What started in 1999 in a small warehouse in Gardena, Calif. has grown into a profitable and in-demand business. Nicaraguan-Cuban Helen Martinez was frustrated with the lack of Latina representation in stores, so she decided to set up a line that would cater to Latinas of all ages, shapes and sizes.
"I saw a major void in the marketplace; the apparel industry was ignoring the Latina demographic," said the youthful-looking Martinez. "I saw that the time was right, and I knew that if I didn’t do it, someone else would. I didn’t want to have that regret."
Within six months, she and partner Chris Griffin found interested investors, designed an eye-catching Web site, and Chica was born. Chica has slowly made itself known to its targeted audience and has also reached beyond to other fashion-conscious buyers.
With tons of celebrity clothing lines bombarding the public, the majority of those are geared toward the urban crowd. Some are risqué (Fetish), while others deal directly with the twenty-something pack (J. Lo). Martinez did not see anything in stores that Latin women could feel comfortably wearing.
"I saw lines such as Cross Colours, Karl Kani, Phat Farm and FUBU that were clearly targeting the African-American demographic. There was nothing targeting the Latin demo, even though it was a large and growing segment of the U.S population," Martinez said. "I just felt that for the teenage Latina, ROXY, Paul Frank, or MUDD weren’t brands that she could easily identify with."
Martinez is right. Latina teens make up 17 percent of the market. By the year 2010, this figure is expected to grow by 90 percent. That’s a huge number of potential buyers to consider. Who better than a Latina to illustrate Latina pride with baby tees that read, "Se Habla Español," tanks that say "DEA" (Daring Extraordinary Authentic) and plus-sized tanks with "Sexy Chica" printed across the chest?
The popularity of Chica has reached an episode of "The George Lopez Show," movies like "Freaky Friday" and even shown up on pop divas like Beyoncé. Martinez has plans to expand her empire to include sleepwear, lingerie, denim, shoes, bags and jewelry by the beginning of next year.
The best part of Martinez’s line is that she hasn’t forgotten her curvaceous hermanas. On her colorfully designed Web site is an icon for women who are not a size 6 but still want to look hot.
"I know there are a lot of women who can’t wear a junior fit. We have offered plus sizes from the beginning." You can almost hear a sigh of relief from the voluptuous mamis. Now, they too can wear the same fashions as their slender friends.
It’s about time.