The amount of Latinx-owned businesses is rocketing in the United States. According to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), every year, nearly 4.4 million of these businesses contribute to over $700 billion to the economy, and since 2012 the companies have grown 31.6 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 60 million Hispanics are currently living in the United States (about 18% of the overall population), a number that, if keeps increasing, projects 120 million Latinos by 2060. The New American Economy report also revealed that in 2015, Hispanic households contributed almost $215 billion to U.S. tax revenues as a whole, giving to the Nation nearly $36 billion in state and local taxes and over $61 billion in taxes to the federal government.
One of those Latinx businesses making America great is SecondWind, a small, women-owned company based in NYC and founded by fashion stylist Karen Perez. To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Perez shared with HOLA! USA, how she is inspiring people to feel confident, stylish, and comfortable within our new normal.
HOLA! USA: When’d you start your career?
Karen Perez: “I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in fashion-- I come from a long line of clothing makers in Latin America and the U.S., so when it came time for me to get my first job in high school, to help make ends meet I naturally went straight into retail. From there, I took courses relevant to Fashion Marketing in college and then had a 15 year-long career as a fashion stylist before creating my brand.”
Tell us about the creative and the assembly process of your masks?
“When the pandemic hit, I had several clients come to me searching for a flattering mask, comfortable and stylish, so I sought them out all over. I looked into brands in Asia where masks are more of a commonly accepted accessory and European designers but couldn’t find anything that satisfied all three criteria. So I knew I had to make them.
A lot of thought goes into the concept behind my masks. For starters, it’s the cut — I didn’t like this idea of women being, in some sense, more covered up than we already are. We are often silenced and overlooked, and now due to the pandemic, we have to hide our faces. Another issue is that most masks are widely cut and sit squarely on the face, which creates more of a masculine look, which I feel that most women would not prefer. My mask is cut to accentuate the natural contour of feminine features many women seek to enhance, and we have several versions for this purpose. It also helps with the comfort because the cut and detailed sizing allow the mask to lay seamlessly on the face instead of sitting heavily across it. As for fit, I spent weeks trying to find the best for it to be available for all face shapes and sizes.
My masks’ overall style is also heavily influenced by my culture, community, and designers around the world. The idea to incorporate jewelry into the masks was my way of enhancing and add my stylist finishing touches. Each chain is hand-made in house, link by link-by passionate artisans.
The detail that goes into these masks is meticulous; it could take up to two days to assemble just one Tina mask. All of our fabric is of high quality to remain gentle on the skin, and every stitch and press is intricately made by hand. Our workers are so incredibly skilled, and every mask is made here in the U.S.”
How many people are on your team?
“I have a full-time team of three, including myself! I also have the support of my amazing family. As well as eight part-time employees who handcraft every mask.”
How are you taking care of them during the pandemic?
After they had all been laid off during the pandemic, I hired my workers, so to me, it was incredibly important to keep them safe and healthy during these difficult times. My facility has two areas: one is the sewing room where each worker is spaced six feet apart from one another, and one for the assembly process. These days, I head to the studio to make sure everything runs smoothly with the sewers and then head out to my mother’s home to start the jewelry and fulfillment.
In the fashion industry (and almost every industry), we will find people who want to dim our lights, take advantage of our talents, and take credit for our work. Can you tell me if, after the Danielle Bernstein mask controversy, you are being more careful or doing something different to protect your business?
“Of course. I’m currently in the process of getting my design and utility patents and have made the decision to keep my team small and close despite our sudden growth.”
You recently had a fantastic encounter with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; tell us everything about it.
“Well, it was amazing! After hearing our story through Diet Prada, AOC reached out to us and instantly became one of our biggest supporters. If I had to describe her in one word, it would be ‘gracious.’ When she reached out interested in purchasing a mask, she offered to come by our facility to pick it up. But while I was expecting a quick hello, she went out of her way to get to know us (at a safe distance, of course) and wanted a first-hand view of our operations, even going as far as filming it for her Instagram story for all her followers to see. She didn’t just care that our business was fair and ethical-- she cared about the whole process and the people who were bringing it all to life. One thing that really stuck with me from her story: ‘There is no such thing as unskilled labor.’
As a first-generation American, I understand the struggles that most immigrants face in this country. Hearing a powerful woman using her platform to empower people of color touches me. And I’m so happy to know she cares about each and every one of the sewers we have on-staff putting in the meticulous detail to bring these masks to life. She doesn’t care if you’re the boss or the employee. She looks at everyone in the eye and wants to know who they are. Honestly, I feel like I gained a friend through this unexpectedly impactful visit.”
What are the best ways to support a small business?
“The best way to support a small business is to reach out to them and give them a platform! We say it all the time: shop local. But most people don’t take it to heart when it comes down to convenience. In this pandemic, it’s more important than ever to support small businesses trying to stay afloat, especially those owned by minorities and lower-income people. When I started SecondWind, I had no idea it would ever gain so much attention, particularly on social media. I’ve made it my mission now that I’ve been graced with this platform to amplify voices that need to be heard and uplift other small businesses like my own. We have so much planned soon to do just that, and I’m so excited for you all to see it!”
Please invite everyone to protect themselves in style using your designs.
“If you like my masks, go buy them! Haha, but seriously —even if you don’t, I encourage everyone to support other local artists who have come out with fab mask designs. Do your part and wear a damn mask!”