"Everything fly starts in the neighborhood,” Lala Romero, co-founder of Sweet Street Cosmetics, tells me with a smile. The ‘neighborhood’ she's referring to is a nod to the L.A. enclaves where low-riders with big glistening rims storm every corner, the scent of elotes (corn) wafts from the carts of street vendors, gold hoop earrings are considered uniform, and the iconic winged eyeliner signals beauty and confidence.
On a technical level, Sweet Street Cosmetics is a makeup brand that specializes in eco-friendly eyeliners, eyeshadows, lipsticks, and other accessories. Founded by Lala Romero and Natalia Durazo less than a year ago, stars like Becky G and Valentina top a long-list of supporters. However, the winged-eyeliner-obsessed company ultimately fills a missing gap in the beauty industry: From its marketing and social media to the models used in its campaigns, the brand is an overdue love note to the culture of Los Angeles Latinx and Chicana — Mexican-American — neighborhoods.
“This is our neighborhood; the neighborhood we grew up in. But really, the ‘neighborhood’ can be anywhere — L.A., The Bronx, Manila, wherever. It’s just a place where the cultural influence originates," Romero adds.
To Romero and Durazo, the overarching meaning of "neighborhood" is a focal point where celebrities or their makeup artists fish out and appropriate their makeup styles without proper accreditation. “I can go on and on about this,” Durazo says. Though these aesthetics continue to be taken from marginalized communities while those same communities are looked down on, Romero and Durazo are fighting back this traditional narrative ensuring that their Chicana and Latinx backgrounds are celebrated, glamorized, and recognized.
“Instead of looking towards celebrities, we’re putting people like us in the spotlight and at the forefront of our brand. People need to know that we are the influencers,” Durazo says. To honor this sentiment, the brand's latest video campaign for the release of its eyeshadow palette, L.A. Lady, featured models of all different shapes and sizes who were raised in similar Chicana and Latinx L.A. backgrounds as Romero and Durazo.
Recognizing the diverse skin tones within the community, the new palette features eight different shades: matte black for drama, coppery-browns, and shimmery shades are just a few options. Reflecting the founders' busy lifestyles, the palette is compact in size but equipped with a built-in mirror to, per online product description, "create your show-stopping looks wherever you're parked."
Though confidence oozes out of the duo now, the two mention how the lack of representation in media and the beauty industry made them resent their cultural background growing up. Durazo specifically remembers rejecting her Mexican background constantly during her youth. “I asked people to call me Penny instead of Natalia because it sounds more white,” she says. “The pain that I endured from being unable to accept myself and where I came from initially hindered my growth. I constantly wonder where would I be if I didn’t have to worry about this. With this brand, we want to make sure that the people that come from places like us don’t have to experience that.”
Similarly, Romero recalls asking her hard-working father to drop her off just far enough from her school premises so her classmates wouldn't catch glimpse of his landscaping work vehicle. As she reminisces on the moment, Romero explains how she wishes that she saw her upbringing glamorized to some degree to help her combat the shame. “If I saw someone like me on TV, then I would’ve thought so differently at the time. Maybe I would have considered my dad an entrepreneur instead of being ashamed of his work truck,” Romero reflects. “Now, it’s different, of course. But I want to change the narrative. Instead of us trying to strive for whiteness, we understand that we are the influencers, people want to be like us.”
According to the two, their families were always very proud and full of light, and that the shame came from battling the outside world and the dreams media sells. "Growing up without money or 'nice things' can be tough until you realize none of that sh-t defines your worth or beauty," they say.
To further glamorize their neighborhood and the people around them — and pay homage to '90s hip-hop icons such as Snoop Dog, Too Short, Selena, and Mary J. Blige — Durazo and Romero started the Winged Queen Series. Accessible on their site, the video series takes audiences further into the world of Sweet Street Cosmetics and features a diverse group of makeup-obsessed people. In the videos, individuals including makeup artist Shablam can be seen flaunting their winged eyeliner and explaining their inspirations, style, and importance of expression.
“Winged eyeliner is iconic in our community for many reasons, and there isn’t a right or wrong on how to create it," Durazo says. "It’s a complete form of representation, however long, diagonal, or straight it may be."
And the initiative of Sweet Street Cosmetics is resonating with its audience and consumers. In a DM, one fan called the Wing Queen magic. “I left a 17 year-long abusive relationship yesterday. Squeezed out so many tears of fury, and my chingona armor stayed put.”
Moments like these serve as defining moments for both Durazo and Romero. The two continue to oversee everything with Sweet Street Cosmetics; they design, produce, video produce, and edit social media posts along with everything else that comes with running a small business. It’s a tremendous responsibility, and although it’s a large weight on their shoulders, it’s personal messages and stories like these that make it worth it. “These messages always pop up at times when we need them,” Romero says. “When we’re tired and feel extremely worn down. It’s like a sign from the universe comes running back to say ‘keep going.’”
Durazo then begins to mention how these small reminders are helpful to remember why Sweet Street Cosmetics began in the first place. She nods to her younger family members and how she hopes to protect them and cultivate a better future for them. “I already see my 7-year-old niece," she smiles. "And she can’t wait to wear her wings.”
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