If you’re a curly-haired Latina, chances are you follow or have at least heard of Ada Rojas. That’s because the Afro-Latina blogger and influencer has been one of the pioneers in the natural hair movement within the Latina community. Most of us have watched her tutorials, have jotted down her product recommendations, and have tested out her curly hair cocktails ourselves. Ada was that curly hair expert we could all relate to, which is why we were so thrilled when we learned that she was launching Botánika Beauty, a curly hair line made with us in mind.
Ada is by no means an overnight success, anyone that knows her or follows her, knows she’s been putting in this work for the past ten years and some change. She’s been an advocate for Afro-Latinas and the natural hair community since she started her blog All Things Ada, formerly known as Gypsy in the City. She also didn’t just decide out of nowhere that she was going to create a line. After graduating from college and after years of blogging, Ada chose to take a trip around the world working on a cruise ship. It was on that cruise ship that she realized that one day she’d create her own curly hair line but at the time she didn’t have the resources, the money, or the connections to do it. Ada took this time to research what beauty entrepreneurship would entail while looking for a mentor. Everything finally started to come into place when she finally met her mentor, Aisha Ceballos-Crump, the founder of Honey Baby Naturals.
“When I met Aisha, everything just clicked. The main thing for me was finding a mentor,” she tells HipLatina. “So when I met Aisha it was like okay, this is my girl — this is my mentor. She’s Latina, she gets it, she gets me, she gets the audience, she gets this business.”
Ada and Aisha first met in 2017 during Ada’s Rizos on the Road tour. Aisha had reached out to sponsor the tour and the two hit it off immediately.
“It was just like an instant connection. I pitched Aisha the idea of doing a collaboration in the middle of the tour. My big idea was to do my own hair line but I thought if I could get my foot in the door, from there it could eventually lead to my own hair line,” she says. “I was seeing a lot of influencers doing collaborations with brands and beauty bloggers doing makeup palettes and lipsticks but I wasn’t seeing anyone in the natural hair community doing that. I thought it would be really cool if we would collaborate on a product… I pitched it to her and then she got back to me and expressed that instead of a collaboration she wanted to help me build my own line.”
Ada credits Aisha’s help and mentorship in helping her launch the line. Like many first-generation Latinas who are the first college grads in their family, finding someone to give her the tools and the information to embark on this journey was an invaluable experience she will never forget. It also speaks to the importance of women of color — Latinas especially — finding and having mentors.
There were a number of reasons why Ada set out to create this line, but one of them was to fill a need that was definitely missing in the Latina community. She wanted to offer her audience what she wasn’t able to find herself for years — a curly hair line that caters to curly haired Latinas of various textures that also pays tribute to our roots and African ancestry.
“What happened in the natural hair community in 2009, has been happening in the natural hair community for the past two years within the Latina community,” she tells me. “I’ve been able to witness it because in 2009 I was a part of that change. I was always sharing with my audience, that consists of predominately Latinas, this how you care for your hair. I noticed that curly content was always performing well because more Latina women were looking for Latinas to explain to them how to take care of their curly hair. They couldn’t always relate to some of the Black bloggers because they had different curl types — often looser textures. As soon as I noticed that I started to create more of that type of content and I started to realize that there weren’t a lot of events out there targeting us. The Black community had all these curly hair events but the Latina community still didn’t have that and that’s how Rizos on the Road came about.”
Ada soon became known as a pioneer who was making it her mission to help and encourage Latinas to proudly embrace and love their natural hair.
“For me, it was about creating a line that was very intentional about the fact that it was inspired by our culture and our heritage because we’re so proud of where we come from and it ties into everything we do,” she says. “I just always felt like that was missing from the market and I just wanted to bring all my expertise and experience and create a product line that my audience — my community could not only emotionally connect to but also a product line that works.”
Ada’s own curly hair journey plays a huge role in why she started blogging and how she got so interested in curls. Unlike a lot of curly hair Latinas, Ada didn’t grow up going to the Dominican salon every week. She had to wash and style her own hair.
“My hair was always curly. In fact, I was that one cousin that always wore her hair curly because my mom couldn’t afford to send me to the hair salon every week because she was a single mom with six kids. That was an expense that she couldn’t afford,” Ada says. “She would relax my hair but I eventually got tired of the relaxer and told her that I no longer wanted to relax my hair anymore because I didn’t enjoy the process. That’s when she told me that I was going to have to learn how to do my own hair. My mom actually has straight hair so she didn’t know how to deal with my hair.”
At the time there were very few styling products for naturally curly hair. Ada found herself using a combination of hair gel, mousse or the famous Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer Hair Lotion — you know the one that was always shelved in the isolated corner of the drug store hair aisle. For years she did what she could to style her own curls using limited products and resources. But her flourishing curls were later damaged after she was introduced to the flat iron.
“When I got to college, my roommate had a flat iron. Now I had accessibility to a tool that would help me straighten my hair,” she says. “I would never forget the day I first straightened my hair with the flat iron and went to class the next day and everyone was like oh my god you look so beautiful. I loved the attention I was getting for wearing my hair straight so I started straightening it all the time and eventually damaged my curls.”
It was Ada’s own heat-damage and transitioning journey that helped her to really understand her hair, eventually becoming a curl expert in her own right. After years of testing every curly hair product in the market, learning about ingredients and knowing what works, it only makes sense she would eventually venture into creating her own line. Even the name itself — Botánika Beauty — pays homage to her African roots and her Latina heritage.
“In NYC, there are botanicas on every block. If you think about it, you go to a Latino neighborhood and you’ll always find a bodega, a hair salon, a barber shop, and a botanica,” she says. “I started looking into the history of botanicas. I frequent them often to buy my sage, my palo santo, and my aqua de Florida because I grew up going to them. I always loved how calm and peaceful I feel when I’m in there.”
Ada refers to wash days for curly hair girls as sacred rituals that give her a similar self-love and self-care feeling that she gets whenever she steps into a botanica.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how long it takes for us to do our hair and for me, it’s like a ritual that’s part of my week. I wish people would be more intentional about when they do their hair and use that time to really reflect and be intentional about what it is they want to do with themselves and their lives,” she says. “I realized that botanicas are so dominant in Latin communities and it’s because when our ancestors immigrated to the states, many of them didn’t have access to healthcare. Botanicas were created as these apothecaries, where Latinos would go to buy their natural herbs and remedies to cure ailments. Over time they started to evolve and became these sacred and safe spaces where you could speak to a curandero or spiritual healer about whatever problems you were going through. It was a place to heal both your body and your soul. I was really intrigued by that and wanted to bring more intention to the products and thought that naming it Botánika would be a perfect match. I switched out the C in botanica to K because Aisha’s kids all have names that start with a K. It was my way of paying homepage to her and her children.”
This Dominicana was intentional about everything from the product name to the ingredients used — and even down to the packaging.
“We have this beautiful mother nature goddess illustration on the packaging and the reason why we put her on there is because I feel like we are the creation of all these powerful women that came before us,” she says. “All these women who were very in touch with their divine feminine energy and were the matriarchs of their family… there is so much power when we just honor who we are and where we come from.”
Speaking of intentions, this line was clearly written in the stars for Ada who recently learned that her own abuela was an herbalist.
“What was really crazy was that I was having this conversation with my mom not too long ago about the name of the line and she revealed to me that my great-grandmother, who I’m named after, had a botanica in her backyard that I didn’t know about because I was so young,” she says. She would plant all these different herbs and stuff and whenever someone was sick they knew they could go to her house for a remedio. It almost felt like a confirmation, like I really am on the right path. This is part of me and who I am. This is part of my family and look how without even knowing that my grandmother had a botanica in her backyard, this is almost like a way for me to pay tribute to her.”
As for the line itself, Ada set out to launch seven individual products infused with ingredients you could find at your local botanica like sage, garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and more. One of her favorite ingredients believe it or not, is garlic.
“Our deep conditioner has garlic. I always loved the Dominican deep conditioners. I always felt like they were the best on the market and a lot of them have garlic in them,” she says. “Garlic helps stimulate the scalp to promote hair growth but it also strengthens and repairs the hair cuticle.”
The line consist of a light curl cream that won’t weigh down thin or finer curl textures, a curl cream for curly girls with kinkier and coiler curls, a gel that’s works great on all curl types, a light-weight mousse — which Ada loves as a next day refresher — a protein treatment, an oil serum that helps stimulate hair growth and can also be used to break the cast from the gel, and a deep conditioner.
“We started off with seven products and they are all styling products. A lot of people are like wait — no shampoo and conditioners? What happened? But at the end of the day as a consumer, I know that I put a lot more value in my styling products than I do with my shampoo and conditioner. I knew I wanted to focus on styling products first as the core of the line and then expand the line over time,” she says.
Ada joins a small group of other Latinas who have founded their own curly hair lines including her mentor Aisha of Honey Baby Naturals, Julissa Prado of Rizos Curls, and Michelle Rodriguez of Mielle Organics. But she acknowledges the privilege and also the responsibility that comes with being one of the first Latina curly hair line entrepreneurs.
“The day after we launched I had a meeting with Lisa Price, the founder of Carol’s Daughter and I was so thankful for her to take the time to talk to me about how my life is going to completely change now after coming out with this line,” Ada says. “She gave me such great advice and one of the things that she told me was to take pride in being the first because there are a lot of people doing what you’re doing. Know that there are people who are going to come after you that might do it better than you but there is a lot of responsibility that comes with being the first because you’re opening all these doors for people to come after you and there’s so much beauty in that. I completely agree and I am very thankful for the support that the natural hair community as a whole has shown me.”
Aside from enjoying products that work for their curls, Ada hopes that her consumers take away an even bigger message.
“I want brown and Black women and young girls to see that there is power in being you. There is power in diversity and where you come from. I’m an uptown girl. I’m from Washington Heights and I’m from the Bronx. I’m the first one in my family to go to college and for a long time I was ashamed of my story and where I came from just because I knew that my life was different from that of my peers, especially during my time living in Florida where I was going to a predominately White school,” she says. “I just want other girls to identify and see themselves and feel like someone is speaking to them. I just want girls to grow up knowing that if they want to create their own products and be a beauty entrepreneur that they can do it because there is someone that looks just like them that is doing it and doing it well. Representation is so important because it gives people the confidence and the power to feel they can do whatever they want because there’s someone that’s doing it that looks just like them.”