Alicia Estrada, founder and CEO of Stop Staring! clothing is inspiring us this week. The Mexican-American Los Angeles native starting sewing her own clothes at age 16 and hasn’t looked back since. After a brief stint as an accounting major, the self-described “punk rock girl” took her vintage-influenced style to Long Beach City College’s fashion design program. Soon enough, big boutiques noticed her designs and she grew with the demand. Fourteen years later, the classic looks of Stop Staring! are the favorites of regular girls and red carpet starlets alike. Her community has taken notice, too; in 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigos awarded her the Minority Manufacturing Firm of the Year Award.
We’re always ogling the beautiful dresses at Stop Staring! and got the businesswoman and mami-to-be to sit down for a chat about being an entrepreneur, body image, and style.
What was it like starting out as a small business owner?
“At age 16 I really just considered myself a seamstress. I really didn’t think I was going to be a fashion designer or that I would ever own a business. There was that one professor who said, ‘Hey, Alicia, if you can sew clothes and design dresses, I don’t think you should be an accountant; I think you should be a fashion designer.’ That’s the first time I ever thought, ‘Hey, maybe I was a fashion designer.’
At the very beginning of starting Stop Staring! it was a one-man operation. I was cutting (dresses), sewing them, trimming them, ironing them, delivering, selling. Everything I learned about the business I pretty much learned through the school of hard knocks. I got a few tips from a teacher and showed up with my collection but mostly I listened. I listened to what the buyers wanted.”
Why do you think you’ve done so well for so long?
“There are a few reasons. As a Mexican-American born and raised here in Los Angeles, I have a strong faith. I’m Christian. Yes, I work hard. There are still days when I put in 12 and 14 days and I’m almost 7 months pregnant [with my first baby]. I’ve learned from all my experiences, but every time things seemed impossible I would pray and put it in God’s hands. Also, for the first seven years of Stop Staring! I did every single pattern. I learned everything about Stop Staring! and that sort of makes you foolproof. If anyone has a question, I can answer in a split second because I’ve been there, done that.”
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
“I try to live by one saying: “never think negative thought because negative thoughts will quickly become reality because they’re so powerful.” Most people are shocked that Jesus Christ said that. I think the same is true for positive thoughts; if you think only positive thoughts, then that will become your reality. I know it doesn’t sound like business advice, but that is the quintessential beginning of any business plan—it starts with our thoughts. I always tell people to talk about what they want to be in life, discuss it, learn about it.”
How does being Latina affect your body image?
“I think that being a Latina has actually helped me to not only embrace my body image but to celebrate it. I truly believe that’s why my dresses have such great fit. That’s what we’re really known for. My first official doll form that I draped a dress on were my sisters and we all have curves. I’ve always been between a size 10 and 14 and being more in the plus size range has helped me to create dresses that fit all shapes and sizes.”
Where do you go for inspiration?
“I’m so inspired by vintage stores and I love black and white movies. Mexican cinema is something I’ve been inspired by lately. La malquerida with Dolores del Rio. She had a huge impact on me. She’s just so beautiful, as well as María Félix. Those two women made a lot of great movies. I was blown away by Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. While I was creating Stop Staring! I was watching that movie saying, “I’m going to be like Joan, starting my own business.”
Know of an inspiring Latina? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate them!