The beauty and fashion industry has taken the next step in its trajectory, with emerging lines and brands catering to women of color and consumers of every ethnicity. Finally, our feeds are no longer stacked with white models alone. Today we get diverse selection, representative of the multicultural market we live in.
To our fellow brown folks. it’s acceptable to be yourselves, it’s normal to be seen, BRWNGRLZ proves that today. An earring company made for those with too much melanin for mainstream magazines, too much sass to be square, and too many tongues to be understood. Through its super out-there designs it gives women of color the agency and confidence to reclaim nonconformity and use that as a point of fellowship and belonging, instead of isolation.
It carries the culture of self-love and communal love, it’s the culture of immigrant upbringing and excavating what this community means. I spoke with the brown girl from the Bay, Gretchen Carvajal, SF based teacher, multi-disciplinary artist and founder of BRWNGRLZ to learn more about her brand.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how it all contributed to founding BRWNGRLZ?
I’m a Filipino American. I was born in the Philippines and grew up in the Bay Area which was mad diverse. So there was a lot of influence from Black culture, Chicana culture, South East Asian culture that fed into the lens that I saw the world and the lens that I saw aesthetics.
What are the main things you think are important when designing your pieces?
Intentionality, color, and originality. I don’t wanna make half baked shit, something that is rough draft thinking, because then whoever the piece was for will never be fully served. I don’t wanna make shit that looks like anyone else’s work, which is hard, and I feel like I still haven’t been able to do, but I’m trying.
What does your retail strategy look like for the brand?
People over the capital. It is to use the earrings as a conduit to bring awareness to much larger systematic issues facing black and brown women. Last year I donated to Protect Black Women in response to Nia Wilson’s passing, and this year I’m focused on indigenous schools in the Philippines. Making things affordable while still being fair to my own time and labor, it is to make something people are proud to wear and choosing models who represent the women I serve.
You’ve been doing a ton of photoshoots, pop-ups, and workshops… How did these all come along?
When it comes to collaborations they’re mad impulsive. I’ll find someone who’s work I like and I’ll just DM them like, yo let’s work together. I’ll make a connection and then suddenly we’re planning a shoot together, doing a workshop, or a pop-up. So Instagram is a huge proponent of just like scouting dope people I want to work with. I’ve been doing this in the Bay for 2 years now and I feel mad blessed to have been building so much with my community. I’ve been doing craft fairs, local festivals, conferences, and shoots which has really built up my rapport.
Your recent line “Stay Solid,” is gorgeous! What’s the story and what makes it more special to you?
I thought of Stay Solid because it encompasses an aesthetic representation and cultural representation. Stay Solid is just how we should act towards each other, especially as women of color. Everyone in the world who is a woman and is black or brown, are continuously searching for validation in a world that’s constantly invalidating us. So we should stay solid for each other, keep it real, and be a mirror of validation in a cynical world.
It’s lovely to see young girls as your main models for this. What made you decide on that?
Honestly, it was out of necessity, but it turned into such a great theme. I was coming down to the wire on when I wanted to shoot, and I was super anxious so I didn’t want to be around people. I decided to do a shoot at home with my nieces since they were both at the crib. I loved it. I love people’s reactions to it too. I just think BRWNGRLZ is fly at any age, and young people deserve to get that shine too. I’m just really happy my nieces will see one day that they were part of something empowering.
What’s the most significant thing you consider when choosing models and shooting pictures?
I always consider who they are first before any aesthetics are decided. I don’t discriminate on who I choose to model, I almost always choose folks who aren’t pros because it’s also fulfilling to show them that they are able to look amazing, and they don’t have anything to fear when it comes to a camera. The most important thing to me is that we mesh well and have similar intentions to empower other women.
What role do you hope your work as an artist and entrepreneur plays in today’s society?
When I started this brand, no one was making anything specifically for womxn of color. It wasn’t a good idea at the time to do something so focused, so I thought, and I went back and forth on the vision and name of my brand for months. I’m proud to have been a young entrepreneur who took the leap to serve my girls before anything. I hope that more girls make brands that are even more specific because that specificity makes people feel seen. That’s all I want my work to do, is to make girls like me and my best friends, feel seen and validated.
Will you ever expand to your home country the Philippines?
I would love to! The dream is to expand manufacturing there and hire locally so I can say proudly that my earrings are made in the Philippines, and so I can no longer be the only one assembling pieces. I’m still working it out though, I also really want to do photoshoots out there because it’s ridiculously beautiful.
How would you describe the ultimate BRWNGRLZ?
Unapologetically themselves. Colorful and vibrant. Loves all BRWNGRLZ and protects them at all costs. We aren’t perfect, but we stand in our truth and own who we are no matter what space we step into.