The Hustle: Sweet Llamita Founder – Brenda Castillo
We are Heros. ‘Supa’ Heros. (punto) Our journeys. Our amazing stories. Navigating between worlds. Makers, creators, trendistas, entrepreneurs, corporate rebels, rebels with a cause, provocateurs…our amigas and your amigas.
Over at our amiga Modern Latina, unique, premium greeting cards caught our eye and since we are all about showcasing Latinx entrepreneurs, we had to learn who was behind these adorable, Latino aesthetic-designed greeting cards.
Brenda Castillo, is an entrepreneur and founder of Sweet Llamita, a greeting card company with Latino relevance. Made us think – how often do YOU shop for Latino cultural relevant cards at Target and don’t find any?! Amen sister….enter Sweet Llamita.
Excerpts from the Modern Latina interview.
Q: What inspired you to start Sweet Llamita?
Shortly after I graduated from college, I was exploring the Fillmore area of San Francisco and I ran into a very cute high-end stationery store. I was amazed by the quality and originality of the cards, which differed from many of the greeting cards we often find in big-box stores. After spending quite some time perusing the cards, I could not find any that were in Spanish or culturally relevant for my mom and dad. I ended up giving up on my search at the store and left empty-handed – granted I was also not making a lot of money and the only way I could justify a purchase at the time was if I really, really wanted it. On my way home from the store, I could not stop thinking about this experience and then it hit me – I wanted to create a solution and start a greeting card company that focused on quality, design, and cultural relevance for the Hispanic population in the U.S.
Q: What inspired the name of the business?
Once I decided I wanted to start this business, I began to read articles and books on entrepreneurship. A lot of these resources mentioned the importance on how your business name needs to be relevant to your business. I ended up changing the name of the company three times until I finally realized that the company name was not going to define the success of the company. Its success would actually be defined by the work I was willing to put into it. All I knew for my business name was that I wanted it to be original and to represented the two worlds in which I live in – English and Spanish speaking. So finally I told myself, “Brenda, that’s enough! You need to register the business name and just start selling!” I just went with my gut and named the company Sweet Llamita.
Q: When did the business start?
Long story short: I noodled on the idea for four years, worked on the skills I needed to launch it for two years, and launched my online store two months ago. I don’t recommend anyone to take this long to launch something, but for four years I was going back and forth in my mind how I was going to develop this business. I must admit, I was going through analysis paralysis – reading too much that it was too paralyzing to do anything. Was it going to be a side hustle? My full-time job? It was hard to make this decision, because since the age of nine when my family and I moved to the U.S., I had grown up with the idea that college would lead to a good and stable job that would make my parents’ sacrifice and work worth it. Starting a business was by no means going to meet these expectations that I had put on myself. Finally after four years, I had the opportunity to go back to school, and that’s when I decided to learn the technical skills I was lacking to start Sweet Llamita, such as graphic design, photography, typography, etc. Shortly after I was done with my certificate program, I launched Sweet Llamita in August of this year. If I could go back in time, I would go back to school as soon as I had the idea, and Sweet Llamita would be on it’s fourth year!
Q: Tell me about the creative process to create each card? Do you work with an artist? Do you create the artwork on the card?
I’m constantly coming up with ideas at random times and capture those ideas in notebooks. When it’s time to come up with designs, I go through my notebooks and pick designs. For example with the Día de los Muertos cards, I went through my notebooks to find any ideas I had written down or sketched that were related to the occasion. Once I decided on the ideas I wanted to further develop, I sketched them out in more detail and designed them either digitally or painted them. Recently, I’ve been painting more of my designs. I really like the detail of the brush strokes and the handmade feel this technique gives to the final product.
Q: Did you start the business with full force or did you have to balance working full-time while starting your business?
Currently I’m able to work on my business full-time. I feel very lucky to have a very supportive family and a boyfriend who have encouraged me to pursue this, which has made it easier for my pride. For a while I felt like I had to do it all – work full-time so I wouldn’t need financial support, build a successful company while simultaneously maintaining my sanity and health. My expectations for myself to succeed are still high, and with a little bit of savings from my previous job, a few contracting jobs over the past two years and support from my boyfriend, I’ve been able to focus on Sweet Llamita. It’s not glamorous, at least not yet. Let’s just say a lot of my clothes are second-hand; I don’t own a car in L.A; and shopping for me has changed from buying clothes to buying props for my product photography.
Q: What has been the most challenging part or moment in starting your business?
I think the most challenging part thus far has been the decision to take the dive into entrepreneurship and work on Sweet Llamita full-time. It was hard giving up a steady paycheck to pay for rent and going out with friends; giving up a work environment where there is constant interaction with people; swallowing my pride and having to ask for help when I like to be independent; and having to deal with the uncertainty of running my own business where it’s on me to create the plan from nothing vs. having the security of a pre-made plan in place. I never thought I would be on my dining room table painting cards, breaking a sweat while shooting photos, and testing and re-testing email blasts, but it’s been an adventure to say the least! I would not trade it for anything else.
Q: What would you say is your greatest achievement?
Honestly, at such an early stage of Sweet Llamita my greatest achievement has been just taking the jump in launching this project. I’m really proud that I took an idea and was able to execute it using brand new skills I had to fully master in two years. I did not have any design training prior to Sweet Llamita, but now I can easily work with various graphic design tools, master a DSLR camera, and even code some HTML and CSS. This achievement has been so meaningful to me that I created a card for family and friends to encourage other girls to go after their dreams and help them overcome their fear, uncertainty, and/or lack of support.
Q: What are some advantages of having your business?
I think one of the most rewarding things of being a business owner is being able to see the direct results of your own work. At such an early phase, you can quickly assess if what you’re doing is creating the results you want such as sales, brand awareness, etc. I also like that as a business owner you have to constantly challenge yourself creatively. Every business owner has to constantly think of ideas on how to increase sales, improve marketing, build a brand, etc., and that requires creativity. Another advantage is also not having your business feel like work. I’ve found building my business to be fun and I’ve noticed that when I forget to have fun I don’t achieve the same results.
Q: What advice do you have for others who want to become entrepreneurs?
At the moment I can only speak from the perspective of a single girl with no children, and I would say to follow your gut and to not wait for the chance to become an entrepreneur, if that is on your mind. I would imagine that starting a business and taking financial risks becomes tougher when you have a family or have other financial responsibilities. So if your family is healthy and financially stable and you only have to take care of yourself financially, then this is the time to do it. Don’t worry about what your family or friends will think of you, be willing to make sacrifices today, and take your goals seriously. Think about the type of life you want to live when you’re older and if starting a business will get you there, then you should start now. Always, always stay curious and surround yourself with people who will be supportive but also honest with you. Finally, with the prevalence of social media, such as Snapchat and Instagram, entrepreneurs today are so lucky to see what other very successful entrepreneurs are doing every single day. I always like to check in on woman entrepreneurs I admire every day to see what they’re up to for a little bit of inspiration.
For the Full Interview Visit Modern Latina