If you grew up in the 90s, then chances are you experienced the colorful, whimsical, wild world of Lisa Frank — the stationary queen of that decade. While stationery products may mean something different these days, fun, bright, happy graphic designs and catchy collectible goods will never go out of style, a fact that Cristina Martinez is betting on.
This Latina entrepreneur is fashioning herself as the Chicana Lisa Frank, speaking to a new generation and a different community of influencers with her brand of stationery, pens, notepads, stickers, wrapping paper, and even mugs, all featuring her favorite Spanish idioms in a fun, approachable way. The goal of her brand is to keep her culture alive with accessible, colorful, and fun goods, and her personal mission has led to a growing business.
Cristina Martinez, the San Antonio-born creative talent and Latina entrepreneur behind Very That is passionate about making cute products for chingonas who feel most empowered when being authentically badass. The third daughter to immigrant parents, Martinez’s brand is truly inspired by her upbringing, her background, and perhaps most importantly, how certain phrases and memories from her childhood have inspired who she is today.
On the Very That website, Cristina Martinez explains that “summers spent in Mexico with her Tias, weekend carne asadas and loterias, and memories of listening to Juan Gabriel at max volume while cleaning the house are the roots of her inspiration.”
What began in 2010 as a side hustle and a creative outlet to connect with her culture and her roots turned into a successful business, a fact that she credits largely to her upbringing and also to the support and passion of the Latino community.
She recalls her world turning upside down in 2013 after her mother — someone she describes as “ponderosa,” or powerful woman — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother’s illness led to a shift in perspective and Martinez knew she could not go back to the corporate work she had been doing for years, so she immersed herself fully in Very That, and the rest is history.
“Very That was first inspired by my childhood, my culture, and my Mom & Grandma,” Cristina told BELatina. “That foundation remains, but it has expanded to being inspired by all women, but specifically Women of Color. I find so much beauty in color, in language, in comadrehood. My mission has always been to help preserve our cultura, the beautiful dichos that have guided me through life.”
From mugs to medals, jewelry to journals, pins, pens, phone cases and our personal favorite, affirmation stickers, Martinez seems to have her finger on the pulse of chicana culture. Playing off terms of endearment or sassy phrases, she is using her brand, her voice, and the products she is creating to help keep her culture alive. “To keep it alive is super important to me,” Martinez said. “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of thinking and planning, but I don’t want anything else.”
Beyond her own success and the success of her brand, Cristina Martinez is on a mission to empower and inspire other Latina entrepreneurs as well. And she has a ton of wisdom to share with aspiring business owners. “First and foremost, follow your heart and your gut,” she says. “There is only one you, so make sure what you’re creating/producing is authentic to your voice.”
In addition, she stresses the reality that in starting a business, there are many lessons learned, and sometimes you have to learn things by making mistakes. “I can’t tell you the number of times that I had to learn something “the hard way”, or how much money I’ve spent trying to learn something new. I have printed tote bags with typos LOL! I have “wasted” so much material trying to get things right, but I take all of those experiences and turn them into something powerful.”
Cristina understands deeply that a crucial part of helping other Women of Color achieve success in the business world is to serve as a role model and be a mentor to future generations. “Seek mentorship, and then lend yourself to mentoring,” she suggests. “It is so essential to connect to other women and learn from each other. I have many madrinas in my life, some have been essential to my business growth, and others to life in general. And now, after being self-employed for almost 10 years, I have opened up to mentoring, too. I have never stopped learning; I have never stopped seeking to learn!”
And for all of the Very That fans who want to know what’s next for Martinez, she has big plans for the future. “I always say I want to be the Chicana Lisa Frank! I would love to get my products into places like HEB (the beloved Texas grocery chain), places where I would go growing up, and where my nieces and nephew frequent now. I want every little girl to see themselves on store shelves, but designed by someone LIKE them,” she says.
Social media is also a big focus for the future, both as a way to grow her business, but also a way to use her voice to support crucial social justice issues. “I teamed up with my city in 2020 to speed awareness about Covid-19 precautions and voting info… That was major for me because I created content specifically for mi gente. I would love to do more of that on a bigger scale. Women of Color have such a powerful voice, we can collectively decide so much, and I want to be one of the voices that empower other women.”