In The Community
Read on to discover how this Latina went from one dream job to another.
LM: Saskia! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you began your business and what inspired you.
SS: Prior to starting Fresh Bellies, I worked at the NBA, where I was VP of Marketing, in charge of creating, managing, and executing the league’s muti-platform campaigns targeted to its priority fan bases including Hispanics, African-Americans, women, and kids.
Working at the NBA was my dream job, but then I had children and my priorities changed! When my girls were little and I turned to the grocery aisles for help, I didn’t like what I saw on the shelves. The products were bland, made with artificial ingredients and had high sugar and sodium content - none of which I wanted to feed my family. I couldn’t find anything that was healthy, flavorful or savory. So I took some inspiration from my Ecuadorian upbringing around a variety of foods and flavors, and I started Fresh Bellies.
We use combinations like mushrooms with sage and garlic, snap peas with cumin, and mangos with basil - all unheard of in the snack space! As my kids grew older, and I realized the available options got worse, I decided to create a brand that made healthy eating more flavorful and joyful for kids and adults of all ages, so that the whole family could snack together.
LM: Tell us more about your products and where you source your materials and ingredients from.
Fresh Bellies Products
Photo courtesy of Saskia Sorrosa
SS: We were the first-ever savory kid brand that didn't hide veggies with fruit juice or sugars and instead celebrated bold, savory flavors from the get-go. As our toddler snack line grew and we looked at the rest of the market, we realized that as children got older their options got worse. We also noticed that the adult snacks market offered limited variety and was saturated with run-of-the mill flavors that weren’t all that exciting to me or my family.
A lot of these products that were marketed as ‘healthy’ were also full of junk. Given the success of our toddler snack line and the need we identified in the market beyond toddlers, we decided to extend our snack lines to include pre-schoolers and adults. Our products are vegan and, as a result, better for the environment. We never use artificial junk or preservatives and are mindful about the ingredients we use, sourcing and using only non-GMO verified and Kosher certified items.
We’re also intentional about our partners across the supply chain. As we’ve scaled, we’ve continued to focus on elements that help our products be both good for the environment and the customers who eat them. Most importantly, they’re culturally inspired, delicious and filling pantries everywhere with an explosion of flavors!
We’ve grown our distribution to 5,000 stores nationwide including Sprouts, Target, Whole Foods, Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, Wegman’s and more. We are now ranked a top 5 brand in natural toddler snacks in the entire country, even above some of the world’s largest food brands.
LM: Fresh Bellies was featured on an episode of Shark Tank. Share with us what that was like.
SS: We didn’t get a shark to bite during our Shark Tank experience, but those few minutes on TV taught us a lot about ourselves and our business. It also gave us mass exposure nationwide, allowing us to reach millions of viewers with our story. Being a part of Shark Tank is surreal and a rollercoaster ride you’ll never be ready for – no matter how many times you’ve pitched your company before.
You have to be OK with unpredictability, as there are a lot of unanswered questions as you navigate the selection process. Then, if you make it through, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’ll be completely exposed when you walk in the tank. You, your numbers and your story will be out there for the sharks to pick apart and ultimately, for others to witness on national TV - while not knowing the outcome.
All that to say, even though we didn’t lock down a shark as an investor and it was nerve-racking, we gained a lot with this experience. Our website saw a huge boost in traffic and purchases after our appearance and the momentum hasn’t dwindled since. Every time our episode reruns, we see a boost in online purchase orders, inbound email, and social media engagement. Customers recognize us from Shark Tank and as a result, seek our product. The ROI on marketing dollars and brand awareness is invaluable and was well worth the time and effort.
LM: What is some advice you can offer aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter your industry?
SS: Know what you’re capable of, what you bring to the table, use insights from your own background as a competitive advantage, and think strategically about what you need to be successful and how to position yourself to achieve your goals. It takes relentless perseverance to get to where you’re going and the path is not always linear. Be ready for some twists, peaks and valleys, and always believe in yourself along the way, so others can believe in you too.
There’s also a quote by Simon Sinek that I love: “Too many people ignore opportunities because they only see danger. Entrepreneurs ignore danger because they only see opportunities.”
To me, it means that as an entrepreneur, you’re willing to take the risk because the upside and opportunity far outweigh the fear, or the risks. If you’re willing to push past your comfort zone, you’ll start to see the world through an entirely new lens, and if something doesn’t work out, you can always try again. Opportunities aren’t one and done - they are there for the taking and for those who are willing to do the work.
LM: What are some challenges you faced that you didn’t expect as an entrepreneur? What are some challenges you did expect?
SS: Raising capital takes so much mental, physical, and emotional stamina. It’s actually a lot like dating. You need to meet a lot of people and do some soul searching before finding the ‘right one’ for you. To top it off, the stats for women of color, and for founders who are moms, are significantly lagging behind other demographic groups, particularly men. I look forward to the day when there’s equality in venture capital for future generations, like my daughters’, so that they can step into equitable opportunities to live out their dreams.
Tell us where we can find you online and follow your business adventures.
“Clean beauty” continues to transform the skincare industry by moving away from products that drench our skin in synthetic chemicals.
VAMIGAS, a Latina-owned, botanicals-focused beauty brand is doing their part to transform the way we care for our skin, naturally. Founded by Ann Murray-Dunning and Christina Kelmon, VAMIGAS uses naturally-derived ingredients in their skincare products inspired by Latin American beauty regimes for Latinx skin texture.
Luz Media caught up with both Ann and Christina to discuss their growing business, the ups and downs of ownership, and the future of their brand. Read on to find out more about these mujeres poderosas and their plans for the future.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
LM: Where does the VAMIGAS name come from? And what inspired you to start your business?
VAMIGAS: Vamigas is a Latina-led, vegan, ethically sourced, cruelty-free skincare brand created from Latin American botanicals from Chile, Peru, Mexico and more, that’s helping bring clean beauty to Latinas, who have been left out of the clean space until now.
Vamigas is a play on the words amigas, and the initials of our daughters, V and M. Lately it’s also starting to mean, Vamos Amigas!
What inspired us was finding out during my [Ann’s] pregnancy and during Christina’s first year as a mom, that there are no clean beauty brands at mass that specifically target Latinas.
LM: Why is that important?
VAMIGAS: We were looking for clean beauty options because many studies – including a very recent study out last month - found that Latinas, who buy and use more beauty products than non-Latina consumers, have more hormone-disrupting chemicals in our bodies.
We also show higher rates of things like infertility and breast cancer and U.S.-born Latinas are even 3 times more likely to experience preterm birth than non U.S.-born Latinas.
Yet, no one is targeting us with higher-quality ingredients.
Latinos are a growing community in America and our spending power jumped to more than $1.7 trillion in the last few years, according to a report from the University of Georgia. We significantly outspend our peers in beauty by 30%. However, Latinas have remained largely marginalized in skincare and beauty. What’s more, most of the major beauty brands don’t understand how to market to our complexity.
This was more than our inspiration. It felt like a calling.
LM: What makes your products so unique?
VAMIGAS: We are the first to source 8 ingredients from Latin America in one formula and the only brand to source exclusively from Latin America. In fact, we are the only brand to only focus on primarily Mexico AND Chilean ingredients. What’s more, we are an authentic Latina team with the background that’s needed to understand our hermanas who are out there looking for green beauty options, and give them what they are looking for.
LM: What words of wisdom would you share with Latinas looking to enter the beauty market as entrepreneurs?
VAMIGAS: Build key partnerships with vendors early on, find who is the best in the biz, but also who you work well with, and make sure they’re strong partners and can scale with you. It’s all about the relationships at the beginning - and that can make or break you during your journey.
LM: What about Latinas looking to enter any entrepreneurial venture; do you have any words of advice for them?
VAMIGAS: Don’t fall into the “busy trap”. In the beginning you’ll be doing a lot of things to try and move the needle. Within that year at some point, you’ll need to prioritize those tasks. What’s bringing you 80% of your success? Focus on that and forget about the things that barely give you anything in return, and that just have you running around looking busy.
LM: Have you experienced any challenges from being a Latina entrepreneur? What about positives?
VAMIGAS: Yes, sometimes as Latinas, you get the feeling that folks don’t take you as seriously as they would two young Mark Zuckerberg-esque white guys pitching their startup. Even when it comes to vendors or partners. The most random folks sometimes want you to prove yourself or your business to them even though you would be paying them. It’s a weird power imbalance. We have only partnered with folks where we feel we have that mutual respect and support.
LM: Lastly, tell us where we can find you online!
In addition, you will now be able to find VAMIGAS at various JCPenney stores summer 2022 in collaboration with Thirteen June. Check out the cities below to find their products near you and get your skin going with that summer glow.
JCPenney: S 10th Street McAllen, TX
JCPenney: Whittwood Town Center Whittier, CA
JCPenney: Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI
JCPenney: Glenstone Avenue Ste 200 Springfield, MO
JCPenney: W Division St Ste 96 St. Cloud, MN
JCPenney: Greenville Blvd SE Ste 200 Greenville, NC
JCPenney: Youngstown Warren Rd, Niles, OH
JCPenney: Main St Trumbull, CT
JCPenney: Town East Mall Mesquite, TX
Vamigas: Grandview Pkwy Davenport, FL
With a business idea in mind, Casteñeda and PonTell decided to take the leap and launch their beverage idea, Agua Bonita.
Agua Bonita means beautiful water in Spanish and the name suits it just right. The brand makes canned aguas frescas in a variety of flavors that come from different fruits. Agua fresca is a very popular drink in Mexico and Central America and the inspiration came from Castañeda's grandfather, who made the drink using fresh fruit collected from the fields in which he worked.
They worked to make their product sustainable by using only produce that would otherwise be discarded and opting for cans that are more easily recycled instead of bottles. The business launched in 2020 and it quickly picked up a following on social media when people discovered a product with a legitimate cultural identity, as opposed to the culture vulture products we’re used to seeing from global beverage producers.
Their alternative to heavily processed and sugar-laden drinks grew so fast that in September of 2020, the company became the first-ever Latina-run beverage startup to raise more than $1 million in funding.
We must know more. Kayla Castañeda, Co-Founder of Agua Bonita, gave us the scoop.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
LM: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what led you to create Agua Bonita.
KC: I grew up in a small town in the Central Valley of CA, where we grow most of the nation's produce. I moved to a bunch of big cities for work after graduating highschool, but moved back to my hometown a few years ago when a grandparent got sick. After my grandpa passed, I really began to reevaluate my life and more so my career, and that led me to consulting where I realized that tons of entrepreneurs were just figuring it out as they built. I knew from that point on that I could launch something at a larger scale than anything I had tried to before, and when the pandemic gave me a bunch of time back, it was the perfect time to start Agua Bonita.
LM: Where did the name of Agua Bonita come from?
KC: I definitely knew I wanted something in Spanish to reflect the type of product we are. Agua Bonita is approachable for both Spanish and non-Spanish speaking folks. We were focused on creating a beautiful product – in mission, in product composition, and as a brand. So Bonita was very fitting, and we are an agua fresca so Agua Bonita was where we settled.
LM: What would you say is the biggest challenge of launching a small business, and how did you overcome it?
KC: Having the resources you need to grow. Oftentimes that’s capital, but sometimes it can be access to a particular network. For me, I overcame this by submitting into pitch competitions. Not only did this give us the opportunity to have non-dilutive funding come through the door, but it also gave us access to networks of people that wanted to either help us or buy our products – or both!
LM: You’re quite successful both on and offline - how much would you say your social media has helped you with the growth of your business?
KC: We launched mid pandemic so social media was a huge part of our success. During the pandemic, retailers wouldn’t even talk to us because they were too busy keeping essentials stocked. So we launched DTC (direct-to-consumer) and used social media to move product organically, and that’s how we initially grew our business.
LM: What advice would you give entrepreneurs that want to turn their small business into something bigger?
KC: Figure out the key inflection points of your business – maybe it's closing a round of funding, or getting into a specific retailer – and work backwards from there to plan a roadmap for how to get there, and then execute against that. This will help guide the decisions that need to be made between being the small business you are now and the larger one you want to become.
LM: You have a lot of competitors, some of them huge corporations. What makes Agua Bonita different?
KC: Our community. Big corporations don’t really know what it’s like to invest in making a community, they just want to sell a product. For us, our community is the biggest reason why we have been able to achieve the level of success we have so far.
LM: What has been your proudest business moment so far?
KC: I can’t disclose the details just yet, but being accepted into a very pivotal program with a major retailer. It just validates our business and our product so much and carves out the possibility of really seeing ourselves on shelves en masse.
LM: What advice would you give to other Latinas who want to start their own business?
KC: Go for it, but be strategic and be realistic with your timelines – everything takes longer than you think, and more money than you anticipated. So make sure you’re thinking strategically about your business and have realistic timelines in place to reach your goals.
LM: What’s your biggest takeaway from this experience?
KC: My biggest takeaway from this experience has been learning a lot about myself, my limitations, and my potential.
There’s much to be learned from the successes and the roadblocks Latina entrepreneurs experience. We suspect we’ll be seeing Agua Bonita more often than we do now. Follow along on Agua Bonita’s journey at their Instagram DrinkAguaBonita and if you’re now craving a delicious agua fresca, hop on over to their website.
Courtesy of Agua Bonita
This interview is part of Luz Media’s Alpha Latina: Small Business Saturday series. This series highlights the accomplishments of Alpha Latinas making a difference in their communities through their businesses. Interested in being featured? Email us.