Carolina Contreras has built a movement and a business on being a rebel. “Although people like it or not, hair is a symbol of rebellion against the standards of beauty that have been instilled into society,” says the founder of Miss Rizos. “It’s a shame, because for me, hair is an extension of my body and who I am.”
The concept of “pelo malo” has plagued the mentality of many Latine communities and has opened the door for the industry to capitalize on the insecurities of mujeres that have been convinced they need to “tame” their curls. As a Dominicana and Afro-Latina, Carolina is no stranger to this toxic ideology. To fight this and help her and other mujeres embrace their curls, she founded Miss Rizos, with the mission to challenge beauty standards and elevate the conversation at the intersection of hair and social impact.
Since its beginnings in 2012 as a blog, Carolina has built Miss Rizos into an international business with two salons in NYC and the Dominican Republic. This year, Miss Rizos has officially launched a full line of products for mujeres that are embracing their natural curls and loving their ‘pajón.’ The Miss Rizos product line will be the first and only Dominican and Afro-Latina brand at Sephora. With Miss Rizos at Sephora, it’s not just a product line on a shelf; it’s putting a movement that is creating social impact, allowing women to rebel against beauty standards one of the largest stages in the beauty industry. It’s no doubt that Carolina herself is a mujer of impact as she works to make the world a better place than when she found it.
How do you define being a Latina of Impact?:
I define being a Latina of impact by the people I get to inspire and those who inspire me. I see it as this ongoing chain reaction that is the basis of long-term impact and social change. There’s this huge pressure as an activist and social entrepreneur to be impactful, but I’ve discovered that the mere fact that I live my life authentically and center everything I do around my passion for Afro-Latina representation is often enough. In being myself, I get to inspire others to do the same, and then they inspire others, and so on. This means that impact starts with us, then our immediate communities, then those communities we have online, and then we can continue to expand and grow poquito a poquito without feeling like what we’re already doing is not enough.
How does your WHY play a role in your mission, vision, and work you do in this world?
From day one, my WHY has always been very ambitious: to eradicate discrimination against Black women, initially in the Dominican Republic. Today, while I still believe in this possibility, it has transformed into increasing the representation of Afro-Latinas in the beauty space and centering our work on empowering women to love their curly hair and themselves just as they are. I see this as a vehicle for social change. These things are engrained in everything we/I do, and now as the mom of a little Black boy, it matters to me on an even deeper personal level. I want Afro-Latino people to feel like there’s a company by Afro-Latinos for Afro-Latinos who care greatly about their beauty routines, how this connects to our culture through ingredients and customs, and how we holistically feel about ourselves. We bring this into our salons, into our professional curly hair products, and into the classrooms through our Miss Rizos Foundation.
What is your vision for Latinas in your respective space, and how do you see supporting emerging Latinas who also want to make an impact like yourself?:
I recently finished the Sephora Accelerator Program, and we hope to launch our products there soon. We will be the first and only Dominican and Afro-Latina brand at the #1 beauty retailer in the world. This is beyond representation and extends to the importance of occupying the very shelves where we spend our hard-earned dollars. We have a long way to go, as fundraising is a huge challenge for brands like Miss Rizos and Afro-Latina women like me, but our hope is to keep the door open for other Latina and Afro-Latina brands in prestigious spaces like Sephora. We don’t want to be the “only,” not in the curly hair category, and not at these beauty retailers. I hope that we’re also able to teach Latina entrepreneurs how to turn whatever business they’re in into one that has an impact and changes the world.
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