Ada Rojas On Catapulting Botánika Beauty To Instant Success
Ada Rojas always wanted to be the boss. Growing up she often spent her nights accompanying her mother to her job cleaning office buildings, and immediately began to imagine herself in a position of power. After studying marketing and public relations in college, Rojas used her platform as a successful beauty influencer to become the Co-Founder of Botánika Beauty. The haircare line is inspired by the botánica stores found across Latinx communities and celebrates Afro-Latinx beauty tradition. “We really wanted to create quality products that were accessible and affordable to everyone because we believe that hair care is self-care,” explains Rojas.
Launched in 2019, Botánika Beauty has had a meteoric rise already generating over a million in sales. The products are sold in over 800 stores including Target. But for Rojas, Botánika is about more than a brand. It is about filling a gap in the market to target her community. It is about ownership. Rojas and her Co-Founder Aisha Ceballos-Crump own their own warehouse, which has not only helped them get through the pandemic by having control of their shipping, but the space is also going to serve as a beauty incubator for women of color.
For Rojas, running Botánika Beauty is also about the importance of female-led business and the commitment to lift other women up. “There are so many rock walls in our way on our path to succeed, so every time I overcome a barrier I’m reminded that I have to demand more. I can’t just walk in through the door, I have to bust in through the door in this industry,” says Rojas. “The way that these companies treat me is the way that they’re going to treat other women that come behind me. I have to set the standard and I have to deliver every time.”
I read that you came up with the idea for Botánika Beauty when you were working on a cruise ship for six months. What inspired the idea?
I went from being completely plugged in with social media and my beauty blog All Things Ada, living my life in New York, to being completely closed off on a cruise ship with terrible WiFi. I think that a lot of people think isolation is bad, and with COVID-19 everyone is freaking out saying they are going crazy staying home. But isolation can be good for you! Sometimes you just need to sit with yourself and think What is your biggest goal? And why can’t you make it happen? So being on that ship was my moment for me. I was reading The Alchemist and I just really took that time to focus on myself and go inward—and I thought, you know, What’s my biggest dream? If I could do anything what would it be?
Did The Alchemist inspire you to think big for yourself or is that just who you are?
I think that I’ve always been a dreamer. My mom was a single mom of six kids, and she is not surprised—not one bit—by all of my accomplishments because she said, “I always knew you were going to do something.” My mom cleans for a living. She would clean during the day, then she would come home to cook for us, and then we would all go with her to help her clean office buildings in downtown Tampa. I remember walking into these offices and looking at all the executives’ photos and being like Why can’t I have this? Why isn’t this possible for me? My brothers and sisters would always make fun of me to my mom and say “Ada’s not cleaning! All she’s doing is sitting as the desk and playing around.” It was true, I would be sitting at the desk and imagining myself in this role of a high-powered executive.
I think there is something so powerful about having that vision for yourself at a really young age.
When I was little, I used to dress like the way that secretaries used to dress because I thought they looked so powerful. I would wear pencil skirts and little baby heels with my Polos to school. When I got older and I realized that secretaries don’t really make a lot of money, I was like “Ok well, the boss makes a lot of money—I want to be the boss.” I always had this very entrepreneurial side. I used to sell makeup in high school. People would say “Oh I love your makeup!” and I would say “You know you can buy it from me when I see you next week during lunch.” Then I would go collecting my money. I used to bake Betty Crocker cakes to make an extra $20 in college. I was always a hustler, I always had it in me.
Was it always your plan to launch your own business?
I always wanted to create a business. I had an audience with my beauty blog All Things Ada so the next step was thinking What would my products be? Haircare just made so much sense for me because I’ve been natural all of my life, and I walked so many women through their natural hair journey online. I took a class on how to launch your business and how to create a product. Afterwards, I stayed to speak to the instructor and told her about my idea. She said, “Do you realize how far ahead you are already of anyone trying to create a product? All the people that were in class today have a product and they’re looking for an audience to buy it. But you already have the audience to sell to.” This made me more intentional about the community that I was building online and this focus group at my disposal. I started asking my community, “What do you guys think is missing in the market? What would you like to see in the hair care aisle?” This was how I got my market ideas, research and feedback.
When I met Aisha, I thought This is a mentor that I’ve been waiting for. This is who is going to help me take this idea to the next level. She was so well-connected so I thought maybe if I’d pitch her on a product collaboration I could show her my value as an influencer. After I started working with her and promoting her products she saw her sales spike and her Latina audience expand. She said, “I see your hustle, I see your audience, I see the power of your community. But I don’t want to do a collab with you, I want to help you launch your own brand.” I just felt like I hit the jackpot because this is what I wanted all along. Here was this woman who really believes in me and believes in this community because she’s part of it, saying, “We can do this!”
How did you handle funding and launching? Take us through the steps you took.
I couldn’t go the bootstrap route because I’ve been cultivating my audience for 10 years and if I say that I’m coming out with a product, then it had to be perfect. You only get one shot to do it right. Aisha knew of someone who wanted to invest, and we hit the ground running. Within a year we got into Target and Walmart because of Aisha’s connections, but also because of the audience that I cultivated online. Botánika was an immediate hit.
Getting into Target and Walmart is a dream for so many brands, how did you do it?
Within the month of launch we were in Minnesota for a meeting with Target. It is because of how strategic Aisha was. While we were working on the product, she introduced me to the buyers so that they were already familiar with me. By the time that we were in our meeting with Walmart and with Target I wasn’t a new face. Instead it was, “Ada this is what you’ve been working on? We want to hear more.”
One of the amazing things is that you have been able to continue shipping despite COVID-19 because you have your own warehouse. How did that come about?
We just got our warehouse in January and it was perfect timing. Without this warehouse I don’t think we would have survived COVID-19. Having a space to be able to work out of, having a space, being able to ship our own orders, we wouldn’t have been able to do that. Aisha had the idea. She said, “My vision is bigger than Botánika. I want to buy my own warehouse where we can have my product and your product in there. I want to create a beauty incubator for other women of color to help them create products for different categories. We are all going to save money if we pool our resources together, if we have one marketing team for all brands, and if we ship all our goods together. If we come together there’s more power in that we’re going to be able to expand the category.” That’s when I realized that Botánika is just like a pepperoni on the pizza pie and that there’s so much more out there. I moved to Chicago within the month.
Noelle Santos who introduced us and owns The Lit. Bar bookstore in the Bronx has said about her business, “This is about so much more than a bookstore.” I feel like similarly for you, your brand is about so much more than just a product.
I get emotional just thinking about it. Especially because of everything that’s going on right now, I take comfort in knowing that because of me deciding to pursue this dream I’m going to be able to help other people pursue and accomplish their dreams. There is a girl right now going to school to become a publisher, to become a video editor, to become a filmmaker, and she’s looking to work with a brand that really cares about her and that’s really making a difference in our community. That excites me. I see ourselves growing and be able to employ people from our community and help them with whatever dream they have. There are so many rock walls in our way on our path to succeed, so every time I overcome a barrier I’m reminded that I have to demand more. I can’t just walk in through the door, I have to bust in through the door in this industry! The way that these companies treat me is the way that they’re going to treat other women that come behind me. I have to set the standard and I have to deliver every time. That’s a lot of responsibility, but hopefully their journey will be a little bit easier. If there’s an Ada or Aisha out there who has a great idea for a product, but she doesn’t have any money—but she has the hustle—I want to come to her and say, “I’m going to be your investor let’s do this!” How incredible is that? That gives me so much hope.
Photo Source: PHOTOGRAPHER DENISSE BENITEZ