CHICA Boss: How Kristine Rodriguez Founded a Brand That Gives Back
As part of People CHICA's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, each week we'll be spotlighting Latinas who've founded their own visionary companies without compromising their beliefs — CHICA Bosses. To kick it off, we spoke to Kristine Rodriguez, creator of the lifestyle brand GRL Collective.
Scrolling through GRL Collective's Instagram feed you'll see images of joy and pride, but the company was born in the aftermath of a horrible moment in the life of founder Kristine Rodriguez. In 2017, she had to testify against a family member in a sexual molestation trial, and the feelings she experienced in the aftermath overwhelmed her. "I started to struggle with my mental health," she tells People CHICA. "I've always had anxiety, but I was starting to feel like I was falling into depression, so I was trying to figure out a way to find my happiness and save myself from that. At the time, I was working at a multicultural marketing agency in Los Angeles, and I quit that job and volunteered to go to India to work with a women and girls empowerment program."
To raise money for the trip, she began selling jewelry, and while still in India, her lifestyle brand was born. "Before even coming home I started the GRL Collective website," she explains. "I thought, 'What could I sell that would help benefit these girls to continuously send money back to India, even when I'm back home?' So jewelry became the thing and I officially launched when I got back, and we've been in business since."
Since then, GRL Collective has added t-shirts, stickers, coffee mugs, tote bags, and more to its collection, and still donates 20 percent of profits to fund girls' education programs in India. Rodriguez has also introduced new products that benefit other organizations, like the "Your Struggle Is My Struggle / Tu Lucha es Mi Lucha" tee, with $5 of each purchase going to Black Lives Matter. "The Lucha tee was actually designed a month before the movement got on this new trajectory that it's on, and I didn't realize when it was created how much it would resonate with the Latino community — especially the Afro-Latino community," she shares. "Seeing how much other Latinos wanted to show their support for the Black community was so uplifting. Obviously, this brand has never gotten that much attention and it was just so wild at the time, but it's super important to me because Black Lives Matter is working on getting things done that are going to help Black communities and also brown communities be able to put people in positions of power."
Rodriguez is hands-on with the creation of each product and is in constant communication with designers, illustrators, and other artisans. "I design [things] by either sending the illustrator a photo or a rough, really terrible sketch, and basically we go back and forth on deciding what those look like," she explains. "Stuff with the text I usually do on my own, and then with the jewelry I have an artisan that I use in India who I met in one of my trips out there."
GRL Collective's current array of products is fun and playful — hoops named after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, dresses referencing Selena — but Rodriguez hopes to eventually introduce items with a more serious purpose. "I want to create a self-defense item for women that you're actually able to carry around and take into public places [without it being] confiscated," she says. "That's my dream, to make something that I feel like really resonates with women, that's easy and acceptable and not expensive so that they can protect themselves."
Rodriguez currently runs the business on her own with the help of her mother and grandmother, as well as friends who step in when she needs a few extra hands. When the coronavirus pandemic subsides, she hopes to be able to hire a small team and continue to expand GRL Collective to other countries. "That has always been my main goal. I would like to expand to Mexico and Africa as the next destinations to give back to," she says. "It's always been my plan that once we're fully funding 10 girls a year in India that we can next extend to the next country, because I don't want to get too ahead of myself and just start expanding when we're not ready. In five years, I want to be a multimillion-dollar company that's giving back thousands and thousands of dollars to girls' education all over the world." Because as one GRL Collective shirt puts it, caring is cool.