Nothing could stop Nopalera founder Sandra Velasquez from starting her global bath and body care brand. She was $86,000 deep in student loan debt, living in Brooklyn as a 44-year-old single mother during the pandemic. Circumstances be damned, she was going to make it work.

The nopal is the centerpiece of her soaps, exfoliants, and more, proudly showcasing her Mexican culture through the ingredients, scents, and messaging. That was her inspiration for starting Nopalera.

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“I could create this high-end Latina brand that could really disrupt the Eurocentric values in this country that we see in the beauty industry that normalize higher price tags for brands with French and Italian names,” said Velasquez.

Continue reading to learn more about Nopalera’s start, how Velasquez’s determination and grit got her from zero to one hundred, and how big Latinas should dream when it comes to fulfilling their entrepreneurial aspirations. 

Inspiration was right in her parents’ front yard

Velasquez’s dreams of starting her own brand began when she was 43 years old. From the jump, she knew Nopalera would become a high-end brand. 

Her parents’ home in Southern California has a prickly pear cactus plant in their front yard, and Velasquez began experimenting with it as an alternative to aloe. 

She started off making small batches of 100 soaps, and now Nopalera has grown into a multi-faceted business. In addition to running a blog, Velasquez hosts The Nopalera Podcast, which features other Latina small business owners and advice for building a brand.

Moreover, Velasquez was featured on season 14 of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” where she famously turned down offers from two sharks after feeling “a pull” from her ancestors not to sell herself short. She was applauded for following her intuition without hesitation and quickly found financial support elsewhere.

Hustling for her dreams

It took Velasquez a year to launch Nopalera because she had no outside funding. She was making business expenses a little at a time while working three-day jobs. 

“It was a very intense period of hustle, but I needed the money to pay off credit card debt to order ingredients,” said Velasquez.

She trudged forward, finding creative solutions to issues that would come up. For example, she figured out a payment plan with her designer, something she says was worth every penny. 

“No one in my family has money. No one in my family is an entrepreneur,” said Velasquez. “I’m very fortunate because my mother’s a very strong person who modeled courage, strength, and resilience.”

Being Latina greatly influenced her business

Velasquez lives by the quote, “Begin with the end in mind.” She was able to visualize a future for herself and her family through Nopalera. That powerful mindset allowed her to build her business from the ground up. 

Today, Nopalera is sold in Nordstrom, Credo Beauty, and hundreds of independent retailers across the country. Velasquez also opened a pop-up store in Los Angeles that’ll be open until Dec. 5.

As a Latina, the courage she learned from a young age has continued to stick with her. “I am proof that you are never too old or too broke to have an idea and go for it,” she said.

Velasquez wants Latinas to know that becoming an entrepreneur isn’t easy, but if they are inclined to become a jefa themselves, they should do it. 

“You must dream bigger than your bank account,” she advises. “You must be committed to learning new things and evolving as a human being.”