Viva La Bonita, the apparel brand developed by 30-year-old Rachel Gomez, is more than just an clothing shop, it’s a movement to empower and uplift Latinas. The widely popular shop started out as a school project roughly four years ago and developed into a T-shirt line named Kulture.LA that eventually grew to become a brand that allows Latinas to literally wear their pride on their sleeves. With more than a decade of experience in fashion retail, Rachel was able to build on it to develop what is now Viva La Bonita, which features shirts that read “Allergic to Pendejas” — her personal favorite — “Mujeres Can Do Anything”, and “Fierce like Frida”, Viva la Bonita promotes fearlessness, strength and confidence.
The name originally began as a hashtag and upon seeing its trending potential and its uplifting message, Gomez capitalized on it by renaming the company and amassing a following of more than 65k on Instagram.
“My growing community is what inspires me to keep designing. I learned to stop designing for me and I design for them,” she said. “I like to engage with my social media community because I want to know who my supporters are. I want the brand to always remain authentic so my community is 90% of what inspires our branding.”
Raised in a Mexican-American home in Pacoima, Los Angeles, Gomez isn’t just designing chic streetwear, she’s developing a positive persona for Latinas to embrace.
“The message behind the brand is encouraging women to accept themselves and to not be afraid to build the life they deserve,” Gomez says. “We are redefining the word ‘BONITA’. What used to just be ‘beautiful’ in Spanish, is now [redefined] as a woman who is hard working, has a good heart, and a mindset to change things. This stems from my grandparents who raised me, teaching me that beauty comes from within and it comes from your actions.”
Family has always been a strong presence in her life and so naturally her team is currently made up of her fiancé and close family with Gomez as the sole designer.
According to a 2016 State of Women-Owned Business report, for every 10 women-owned businesses that launched since 2007, eight were founded by women of color and in the past nine years there’s been a 137 percent increase in Latina-owned businesses.
The jump is encouraging but there is still room for more Latinas in the business world and Rachel intends to make her mark and help the Latino community in the process.
“There were a few [Latina] brands out there when I was doing my research and I still felt like we were underrepresented. Society tries to place all Latinas under one umbrella, one type of look, one type of lifestyle and in my experience growing up in the Los Angeles area, I realized that all of the Latina women I met were so different,” she said. “Instead of creating a ‘look’ or a ‘trend’ I wanted to create a feeling of empowerment and love.”
Recently she released a limited edition “Bonita” necklace which is already selling out quickly and revealed the “We are the roses that grew from concrete” collection.
She plans to eventually start a non-profit providing resources to apply for schools and job training programs to give women the opportunities to potentially follow in her footsteps as entrepreneurs.
Thus her website is not only a shop but also a blog where she provides Bonitas with advice on managing a business. “Embrace all of the thorns that come with blossoming into the baddest rosa in the garden,” she writes in her post “4 Things to Do Before you Quit Your Job.”
With all her efforts to elevate Latinas, it’s no wonder her idol is one of the most iconic and inspiring Latinas and one she’s honored in her designs.
“Selena Quintanilla has influenced me since I first heard her music growing up. I always felt so insecure being around my culture because I didn’t know perfect Spanish,” Rachel said. “Her confidence made me feel like I can do anything as long as I worked hard at it and accepted who I was. She created her own style, her own sound. It was so inspiring. It led me to believe that one day someone will relate to me and see my vision, just like we did hers.”
The brand hosted its first pop-up shop “Tacos and Chill” in 2017 complete with tacos, beer and Selena music blasting to finish off the backyard party vibes and there are plans to do it again this year. They also collaborated with Tidal to create a Viva La Bonita playlist and Rachel has used her platform to participate in panels and podcasts to not only talk about her merchandise but her message.
“I want women to hear the Viva La Bonita message in their ears when they are doubting themselves or feel lost. The Latina community is so valuable and we need to realize that. We need to be the change for our younger generation of women and show them that they can do imaginable things to change their world because we did it.”