Jefas Behind JZD Talk Being Queer Latina Entrepreneurs

Jennifer and Veronica Zeano, the married jefas behind JZD, talk building their empowering brand and dealing with the challenges of entrepreneurship

JZD Feature

Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Serrano

During Pride and year-round, it is important to highlight queer Latinxs who are paving the way and uplifting their comunidad through their work. During a time where LGBTQIA+ rights are under constant threat, amplifying LGBTQIA+ Latinx voices is essential. Two queer Latinas who have been continuously building community and uplifting Latinxs are Mexican American married duo Jennifer Serrano and Veronica Vasquez who have brought us Jen Zeano Designs (JZD) as a source of much-needed Latina empowerment and queer Latinx representation through their apparel and accessories brand. Since launching JZD in 2016—inspired by the election that year—the duo has been met with the tremendous support from their community based out of Brownsville, Texas, where they reside, and beyond. Their viral “Latina Power” tee has been worn by the likes of Eva Longoria and Jessica Alba—a testament to the reach of Jen and Vero’s work in the last eight years. Their authenticity has made them one of the most beloved Latina empowerment brands and one of the most prominent.

“Our community has been instrumental to our brand. They have always been incredibly supportive and at the end of the day without them we wouldn’t have JZD,” Jen tells HipLatina. The community they have built over the years has become much more than customers to them, they are vital to their decisions and have been the brand’s biggest cheerleaders along the way. Throughout their time as business owners they have navigated the unique set of challenges that come with being queer and Latina entrepreneurs, and their comunidad —“ride of die” as they describe them— has been with them through the ups and downs.

JZD Feature
Courtesy of Jennifer Serrano

One challenge they’ve been presented with stems from the foundation of any business: funding. As Jen explains, “Latinas have the least amount of capital that’s coming from other sources. We’re starting businesses at a record rate and yet we’re not receiving the funding that we deserve.” This rings true for so many Latina entrepreneurs who despite growing at a 25 percent rate between 2019 and 2022, have only received around 1.5 percent of all venture capital funding in 2022.

The backlash and hatred they have faced from individuals online for their intersectionality as Latinas and lesbians are another set of challenges they’ve had to deal with over the years. 

“When we first started the business, when the ‘Latina Power’ shirt first blew up, we were so excited. I’m not gonna lie to you, an hour later on Yahoo forums or whatever, people were telling us to go back into the kitchen and make burritos and then you add on the fact that we’re lesbians,” Vero shares with HipLatina. “It’s a double whammy in the most negative way that you can think of for these people that want to go ahead and attack us. If we were to focus on just the negative we’d never make it out of bed. It’s just that the negative comments are sometimes a little bit louder but that doesn’t mean that there’s more of them.”

It has been a year since JZD faced these kinds of struggles—personally and through their business— again following the censoring and pulling of their Pride collection items in partnership with major-retailer, Target. Target’s Pride collection dropped in May of last year, and JZD’s community, friends, and supporters were excited to see JZD Pride products displayed in Target stores everywhere. The atmosphere soon changed when a surge of far-right, homophobic backlash exploded upon the release of the Pride collection. Their initial excitement about collaborating with the retailer, which would bring major exposure for the brand in addition to revenue, quickly turned into disappointment.

In the midst of this unexpected turn of events, the emotional toll and weight of the situation can still be felt today. In the span of about two weeks, they went from the highest high to the lowest low. As it was unfolding, the team was in a state of confusion—while they were receiving feedback from everyone online, they had yet to hear anything from the retailer. Vero describes it as watching “car crash happening in slow motion”. Emotions were at a high with anger and sadness taking hold while Target wasn’t communicating with them, leading to feelings of disbelief thinking back to the excitement of getting that first call about the collaboration. As they demanded answers and sought for Target to speak in support of the LGBTQIA+ brands that were affected, they also navigated the toll this situation had on their small business.

The partnership started a year in advance of the release of the collection. They had planned for the forecasted exposure they’d receive from the drop by investing in inventory, among other things, to be prepared for a launch of that magnitude with a retailer as prominent as Target. Their planned collection included a “Bien Proud” graphic tee and a shirt with pronouns reading “he/she/they” including illustrated bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities among other Pride items. 

Amid their celebration for this representation for their brand and the community, it also led to negative exposure for their brand which mean they were subjected to homophobic and bigoted comments. The unspoken part of this situation is the contrast between the year’s worth of work and time that went into this collection and how quickly it was gone.

“It was a decision that was taken in five minutes. I’m pretty sure they didn’t give us the respect of even taking five minutes to make that decision that is costing our small business,” Vero said.

This year they’ve decided to speak out after hearing that what happened to them is also happening to queer artists this year with Target’s 2024 Pride Collection following suit with last year’s situation. Their experience facing this level of hatred and homophobia rings true to the rise of hate speech in the United States. Jen and Vero speak to the impact of this kind of backlash and Target’s lack of a response defending queer brands:

“We knew that that was also going to have an impact on people that weren’t out yet. People that were trying to decide if it was safe for them to be out. People that were discovering their identity. People that were newly out. There was such a large impact on the LGBTQIA+ community. That one simple decision trickled into an entire community. That was what we argued when we sat in on those calls with the Target PR team. We told them they needed to make a statement in support of the community, so that people that were watching didn’t feel like that was the messaging that was what was important,” Jen tells us.

Vero explains how this experience reminded her that despite progress and the tight-knit community she’s built, homophobia is still rampant:

“I think we were very innocent, at least for myself. I knew that people were homophobic. I knew they didn’t accept me for who I was but I think that we had done such a good job at surrounding ourselves with just love and acceptance that I forgot. How lucky am I that I was able to get to a point where I was like ‘Everybody loves me. Everybody accepts my wife and I and they see us as normal people.’ It really truly exposed me and humbled me. It put me back on Earth and was like, ‘hey, this is the world you’re living in’.”

As their business has grown, coupled with their experience with the Target partnership, they have a new perspective when it comes to collaborations that may present themselves in the future. Through the hurdles, they have learned that when it comes to partnerships, they are more than just a mere collaboration. Given their strong connection with their community, “If we’re giving them access to our community, it’s because they have something important to say that’s going to positively impact our community. So we’re really trying to be guarded in making sure that we’re making the right choices,” Jen adds.

They’ve already applied these lessons to upcoming collaborations, “We have a really exciting collaboration coming out next year for Pride. We had a deep and honest raw conversation and said this is what happened, ‘If we get the same kind of backlash, what’s gonna happen?’ They approached us, which we commend them for and they have been an amazing partner. We’re not allowed to say yet. It’s a whole year out but I think Vero and I realized the kind of conversations that we have to have,” She adds, “There’s no book that we can follow but we try our best. We know questions to ask, we know what to get in contracts so that we’re protected. There’s so many things that we had never thought of that could go wrong, it was just a huge lesson for us to learn.”

Despite the challenges of the last year, Jen and Vero are appreciative of the happy moments they’ve experienced and look forward to what’s to come, including continuing their partnership with Meijer Grocery and their brick and mortar shop. They opened their storefront back in January which includes their manufacturing in the back. With an open space between the storefront and the manufacturing area, people shopping can feel a part of JZD when they see the work and love put into the products they are looking for. Also in the works is an upcoming collaboration—a two-year project— with a retailer that kicks into a “health journey.” Vero shares that this is a collaboration she’s been manifesting for years now.  “I have been manifesting this for forever and when they came knocking at the door. I knew it. I just had to say it a couple more times and it was coming to us.” she adds. 

With eight years as business owners under their belts, Jen and Vero are seasoned entrepreneurs who’ve managed to build not only a community online but a brick and mortar and enduring brand despite the challenges.

To other queer Latinx business owners out there, Jen says: make sure you present yourself as authentically as you safely can. The beauty of being a small business is that when supporters love and value your brands, they are also loving you. When you present yourself authentically, people who value your products or brands are doing so because they see who you are every step of the way. On the other hand, Vero and Jen say that in entrepreneurship, it is always a learning process, so it is important to be open to the idea that you won’t always know everything. 

“Surround yourself with people that know more than you. There’s no shame in admitting ‘I don’t know how to do that or I don’t know that’. It’s okay. It’s better for you to be like ‘let me go learn it or let me go ask somebody or surround myself with people that know more than me so they can help me go through this whole business journey,’” Vero says.

They look forward to seeing more representation and more queer Latinx business owners grow and normalize having their brands on shelves at retailers everywhere. Jen and Vero make a point to highlight doing our part in uplifting these Latinxs in rooms they are not in yet and sharing their names and brands as much as we can.

As Vero puts it, “There’s enough room at the table for all of us to sit at. We all get to eat. It’s not some short little table. No, it’s an enormous table where we can all fit in it. We all just have to help each other to get there.” 

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