retailers in the first year and achieved $600K in sales with key partners such as Nordstrom, Credo Beauty, 300+ influential boutiques, and DTC.

Nopalera shows others in the Latino community that a bold idea with a strong mission is more important than having access to capital or the right network.

BELatina had the pleasure of speaking with Sandra Velasquez about her adventure with Nopalera, and this is what she had to say:

What made you realize the need for spaces and opportunities for our community?

First, Latinos are the largest minority group and outspend other groups in the beauty category, yet no premium Latina brands exist in the body care space until now.

And second, we live in a Euro-centric society that normalizes higher price tags for brands with French and Italian names. I intentionally created a brand with a Spanish name that celebrates Latino culture to disrupt that. Nopalera is speaking to the overlooked Latina clean beauty customer.

How did the idea for Nopalera come about? 

Self-responsibility was my entry point into entrepreneurship. I knew the only way I would change my financial life, and that of my daughters was by creating something bigger than I had ever been a part of before. I identified the brownspace opportunity in the market and created a brand in the category with the biggest opportunity: bath and body. I wanted to anchor the brand to my culture, and the Nopal was the perfect metaphor for a resilient community that has been taken for granted. Ancient, beautiful, and has always been here. Just like us. 

What obstacles have you had to overcome, and how has being Chicana helped you to do so? 

The biggest obstacles are not having access to capital and being a beauty outsider. For Nopalera, it took me a while to find the right suppliers and manufacturers because I had no contacts, to begin with. As a former indie musician, I have strengthened my resilience and rejection muscles and know how to be scrappy and survive.

What would you recommend to another Latina who is considering starting her own brand? 

Begin with the end in mind. Don’t allow yourself to be constricted by your current financial circumstances. Really envision the brand you want to create and the impact it will have. Study the competitive landscape. No brand exists in a vacuum. Invest in yourself. Take classes, read books, and listen to podcasts. Lastly, it’s really important to surround yourself with people who want to see you win. This may mean letting go of old relationships. That’s ok. The more you grow as a person, the more your business will succeed.

What are your next projects? 

We are in the middle of our first fundraising to prepare the company for growth over the next two years. We are also working on new products for 2023.

Anything else you would like to add? 

Put yourself into new rooms with people several steps ahead of you. This will change your life. Nothing changes if you don’t.