A Hobby Became a Dream Come True For This Latina Woman Helping "Undercover Curlies"
Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry, so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Julissa Prado, founder and CEO of Rizos Curls.
Ever since I was a little girl, I've always been drawn to hair. It's something that came very naturally to me. Something that's very Latino is wanting to just look fly. We grew up in very humble areas, but that didn't stop us from looking fly on the first day of school, looking fly for all of our quinceañeras and baptisms and all these different events. Every weekend there was an event that we were getting ready for, and we had to find creative ways to just look our best with limited resources. I had a cousin that was good at makeup, she was a makeup girl; another one that was good at eyebrows, she would do everybody's brows; I was the hair girl.
But at the time, I hated my own hair. When I was younger, my hair was even curlier than it is now, and that was the thing that everybody would make fun of me for. I went to great lengths to hide how curly it was. It would take me three hours to straighten it and I would wake up at five in the morning if needed to do it before school.
In ninth grade, I was very lucky to go to a progressive high school. We went through a race-theory program, and in it I learned about internalized oppression and institutionalized racism. I learned about all of these things that promote European standards of beauty and how so many people of color internalize all of these things. And I just remember feeling so called out — like damn, that's me. Then I went through a phase where I was just mad — mad at mainstream beauty. And I was like, "I want to wear my culture on my sleeve. I want everyone to know I'm different. F*ck conforming, f*ck assimilating — I'm going to embrace every part of me that has anything to do with my culture."
I learned about all of these things that promote European standards of beauty and how so many people of color internalize all of these things. And I just remember feeling so called out — like damn, that's me.
When I started trying to wear my natural hair down, it was a long journey. I went through so much trial and error. If there was a product out there for curly hair, I tried it; if there was a styling method, I tried it. I remember spending so much of my money and time trying to figure it out. That's when I started making my own concoctions and figuring out natural alternatives to style my hair. At that time, my hair was very damaged because I'd been straightening it for so long — I'd damaged the texture to the point where it wasn't really curling all the way — and getting my curls back made me feel more confident.
All of a sudden, people became less interested in any of the other hairstyling options that I could offer — everyone was just interested in their natural hair. I realized that there were so many undercover curlies, as I call them, which are women who never knew they had curly hair. Whether it was in high school in the bathroom or when I was in college in the dorm rooms, I would teach girls how to style their hair naturally.
I never had a cosmetology license, though — I never went that route. It wasn't even an option that I thought about. I just felt I had to go to university and all of my thoughts were consumed with how I could get a full-ride scholarship, because my parents couldn't afford it.
When I decided to start making my formulas professionally, it was more out of necessity for me. I was like, "This is so inconvenient that I have to refrigerate these concoctions, they go bad so fast, I have to carry them out in Ziploc bags — this is so annoying." I remember researching manufacturers, trying to learn as much as I could about chemistry and manufacturing and all of that. Then, I just went for it. I figured, worst comes to worst, I'll have a lifetime supply of product that works perfectly for me and my huge family and friends.
At the time, I worked full-time at Nestlé — I did not think I was going to be able to leave my job, I thought of it as a side passion project. But then I left my corporate job to pursue Rizos Curls full-time in 2017, a couple of months after launching. All the people that I helped over the years became my first customers. It was really beautiful to see what I had been doing as a side hobby for so long come full circle.
There's a misconception that curly hair is so difficult and hard — it's not hard, it's just different. There's a learning curve, but once you go through it, you're going to be so happy.
The brand has already surpassed any expectations I had for it. It's just grown in ways that I would have never imagined. It made me realize that a business is truly a solution to a problem, and when you really have a solution, nothing can keep you from accomplishing it, whether it's a budget, competitors, whatever.
We just launched into Ulta Beauty this year and I'm super, super happy about it. Ulta has been a brand that I personally love as a customer and shop at, so having Rizos Curls there is such an honor. I was like, "I'm the first Latino curly-hair-care brand to launch here? I'm definitely pulling up on a horse with a mariachi, with my cousin's paletas shop cart." The store that we did it at was at South Gate, LA, which is not too far from Inglewood and where most of my family's from. It was cool being able to do that in my backyard, where I grew up.
To this day, I'm just so honored to be able to help people with their curls. For us, everybody on our team went through the process of not knowing what to do and feeling defeated. And then, once you learn your pattern and how your hair reacts, it gets so easy. It's all uphill after that. There's a misconception that curly hair is so difficult and hard — it's not hard, it's just different. There's a learning curve, but once you go through it, you're going to be so happy.