If you have unruly curls, hair with a mind of its own, and stubborn strands that literally don’t listen or respond to your best beauty efforts, then you’re not alone. If you’re a Latina with uniquely textured curls that need a little extra love, you’re not alone, and you’re also in luck. Beauty entrepreneur and inspirational Latina powerhouse Julissa Prado has you covered. Her own awakening and hair struggles growing up led her to ultimately create a hair care and beauty empire designed specifically to speak to the Latina community. What started as a personal mission turned into a beauty brand with a cult following, and her journey is both beautiful and inspiring wrapped up in a perfect curly package.
Julissa’s road to success has not exactly been a stick straight line, but rather a curved and unique path, much like her uniquely gorgeous curls. Much of her inspiration comes from her own experiences as a young Afro-Latina girl, when she struggled to accept her natural features and her hard-to-manage curls. Growing up in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood in Los Angeles, Prado was surrounded by the pressure to have straight hair and to look like the other mainstream beauty trends. She tried everything from a gelled-down ponytail to extra hairspray to an actual iron to straighten her hair. But nothing really worked, and many of those techniques actually terrified her (as having your hair fried on an ironing board might do). She realized that she was putting herself through agony and stressing about achieving a beauty standard that wasn’t her, wasn’t realistic and was actually hurting her self-esteem rather than making her feel more beautiful.
Julissa knew deep down in her soul that she was going to change the beauty standards and change the face of beauty products for Latina women. But it didn’t happen overnight — while her vision first began at the impressive age of fifteen, her life took a few twists and turns first.
She went to college. She went to graduate school. She worked in corporate America for several years, including a stint at PepsiCo. She learned a lot along the way, but she always came back to her passion — she dreamt of creating the best products to help Latina women look and feel their best. It had been her dream since she was a teen, and her deep desire to empower the Latina community in a meaningful way helped her finally launch Rizos Curls several years later.
Today her brand has a cult following from loyal curly fans, a strong social media community and aspiring Latina entrepreneurs. Her dedicated fan base of over 175K Instagram followers do more than just buy her products, they engage. Her #RizosReinas movement empowers women with the tagline “Because you are a Queen & your Curls your Crown” and encourages them to share photos and videos of their curls to spread the message of self-love and self-empowerment around the world.
And for every product sold or beauty story shared, Julissa doesn’t just sit back and celebrate her success — she pays it forward and works hard to lift up the Latina community one fundraising event, self-empowerment speaker series and community outreach program at a time.
This past summer she launched The Latina Ladder #RizosReinas Tour, a speaking tour where members of her community engage in conversations around self-worth, starting your own business, or owning your passions. Her goal is to empower other Latinas to follow their dreams and embrace their authentic selves. And she also hosted a Perreo Pa Mi Gente event to raise funds for @lets.give to help the families affected by the recent ICE raids in Mississippi. Using her platform to bring attention to important issues for the Latina community is a part of who she is, and it’s a huge part of why we love her.
When you first meet Julissa, you probably notice her gorgeous hair and envy her confidence. When you hear her speak, you’re instantly inspired, as if her energy and passion are transferred to you by osmosis. Her zest for life and her free-spirited attitude are infectious. As you learn more about her mission, her work, her experiences and her efforts, you realize that she is so much more than just her gorgeous curls — she is making the world a more beautiful place for Latinas and women everywhere.
We sat down to talk to Julissa about her beauty journey, her road to success, her entrepreneurial experience and her mission to empower a future generation of Latinas.
Julissa’s responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What first inspired you to start Rizos Curls?
I always like to mention that the reason why so much of Rizos Curls doesn’t necessarily feel like a conventional business is because I never had the intention of selling the product or selling anything. When I started making my own product and formulas it was to treat my own hair and my family and my friends’ hair. And then even when I decided to go to a lab and make the products more professional, it was more because my little concoctions that I would make would go bad so quickly, because they weren’t professional. It was more for convenience for myself and for my friends. Then fast forward a few years later and Rizos Curls has become a full-blown business and we now ship to over 57 countries around the world, to countries I’ve never even been to. It’s such a crazy blessing and something I never intended for, but that I’m very thankful for. Today I do a lot of workshops and mentoring programs through Las Jefas Crew, another group I started, and one of the most asked questions I get asked is “how do I start a business?” and my answer is always that you don’t just start a business, you find a problem and you create a solution. If you’re just in it to start a business, that’s not sustainable. Your business should solve a problem that whatever community you want to target is facing.
Rizos Curls is more than just a beauty brand – it’s a movement. Was your vision always to create a community and forum for Latina women to share beauty and cultural tips and pride for their curls? Or did your social engagement evolve as your brand evolved?
I would say Rizos Curls was and is community first. Rizos Curls is all about curls, community and culture. And no one part is bigger than any of the other parts. Curls is about the product, and our product is to help other women (and men too) embrace their natural curl texture. Community in that we want to do it in a way where we are empowering and giving back to our community. And culture is like, I’m Latina, my baby Rizos Curls is Latina, and I’m going to wear my culture everywhere that I go and be unapologetic about it. It’s all three parts and the community part happened even before the business, even before I started selling anything. I had already built a community even before I was on social media. When I was in high school and college, and again, this was all accidental, I would come across a lot of “undercover curly’s” as I would call them. The majority of our customers are not women who have worn their hair curly before, but who are wearing their hair natural for the very first time. So I would run into these women in the bathroom or in the elevator or in class who would ask me “how do I get my hair to look like yours?” and I would go to their dorm room or their house and I would do their hair, teach them my concoctions, and they would see their hair curly for the first time.
I did that for ten years, all through high school and college. And then later when I launched my first product and when I launched social media, those were my first customers. It was hundreds of women and people I had lost contact with, who were buying my products and supporting my brand. We built a community before we had a product to sell them, and initially all I was selling to the community was the power of self-hair-love.
It seems that Latina women are finally embracing their natural beauty. What do you think is driving this natural hair movement, and how is it creating a cultural shift in this country?
I think a lot of times businesses try to be very politically correct, but at the end of the day, my business is very political. Women of color having self-love in itself is like a revolutionary act. And it’s all related to the political climate from years ago when Trump was first elected. Part of why this movement has happened among Latinos and why Latinos at large want to be unapologetically Latino is because of the political climate when Trump was first running for president. All of the negative sentiments, criticizing us, watching our people get put down in the media — it’s almost like when someone feels so attacked it makes you want to have more pride and show people, “I’m not ashamed, I’m going to come out and wear my culture on my sleeve, because you’re not about to represent me like this.”
I think that had so much to do with why women of color were going against the western standards of beauty; they’re not trying to assimilate by taming their hair and having their hair be straight and flat anymore. Just the act of taking up space as a woman of color is a revolutionary act. Part of having your hair be straightened and flat, not letting it have all the volume and all the curls, is about not allowing your being to take up space, the space that you deserve. It’s part of you feeling like you need to make yourself small. For so many of these women, before they could even embrace their hair, they needed to embrace the act of fighting back by simply existing and taking up space.
What inspired you to launch The Latina Ladder? And what have you learned from starting conversations about self-love and inspiring a new generation of Latina entrepreneurs?
We were always kind of doing the Latina Ladder, it just didn’t have a name yet, and we weren’t running it like a business. So much of what we do at Rizos Curls comes from the heart, and my heart told me to do this event for the community, but recently we realized that in order to become more mainstream we needed to be more intentional with our efforts. You need to act like other businesses and have messaging behind all that you do. So while we had already been offering scholarships and we were being philanthropic within the community, we just decided to make it more formal and give it an actual name.
I always say that to be successful you need to make sure that all your movements are hashtag-able. So much of what women of color do comes from the heart and is for the community, but we can forget that at the end of the day you have a business and you owe it to your community to make what do you sustainable. Don’t let your business, your brands and you campaign die with you. Make sure that you’re setting a foundation and setting an example for other people to do stuff like that too. Make sure every single one of your campaigns is hashtag-able; let it be searchable, let it reach the masses, let it reach people outside of the immediate audience you are touching, let it be seen in other countries and heard other languages, and let someone else see what you’re doing, be inspired and do more.
At Rizos Curls, I’m always highlighting other Latinas and other Latina brands that have a similar mission and are doing things in a similar way, because I think that companies should prioritize something other than just a product. It shouldn’t be rare for companies to lift each other up, it should be the norm; the norm should be that we as a community hold businesses and companies accountable to give back to the community that put them in power in the first place.
What advice would you give to other aspiring Latina entrepreneurs?
My biggest lesson starting a business is that there is so much I didn’t know. I never realized how much I didn’t know. I realized quickly that if I was going to be a business and a brand, I needed to act like it, and I needed to package everything I did intentionally and that my messaging was correct. I’m the first one to admit that. Businesses often say, “I started from the ground up or I started with zero marketing dollars, I built this myself,” and if that’s really the case then you have a responsibility to be transparent and be genuine to our community. With me, the reason I became so vocal about hosting workshops and panels and to share my experience, it wasn’t about me, it’s because it’s so much bigger than me. People who look like me and grew up where I grew up, they never made it out. And for some reason, for me the stars aligned and the universe aligned, it wasn’t just by chance, for some reason the universe wanted me to be here, and I can’t be selfish. When preparation meets opportunity good things happen, and I’ve been preparing for this my whole life without even knowing it. I’ve been working on learning about business, growing a business, I’ve been preparing for this, and when the opportunities came I was lucky, but also prepared.
What’s next for Rizos Curls and for your journey?
In general, everything I’m doing, my biggest goal is to become mainstream. I don’t want to just be a Latina-owned brand that is niche and only shop-able in the ethnic section. We can become mainstream, and we can do it while still having these values and staying true to our community and giving back to our community. There’s different venues to get to mainstream — there’s the more conventional way of going to mass retailers and following the old way of doing things that’s already been written and then there’s the unwritten way, which is more about utilizing social media, utilizing the community, going straight to consumer and building it in that way. I think I’ve been doing a balance of both, and that’s my biggest goal right now, to open these doors and bring my girls and bring my Rizos Reinas to places where they’ve never felt comfortable. I want our community to take up space where they’ve never seen these curly brown girls before. I want the gates to be open. I’m fed up with these big companies and these gatekeepers only seeing us as a number. Latinas empower these companies and I want us to be seen as more than a number, I want us to have a place at the table.