Cholas x Chulas Founder Discusses Makeup, Chola Culture and Backlash

The terms chola y chula embody more than a style, they’re an attitude, an identity that’s been embraced by Latinas for decades


Photo: Courtesy of Nydia Cisnero, Instagram/cholasxchulas

The terms chola y chula embody more than a style, they’re an attitude, an identity that’s been embraced by Latinas for decades. While a “chola” doesn’t necessarily have a singular style, the look is commonly identified by thin eyebrows, bold eyeshadows, lip liner, and a fierce vibe.

Nydia Cisneros launched cosmetics line Cholas x Chulas on July 2018 to fill a void she saw in the beauty industry – a line made by and for Latinx. In the last few months, it has blown up with an Instagram following of more than 77K. Currently, her main products are the Ride or Die eyeliner kits that have a stamp on one end and liner on the other. There’s “Get Lit” featuring a weed stamp, “Mi Corazón” with a heart stamp, and “Cosmic Lover” with a star.

She describes C x C as “fun, affordable, and functional” and explains that part of what inspired her to create the line was nostalgia and a desire to create a product Latinas could identify with. “With cholas and chulas it’s more of a tone. So chola is something really bold, just more in your face. It’s loud,” she says. “Chula is sweet, soft, more minimalist. I think girls could be either one.” Cisneros is half Mexican, half Asian, Newport born and raised, and a single mom in her thirties.

She worked out of Mexico City for months before moving the company to Los Angeles where she also hosts pop-ups.  Because her posts were so clearly inspired by the Mexican-American chola, she says followers assumed her brand was from Mexico and that made them more curious.

That’s how our followers grew so quickly because the content when I started was so rich, it’s culture and background. It wasn’t just beauty,” she says. “It was where my ancestors come from”.

Growing up she recalls being surrounded by chola style and being inspired by her tia Eva who loved to express herself through her bold makeup like blue eyeshadow. Latinas, we express how we feel [through makeup] and we feel awesome. It’s the more the better”.

For the past seven years, she’s worked as a creative consultant for companies including Urban Decay, L’Oréal, and Smashbox. She opened up about a particular incident where she was hired to cast Latinas for a 2018 campaign but was allegedly asked by a top executive that they not be “too Latina.”

I was responsible for casting models and I was told that they can’t look too Latina. I’m casting for a Latin American campaign for beauty and then you’re telling me that she can’t look too Latina. Then when I provide you the models none of them fit any criteria that you have as a brand. So instead we hire a Middle Eastern model for Latin America.

“I mean they completely disregarded Latinas and Latinas are the number one consumer of cosmetics,” she says. “I just think that we at times don’t value ourselves or don’t recognize the power we have, and we have a lot of power. So that’s why I felt this was a perfect time to come out”.

A study by the Univision network and Vital Findings determined that Latinas spend twice as much as all other women in the United States on beauty products. Despite this buying power, Cisneros has found that developing a brand inspired by a subculture comes with other obstacles. Her self-proclaimed disruptive style is what got her start with Urban Decay and that quality has carried on with C x C, gaining some negative attention. She recalls the backlash she received on Instagram from fellow Latinas questioning if she was really Latina and calling her “vanilla.” Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Orange County, she felt like an “alternative Latina” and that’s partly why she’s drawn to the subculture and promoting a united front.

“Because I work with millennials and I work with something that could be so superficial, I want to create something that creates unity.”

She admits to even reaching out to those leaving negative comments and offering them free products. In her experience working with major beauty brands, she’s found that the terms that inspired the brand name are baffling to some of the executives she’s encountered. “It was almost like Ebonics for corporate America” she says when she recalls being approached by executives curious about the subculture.

While the chola aesthetic itself is common among all marginalized people, it has been appropriated but not fully accepted in the mainstream as a standalone aesthetic.

C x C has captured the eye of major retailers but, according to Cisneros, they’re hesitant to collaborate because of the name, some even asking if it’s the equivalent of the “n” word. “Everyone is afraid of the name. That’s the biggest challenge,” she says. “They’re so unfamiliar with it cause it’s so niched.” Down the line, she says she may develop a private label for these retailers but C x C will remain as is. Her packaging features models that are all Latina, mainly women she found browsing Instagram.

Each package comes with a special gift, like a “piñata” she likes to say, and she plans on expanding the add-ons since they’ve become so popular. They include temporary tattoos and gems of all colors as well as rose stick ons.  But what she’s most passionate about is supporting Dreamers saying the current state of immigration was also an impetus for starting the company.

She employs DACA recipients and recently collaborated with immigrant rights activist Sara Mora on a photoshoot offering 25 percent of her proceeds to Mora’s gofundme. Cisneros’s support of Dreamers is evident in the packaging where “#dreamers” is emblazoned in the back of each kit. It also goes back to her father who for years lived in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant who would regularly take Cisneros on trips to Zacatecas. The company itself is a family affair with Cisneros relying on her 10-year-old son Mateo to give her honest feedback and keep her motivated.

The fact that he’s autistic amplifies his creativity and allows him to think about functionality in ways she might not, she says. She recalls one instance when a model broke her compact during a shoot and he came up with the mirror ring as an alternative. It’s now a popular item and often used by their models, according to Cisneros.

“I treat Mateo like he’s the board cause I respect his feedback. I like that when times get really hard he keeps me accountable. Accountability as a business owner is the most important thing.”

She plans to continue to expand the line to include lipsticks that double as a blush and eventually eyeshadows and blushes made for women with more olive tones, likely coming out later this year. She’s also planning to introduce double barrel powder lipsticks with two different shades and the names will be bilingual: one end will be soft pink called “chisme” and the other will be bright red called “gossip.”

The brand’s aesthetic will always stand in stark contrast to what major cosmetics companies promote, adhering to the anti-establishment ethos of chola culture,  and that’s intentional on her part.

“The people who make the beauty rules criticize Latinos for how they dress or what they wear. To have that ability to wear what you want and express yourself based on how you feel. That’s incredible. No one can take that from you.”

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