Entrepreneur Julissa Prado knew at a young age that issues surrounding hair in her community were fraught — the pressure to straighten was everywhere. It took the motivated naturalista four years of trial-and-error to perfect her original curls recipe, and now she plans to take her product line to the masses, the right way.
#ChicaBoss highlights Latina power players who are starting businesses and lifting up their communities through their efforts. They are part of the Latinas who are leading small business growth.
Born and raised in Mid-City, a predominantly Latinx neighborhood Los Angeles, Julissa Prado grew up seeing that wearing your natural wasn’t a popular trend like it is now.
She was 11 years old when she realized there was a something going on in her community that she wasn’t fond of at all. “Growing up there, I saw so much of my community had coily, wavy, curly textures, but everybody straightened their hair. So I was like, Why does everybody straighten their hair? It was very embedded into our beliefs, into our mind, that — in order for our hair to be done, in order for it to be professional — it couldn’t be natural. So I always felt like that wasn’t cool and I didn’t want that,” she said.
“I remember struggling, having my primas, like, put my head over an ironing board and straightening it with like a clothes iron. And I’d be like, This is scary,” says Prado.
Which is why at the age of 15, while working in her parents’ restaurant, she started saving for her company Rizo Curls. While attending college and graduate school and working for PepsiCo, she continued to create products that allow women to embrace their curls.
Rizo Curls was slowly becoming recognized, but it wasn’t till after Hurricane Maria hit in Puerto Rico that many women had to embrace their natural due to the lack of electricity. Chismosa (gossip) culture, Julissa says, helped to spread the resources and knowledge one needs to embrace your curls.
Rizo Curls also has a community of women — Julissa calls them “Rizos Reinas” — who are vocal about what they want from the Mexican-American curly-haired businesswoman.
CHICA spoke with the innovative and progressive entrepreneur.
What was the first product ever made?
The first one that I created, which I already knew it was gonna be the hardest one, because there was nothing in the market like the Curl Defining Cream. There’s a lot of things that moisturize and create hold, but there was nothing that took whatever your texture was and made it even better.
Are there any other new products in the works?
They [Rizos Reinas] want a gel, which I’m going to give them. Like I said, I take [this] very seriously. So I just want it to be absolutely perfect, and I like to try it on a variety of textures. I like to try out all the samples on every texture to see how it reacts and also see how it reacts in different climates, different humidities, different porosities. There’s so much that goes into it. So I’m still working on it, but definitely releasing a gel by the end of the year.
So what’s that process like? How long does it usually take you to put out products?
While I was in high school, college, et cetera, I would make my own concoctions, and I would carry them around in Ziploc bags, and I had my little like limon that I would use instead of hairspray. It took me four years, and it was mainly, cause this one [Curl Defining Cream] took me so long. I learned quickly when I was making my own conjunctions at home that I have to take this full scale, because this stuff, like if I leave it out too long, it smells so bad. And I’m not trying to have that in my hair. Then it was, like, put it in the refrigerator, and I’m like, this is too much, and also I wasn’t trying to get sued. I just wanted it to be safe and do it professionally, so I went to a lab.
How many people do you have on your team?
I got another perk of growing up Latino, I have an entire family that I have forced to help me. I have a big Latino family, so I had so much free labor, like especially in the beginning. I started off in my apartment, and then I moved to my Tio Juan’s garage on Washington and Crenshaw; he was right off vineyard and a garage. The best thing about having the garage at Mid-City is that I could just drive down Washington and pick up all my family members to work.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
[In five years] Rizos Curls will be mainstream, like bump all that about like, oh, I have to be in the ethnic corner only. Like Latinos, we are mainstream, and I feel like music is always kind of like a reflection of what society wants and what’s about to come. These Latino-owned businesses, like we’re breaking these walls and as soon as I break into these mainstream channels, best believe, like all these Latino business owners develop, we’re coming for mainstream America. And we are going to be the new, almost like, corporate America. But we’re going to be very un-corporate in our practices, because we’re actually going to care about our community and actually give back.