One aspect you may not have known about small business entrepreneurship and branding is the difficulty in equally embracing the techniques and traditions of the past while pushing the boundaries of today’s culture and fashion.
However, San Diego sewing shop Sew Loka has seamlessly combined folklore, the celebration of Latino culture, and appreciation for unique fashion accessories.
Claudia Rodriguez-Biezunski, a Chicana fashion designer and owner of Sew Loka, has an unwavering goal of breaking down barriers, using her personal journey and experiences as a Mexican American artist to keep her brand north.
As a Latina entrepreneur, Rodriguez-Biezunkski is determined to blur social norms and help underprivileged communities through affordable, cutting-edge, environmentally conscious handcrafted products.
Plus, Sew Loka is aesthetically unique — with a handmade, punk vibe that is both familiar and fun. But this brand is so much more than its look and style: it has a vibrant identity, inspired by its founder’s Mexican roots, her family’s hard work, and the valuable lesson Rodriguez-Biezunkski learned at a young age: that you can always take something old and make it new.
However, Claudia’s path to where she is today was not without obstacles. Although her immigrant parents introduced her to sewing at an early age, her family often discouraged her from pursuing a creative career.
As a child, Claudia watched her father, who owned a denim factory in San Fernando, California, and her mother, who stayed home and sewed all the clothes for her children’s work.
Despite being surrounded by creativity from the beginning, Claudia was often embarrassed by how her mother reused materials to save money.
It wasn’t until she was 20 years old when Claudia decided to quit her job as a receptionist to pursue her dream of owning her own business and serving her community through her custom sewing creations — all inspired by her family history and Mexican roots.
It was a bold move, but she never looked back.
BELatina sat down to chat with Claudia, the creative genius behind Sew Loka, to learn all about what inspires her, the goals for her brand, and her best advice for other Latina entrepreneurs and artists.
Tell us a little about Sew Loka. How did you first come up with the idea to create a sewing studio that only used upcycled materials?
Sew Loka is a punk-inspired DIY streetwear clothing brand based in Barrio Logan, San Diego. We cut and sew all of our own designs in the back of our studio, and then we have a retail section upfront. I grew up one of six children in San Fernando, and my parents were always on a super tight budget. I watched them both constantly reuse and recycle everything around us to save money, and I remember being super embarrassed about it at the time. Now, looking back, I am actually really inspired by their creativity and resilience. They taught me never to waste anything, and they also showed me that I could take something old and make it brand new again.
How do your pieces help you connect with your culture and your community?
I was raised in a small, tight-knit Mexican-American community, and I remember always being surrounded by vibrant colors and religious imagery. My childhood definitely has had a huge influence on my current designs. The more that I discover and learn about my family and my past, the easier it is for me, as an artist, to create clothing that truly connects with my community.
What first inspired you to chase your dreams of opening Sew Loka and pursuing a creative career path?
Since I was a young kid, I always remember having this feeling that I would be successful. I kept this feeling a secret from my family and friends because I did not want them to laugh at me or tell me that I was wrong, but the feeling just kept getting stronger, and it eventually drove me to open up my own sewing studio in San Diego. Sewing is my life, and I knew that I could be successful with sewing if I just stayed focused and never stopped creating.
Do you have a role model who inspires your work and your entrepreneurial spirit?
Some of my earliest memories are of my sisters and me selling with my father at the San Fernando Swap Meet. My father is definitely an entrepreneur, and he taught me how to talk to customers and close sales at a very young age. My mom has an incredible work ethic and growing up. It was inspiring to see her always working and having multiple side hustles. She never learned English, but she was always able to use her skills to pay the bills, and that was very inspiring to see as a child.
What advice do you have for other Latina entrepreneurs who aren’t sure where to begin in their new ventures or who are struggling to find their path?
Your heart will always guide you in the right direction, and if you want something bad enough and are willing to put in the time to really work for it, then you will get it. I am not the most talented sewist, and I didn’t go to college or fashion design school, but I do work really hard, and when everyone else is out partying, I am in the sewing studio working on my next design. But no matter which path you choose in life, just remember that consistency is key. You have to keep creating and promoting your business during the good times and even more so during the bad. I opened Sew Loka in 2013, but it wasn’t until very recently that I got any sort of attention or recognition for my business. Nothing happens overnight, but if you are willing to stay consistent and work hard, you will be successful.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced as a Latina business owner?
As a Latina business owner, I feel like I am always underpricing my work to avoid being labeled pricey or too expensive. I see my peers charging four times what I’m charging for their one piece of clothing that’s similar to mine, and it makes me angry at myself for pricing my items so low; I don’t want to price out my family and friends, but I also don’t want my business model to fail. So, over time, I’ve learned to love and value myself more, which has made it easier for me to charge more reasonable prices for my work. I now understand my value, and I know how hard I’ve worked to get where I am today; I deserve to charge what my peers are charging, and going forward, that is exactly what I plan to do.
What’s next for Sew Loka?
Many of the clothing designs I have created over this past year have been directly influenced by my childhood growing up in San Fernando. The churches, the lowrider shows, and the family kickbacks are all beautiful memories that continue to provide me with great inspiration and comfort. But I feel it’s time for me to step outside of my comfort zone and try something completely new and rebellious with my designs. Going forward, the clothing I will create will be more heavily influenced by my IDGAF teenage years of partying in the San Fernando Valley. I will definitely be taking more risks and putting myself out there more as an artist in the future. 2022 is going to be a really great year for Sew Loka — stay tuned!