The Files
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File No. 2: Natalia Figueroa, Founder, Aguja Local

Badass Files: Give me a brief description of what Aguja Local is.

Aguja Local is a website where we group local designers so they can sell their designs.

BF: What was your first job like?

My first job… Wow. It was in a jewelry store.  I remember I was about 16. It was a family jewelry store. One of my aunts called and said they needed people during Christmas season, so my cousins, my sister and I went to work there. I worked there until I got my first professional job.

BF: When did you decide that Aguja Local was going to be a legit business?

In 2012, I started my first real job, when I graduated from college. I was always interested in fashion design. Once I started working, I kept in the back of my mind that I wanted to start my own company. My parents have their own companies and I always said that I wanted the same. I started saving a lot because I knew that I wanted to open a business. One day, I started interviewing designers. I found a group of people that were super nice called Puerto Rico Ventures. They help people create their own businesses. It lasted a month– every Saturday, for a month. When I got there, I had to actually do work. I had to research about the business I wanted to create, basically mock up an entire business plan. Later, I realized that there was a direct competition and I said: “Forget it! I’m not going to do it”. I got frustrated. And then one day, I said to myself that I had this idea from the start and direct competition was not going to slow me down. I came back to the Puerto Rico Ventures people and told them I was serious about the business. I contacted designers, met with them and all of them responded to the proposal very well because it is very difficult to sell their clothes in the island. So, that’s how I got started. Bit by bit, I figured out what I needed to make the business work: a logo, a website. I wanted it to be e-commerce, due to the fact that I had to invest less money and my savings only allowed me a certain amount. I said I was going to launch it on February 28. And I did. It was very important for me to set up a deadline because, otherwise, I wasn’t going to do it in time.

BF: Once you realized there was a direct competition, how did you differentiate yourself from it?

I dedicate the site to sell clothes by designers who are beginners, who want to start creating their line and a reputation. They need exposure, that people know who they are. My competition carries designers that already have exposure and recognition. People know them a bit more. I wanted to open a door for Puerto Rican designers, that people could see that there is a lot of local talent because people center onto famous Puerto Rican designers. That’s great!  But there are other designers who also want to enter this field. And that’s what I want: to expose them.

BF: What have been the keys to being an entrepreneur until now?

The key to being an entrepreneur is communication, in matters of carrying out a message that people believe in you. It’s super important to negotiate with the designers. To be an entrepreneur, one has to listen a lot. You need to listen and be listened. Also, create respect. But I think communication, honesty and trust are key.

BF: Describe a normal work day for you.

Usually, I wake up around 5 to 5:30 am. I go to the gym to exercise and take class (if I actually wake up!). Once I go to the gym, I go back home, get dressed and head out to my 8 to 5 job. During my lunch break, I usually schedule meetings for the site.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I have class at night, so I can’t work on the site. The rest of my afternoons I try to dedicate to the business, generally about 3 hours. If I don’t work from home, I schedule meetings during that time. Saturdays and Sundays I usually schedule photo shoots.

BF: Why did you choose to create an e-commerce platform instead of a traditional retail store?

That is a really important question. People often ask me why I choose to do it online because it’s way more difficult to sell. In Puerto Rico, people do shop online, but only to big names like Amazon or Ebay because they trust these brands more. They don’t shop that much for clothes online because they can’t try it on. I chose an e-commerce site because I did not want to ask for a loan, so that was the cheapest and most accessible way for me. Once I decide to do something, I have to do it quickly, so I was in rush to open the store. So, it was basically a decision about practicality and finance.

BF: Did you notice that your audience responds better online because they are naturally involved online?

I do want to target a younger audience, like young entrepreneurs or young professionals. Young professional kids who maybe have a bigger amount to spend on fancier clothes. That was my idea initially because people are always on social media— they don’t get out of Facebook, Instagram or online shopping. In Puerto Rico, we are adapting that online shopping culture slowly. The thing is, you have to create trust with your consumer. You shop on a website because you trust it is legit. The biggest brands also faced this problems in the beginning. Basically, our audience does shop more online and we want them to trust us as an e-commerce platform where their identity won’t get stolen.

BF: What are 3 rules of entrepreneurship for you?

I think communication, honesty and teamwork. For me, it is super important that we all have the sincerity to talk about what going on inside the company. It’s important that someone is able to say “Hey, I really can’t do that” or “Let me help you with that”. All of those things are super important. Also, to trust teammates enough to say something about what’s not right, so that everything flows accordingly.

BF: What’s your ideal workspace?

My dream is to quit my job and get my own workspace. Sincerely, I just want a cubicle with a small desk and my laptop with all materials necessary to build my business. Obviously, I’d love a place where I could keep the clothes in because I always have the majority of them with me. I’m not super demanding with this stuff. I’m pretty simple. As long as I can work in peace and let my imagination flow, I can work anywhere.

BF: As a woman, have you faced challenges dating because of your independence and carrying out a business?

That’s a really good question because I have. It’s been super difficult to divide my time between a job and my personal life. I did not know it would be so challenging. It’s sad because you ask yourself if this will always stay the same. But, at the same time, it’s not impossible. Right now, that I’m starting a business, it’s more difficult than usual. The most important thing is to have someone who does help you and supports you, which I have been very lucky to find. Also, I’m super independent. I like saying yes to things without having to consult someone else.

BF: What do you listen to when you are working?

I love Capital Cities and Milky Chance. It’s light but pumping at the same time. Once you know the lyrics, you keep repeating them. I also love Charli XCX and Foster The People. I listen to them mostly on Spotify.

(To listen to Natalia’s Spotify playlist, click here.)

BS: What is your perfect work outfit?

I’m pretty simple. People expect that, because I own a fashion business, that I have to dress a certain way. I love to be casual. My regular job is pretty flexible so, unless I have a meeting, I can wear jeans. I always like to wear dress pants, a comfortable top and good accessories. I don’t go out without my necklaces and nice shoes. For me, shoes, necklaces and bags are the most important elements in my closet. But I’m always simple, casual and comfortable.

BS: If you could define your life philosophy in one phrase, what would it be?

I recently heard the phrase “Only dead fish go with the flow” and I haven’t forgotten it. It’s true. People always tell me to “go with the flow” and I refuse. If I can do something productive with my life, why would I sit down to do nothing? If I have an idea that’s viable, I quickly start contacting people to guide me. I try to make things happen as much as possible. I’m never still. I never wait to see how other people do to start my own thing.

BS: We leave in a society that somehow still believes that women should stay back. How do you fight that?

I haven’t encountered that sort of problem, but I have seen it happen to others. Really, I don’t believe women are stoppable. That sort of belief is disappearing in this century. I try to surround myself with people who do support female entrepreneurship. I do believe men can stay back and take care of a household. I would be okay with that. 

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