Madame Gabriela: What Being Latin Means to me
National Hispanic Heritage Month has started and will run through October 15, giving the United States an opportunity to recognize and celebrate members of our communities and their ancestors who hail from Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America and Spain. Today our two founders sit down to discuss what it means to Gabriela.
Geoffrey: This month is National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021. I have always said that your achievements & lived experience should be an inspiration to so many.
Geoffrey: Yes really! I mean I am not American [Geoffrey is Australian] so I did not have the experience of interacting with many Hispanic cultures growing up. You have been my source of all things Latinx over the last decade or so and because of that “being from Mexico” seems to me such a chic and educated experience. But I am learning that is not the way it is seen by everyone?
Gabriela: There is a nice naivety for people who were born in Europe or Australia of what it means to be Latin or Mexican. It is probably a good thing actually! What it means to be Latin is very different to you than what the perception is, particularly in some parts of America. When I lived France having Mexican heritage was overwhelmingly seen as a statement of something spectacular and beautiful. I think that thought is missing sometimes in America. Not everywhere but in some situations and places.
Geoffrey: But being Latin has been a big art of your success both personally and professionally?
Gabriela: No doubt about that. Being Latin means being proud of all parts of myself. After living in France for a while, I used to say I was half Latina, half French, but I'm not. My blood all goes through one system and there is no end to one and beginning to the other. I consider myself fully Latina and fully French and now fully American all the same time. It is a blessing. I love that I have these amazing parts of me. It’s not one or the other. Especially in business.
Geoffrey: Let’s talk about business. What made you think you could make it the beauty industry when you (and I!) had no prior experience. Did you background help shape that?
Gabriela: I never questioned it.
Geoffrey: So you didn't question whether you could or couldn't—it just was?
Gabriela: I wanted to work more for myself and give something back to women. Being from Mexico, I knew the power of community and the fabulous power of lipstick, and love, and passion and kisses. Passion is a state of mind, not a moment. But I also knew the power of doing your homework! So where do you go to launch a lipstick brand? You go to the mecca. So we went to Paris, and the rest is history and a lot of hard work.
Geoffrey: Many would've settled for being a big fish in a not-so-small pond instead of trying to compete with the biggest brands in the world?
Gabriela: It was never a question for me. You know that. I felt I just had to do my best, to honor my past. My father’s words were always in my head. “If you are going to do something, make it something really good because you have an opportunity," it is what I can hear him saying. I wanted Madame Gabriela to be good. I wanted Madame Gabriela to be better. And I said, "I'm going to Paris to begin making the best clean lipstick in the world because nobody here has done it and my passion is to make the best," and that was that.
Geoffrey: And now it is. What about living and working in America? Has that changed for you over time?
Geoffrey: Being Latinx is also about enjoying work and life?
Gabriela: Of course. It’s about passion. Success in anything does not happen solo. Latinx women know it is about a passion for life and everyone you work with. It is about enjoyment. There is a wonderful phrase, “reunirse es un comienzo; mantenerse juntos es el progreso; trabajar juntos es el éxito.” It loosely means that coming together is just the beginning and keeping together is progress but working together is success. Passion and work are the same. You HAVE to love what you do. Then life is a blessing.
Geoffrey: How has being Latinx shaped your identity in America in other ways?
Gabriela: Yes absolutely. I was naive enough to believe that there'd always be a lot of support for women and Latin women in business in America. There is not. That's why, as important as it is to support women of all backgrounds at our company, it's more important for all of us to take control and make a difference for ourselves and don't wait for the others to give us the opportunity.
Geoffrey: Making your own success is more a Mexican theme than the “American Dream”?
Gabriela: Yes. Mexicans are extremely hard working and determined people. And proud. I'm very fortunate to be Mexican and lucky I didn't have it easy in every way, because I've learned so much about life, business, love and all their facets from having to figure out everything on my own and create things for myself. Now I can teach what I've learned to the next generation.
Geoffrey: Knowing you I feel like Mexican is the chicest country in the world! Do you think American’s sometimes do not see the “real Mexico” that I see?
Gabriela: Well of course! You’ve seen Mexico with me. The food. The fashion. The art. The history. The hotels. The food.
Geoffrey: You said food twice.
Gabriela: Because it is so good! It's only now that the taboo on Mexicans is lifting as Americans realize we are more than Cancun and tacos! Like France, Spain and Italy we are a country rich in fabulous culture and that deserves to be celebrated in every way. You have met the designers, architects, chefs.’ You know what I mean when I say Mexico, is a dynamic pulse of culture.
Geoffrey: Yes I do. And in business?
Gabriela: It's time for a change not just for Latinx women but women generally. I feel it is coming. Women represent only 10 percent of all business owners and Latinx business owners? Forget it. It’s so small. That’s why for me I never feel competitive for other founders. We need to support each other. Dreaming big for my life and business is about taking the simplest thing and enjoying it—and seeing it as the biggest thing that can possibly exist. And you simply have to be who you are.
Geoffrey: What else is next for you this and next year?
Gabriela: I want create a lipstick named after and in honor of Mexico City. To honor those dreams and all the color. And continue to love life. It’s in the simple moments, the kisses, the touching, the love, that makes life worth living. And of course that begins and ends with the right lipstick.