“Sometimes our communities do not have to define our future, but they do provide a framework for the richness of who you become.” –Jesse Iniguez
As part of our new Latino professionals series, Si Se Puede Attitude, Gozamos interviews Jesse Iniguez, founder of No Manches Clothing Company.
Gozamos:Where did you grow up, and how was your childhood growing up in that area?
Jesse Iniguez: Growing up in the Back of the Yards, a poor working-class neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, has helped shaped who I’ve become. As a rough neighborhood dealing with many struggles, the community has built a strong and creative character within me. We didn’t have much growing up, so my family and I created our own toys, games, and pastimes that brought us closer together. Although there are many challenges in the neighborhood, we were blessed to have institutions such as Holy Cross, Seward School, and Davis Square Park that kept many of us engaged and out of trouble. Through these institutions I met mentors such as Father Bruce, Sr. Angie, Dave Coronado and Greg Michie, who influenced me and others to continue our education and become beacons of hope. It was individuals like them who became the pillars for our community. I was raised bilingual and bicultural. I remember that my father was clear that English was for school and Spanish was our way of living. We would watch baseball and the Cosby’s and switch to fútbol and Sabado Gigante. All in all, my childhood was full of happy memories.
What was your biggest challenge in your journey to success?
JI: One of the biggest challenges along my journey was not having many role models that I could relate to. It was difficult for me to understand what my success would look like because I didn’t have many people around me that resembled me. Being the first in my family to advance in education limited my social capital. My mother and father only made it to third grade, and although education was very important to them, their support was limited because they didn’t understand the journey of education. As I grew an interest in business, my journey to success became even more complicated. It was a “live and learn” philosophy. If not knowing anyone in business wasn’t hard enough, finding Latino business owners that I could learn from was even more difficult.
What role do you play in politics and social change in the Latino community, and what motivated you to play such a role?
JI: Since I was 16 I have been critically engaged in my community at many levels; anywhere from creating youth groups to managing a local chamber of commerce to becoming a candidate for alderman. Through it all, my primary role has been to remain actively engaged in my community. Although I have the option to reside anywhere else, I make a conscious effort to stay and attempt to become a positive role model for the community, the type of role model I wish I had growing up. I define my community far beyond a place where I reside, it is a place where I play sports, vote, go to church, and raise my family.
Tell me about your clothing line, No Manches Clothing. Do you feel you are portraying any specific message with your clothing?
JI: Our motto at No Manches Clothing Co. is “Enjoy Cultura,” and that is exactly what we are trying to portray. We started the business in 2006 because we wanted to express our culture in a positive and fashionable way, but couldn’t find anything out there. We wanted to be able to challenge the stereotypes and promote our culture with young urban Latinos across the country without having to be tacky or vulgar. We were able to accomplish this by simply combining our sometimes self-deprecating humor, expressions, history and cultural knowledge and create t-shirts that reflected that. The beautiful thing is that now our customers aren’t only Latinos, but people from other cultures and backgrounds. It feels good to be able to represent our culture well.
Why do you think that Latino Professionals should give back to their community?
JI: The Latino community is growing rapidly, and I think we are at a crossroads. Like generations of immigrants who came before us, we need to support and educate those who come after us and set up a foundation for others to build from so that our community can be even more successful and a powerful influence in this country. My mother would always say, “Hay que poner nuestro granito de arena” (We need to plant our little grain of sand). Another quote that I hold close to the heart is “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own” (Cesar Chavez). Very similar to business, giving to your community is an investment, whether it’s through time or resources, our return on investment is a stronger community.
Do you have any future plans, goals, or ambitions that you would like to share with us?
JI: One of my most exciting plans is resurrecting No Manches Clothing Co from a 2-year hiatus. I feel that we are stronger and ready to take No Manches to another level. Reconnecting with an old friend, Miguel A. Cambray, who has been a long-time Latino community leader and entrepreneur, we have been able to combine our expertise and strengthen the brand of No Manches.
Strong leadership attracts strong talent. Building our team from the ground up. we added new members like Hector Cambray, Jorge Perez, and Oscar Rosas (also Known as “Los Tres Manchados”), who all bring different talents that are taking this company to another level. So stay tuned for our new designs, products, and our new and improved website.
What advice do you give to young Latinos and Latinas who are just entering the workforce?
JI: The best advice that I can give young Latinos was once given to me: “Never forget where you came from.” I didn’t understand what that meant at first, but over time it has become even clearer. You are whom you are because of where you come from. Sometimes our communities do not have to define our future, but they do provide a framework for the richness of who you become. Always remember that through resilience and adversity we could build stronger communities, that your success is the success for all of those who follow you.