Mariel Mejia, a Dominicana born and raised in the Bronx, New York is driving impact as a diaspora entrepreneur in the beauty industry.
In the 1990’s, her mother left for New York as part of a major migration wave when over 330,000 Dominicans left the island in search of a better future. Always pushing her limits, Mariel's main goal is to do something far beyond her own expectations. She has finally discovered the passion to push her to drive beyond.
“I was never a bad student but I was also never the best as I couldn't quite figure out what I was passionate about. I didn't really know what I wanted to do all throughout college and found myself in dead end jobs with no plans for the future.”
Growing up she admired such amazing Latinx heroes as Victoria Santa Cruz, an Afro-Pervuian choreographer and activist. Also Miguel Pinero, a screenwriter, poet and co-founder of the famous Nuyorican Poet’s Café and Pedro Pietri, a former Young Lord, poet and playwright and activist. She discovered their work during her studies at Lehman College in the Bronx and it left a huge impact on her life.
“Their messages were so powerful and raw and my outlook on my community really changed after diving into their stories. I was more aware of the issues that my community faced, internally and externally, from poverty, anti-blackness, femicide, public housing, immigration rights, and more. These were all topics that affected the lives of those around me and it really made me feel seen but also inspired me to persevere because these individuals faced all of these obstacles and lived to share their experience.”
In 2015, she found her calling from the hair on her own head. She decided to go natural and ditch the familiar trip to the salon to straighten her curly hair. In the Dominican Republic, most businesses do not consider you properly dressed for work, if your hair is not “done” or blown out straight. Culturally it has been engrained in Dominican women that as a beauty standard they must keep their hair straight. But this process of blowing out beautiful natural hair causes permanent damage. Mariel took a personal journey with her hair and created a product line to help others heal.
“I didn't really like the products that I found in stores to help me repair my damaged hair so I started making my own.”
She started a business from her mother’s apartment but was afraid of putting her identity out to the public. She was scared to bind the brand image personally to her and thus making anyone else feel excluded. But she realized that she need to be more transparent about her background. “I feel recognized in my community and have been able to meet and collaborate with so many amazing individuals. Putting yourself out there is hard but being your authentic self feels better!”
The first launch was Pink Root Products, to help women heal their damaged hair with a product line they truly love. She took a break from producing her product to learn more about and refine the MVP. In 2019, she relaunched the brand and has had amazing progress. She was featured in major publications like Instyle, OprahDaily, and Coveteur to name a few. Also featured on television via Univision and amazingly sold out her inventory within 15 minutes of going live.
As a Latinx person, her entire personality is centered around the Dominican culture. She grew up speaking Spanish as a first language and has a place in her heart for the food, music, dancing, and rituals. In 2021, she thinks the Latinx community has shifted viewpoints to become far more inclusive than as previous generations.
“We have a much better understanding of our roots, history, and culture and I am so proud of all the tough yet necessary conversations that are currently being held. Our community has so much to offer and we are so diverse, so it's truly amazing to see how resilient we are, much like our ancestors.”
Impact over money is Mariel’s main focus. Leaving this impact on people who are far outside her immediate circle and leaving a mark in whatever industry she lays claim. Mariel is a prime example of the determination of first generation diaspora people. Through her experiences as an entrepreneur, Mariel concedes that the Latinx community has made some amazing strides as far as representation but still notices the gaps in business and tech.
“A lot of us are first generation and we don't have the access to capital, resources, connections, etc., that are needed to get a profitable business or app off the ground. I think the struggle is real for a lot of us, but I definitely see this changing in the years to come as we keep pushing forward and figure out ways to make it work regardless of our circumstances.”
Investors are you listening?