Photo Credit: Jose Romero/MannyofMiami.com
Liz De La Cruz and Gaby Ortega
Alma Mei is a boutique created by Latina entrepreneurs Gaby Ortega and Liz De La Cruz, and every quarter the duo teams up with a charity or organization and donates 10% of their proceeds to it, as a way to have customers shop guilt-free while giving back.
Alma means "Soul" in Spanish and Mei means "Beauty" in Japanese, and through both, Gaby and Liz hope to bring the spirit of philanthropy to the world of fashion.
Latin Beat joined them at their launch event hosted at Wall Miami to benefit the MTV Numbers Campaign. This campaign raises funds for The Staying Alive Foundation, which brings awareness about HIV, and encourages preventive education through broadcasts and events. The soiree gathered artists and entertainers who came to show support the cause and enjoy a performance by singer Manu.
How did you start the business and how did you come up with this concept?
Liz: I was working as a paralegal and I had plans to attend law school when I got married and had a baby, and since I had a family my mentality changed as far as to what to do with my career because I didn’t want to give it up. My husband is an entrepreneur so he lit the entrepreneurial spirit in me and I decided to follow my other passion which its fashion; but at times, that industry could be vain, so I spoke to Gaby and we came up with this concept of uniting the world of fashion with giving back, and creating something that women can aspire to be part of. We thought: To look great and dressing well its fun and all, but what’s the real meaning of life? and what’s really important?, and that’s why we came up with Alma Mei.
Gaby: Every time we are in our circle amongst friends, people would always ask us: where did you get this? Where did you buy that?, so we also feel like we kinda lead in our circle as far as fashion goes so it just came natural to both of us to do this. Part of been in a sorority we have always been involved in philanthropy, so it just made sense we both really want to leave a stamp in this world, as silly and as cliché that it sounds, but we want to do it through something we love and its fashion.
The motto is: Look Good, Do Good, how did you come up with that phrase?
Gaby: It’s catchy and it’s basically it: Looking good while doing good which makes a 360 woman. It makes you come full circle as woman because you just don’t want to be a beauty on the outside, you also want to be beautiful in the inside, and I think that’s what we all aspire to do. We want to create a movement of women that look fabulous but are also go-getters and empower women to help other women. A lot of times in media, Latinas are portrayed in a way as if we constantly put each other down, but in reality we are all about empowering and just making a difference in the way people think about life.
There’s always a cause behind Alma Mei, talk to us a little bit about it:
Liz: The concept of the store it’s that we partner up with different non-profit on a quarterly basis so what we are aiming to do with that its eventually to help with a cause that matters to you personally. This is something we want to take to the long haul so when you shop with Alma Mei, 10% of our proceeds go to a different cause every single quarter. Its not just about giving away the proceeds, we are hands-on and take on projects during that quarter like packaging food for underprivileged children or help on a shelter.
Gaby: We want to start a movement nationwide; first it’s locally that we have this volunteer group, this Alma Mei team that we have created. Eventually we want to have Alma Mei Ambassadors in every city, creating groups of people that get together to volunteer and help others.
Why did you decide to work with the MTV Staying Alive Foundation?
Gaby: I didn’t know this but I found out that Miami is the #1 city when it comes to newly HIV cases, I would had never thought that. The statistics are crazy, and it targets minorities a lot more than we think, so it’s all about education. Also, I work with MTV, so that was a connection that was natural but also with what’s going on we wanted to take into consideration and bringing awareness to this topic.
As a young mom that’s trying to inspire other moms, how are you linking Alma Mei to this Latina Mom Movement?
Liz: In several ways. I am Latina, I’m curvaceous woman, not your typical size 5 or 3, so for me it’s not a challenge but it’s something that takes planning. Because it’s always priority to look my best regardless of how I’m feeling, especially in the business that we are in where appearances matter, even if you’re a stay-home-mom when you go somewhere the first thing people notice it’s how you look. Its difficult when you have children to get up in the morning and do your hair, and for me, one of the things I want other women to see through Alma Mei is that there’s ways to dress for your size. A mistake that women make its that if an item its cute or trendy and you want to pull it off but you can necessarily do that with your body. I would like to inspire women to embrace their shape and dress for their body, and looking good while been practical. When you’re running around after a toddler it’s hard to put on 6 inch heels but there’s other ways to still look good without having to compromise fashion or comfort. That’s why Alma Mei carries clothes that flatter every size and no matter how hectic your life is, you can still look good.
As woman in the competitive music business, how have you achieved your success?
Gaby: I started at the bottom as an intern and worked my way up. I did temp jobs, unpaid jobs and stuck to it because of my passion. I went to school for Journalism and Mass Communications, and I always wanted to be in entertainment industry. It’s been a long road of staying consistent and put a lot of hard work, long nights and network a lot. As a Latina, I feel very passionate in what I do but also I feel very passionate about education. Do the things you love and sticking to it even when it gets tough.