This week we highlight Texas based designer Jen Zeano owner of Jen Zeano Designs, a lifestyle brand with a mission to create rad things for the free spirits. Jen Zeano Designs believes in kindness, girl power, staying up till 2am, adventure, Latina magic, and celebrating every tiny victory, which is why we love this talented creator at She’s Trending!
Q: Tell me more about your cultural and personal background. Where are your roots? Where are you from?
A: I was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico. My family and I migrated to the U.S. when I was 6, so I started school here and went to college in my hometown of Brownsville, Texas. In 2012 I got my Associate’s in social work and then in 2014, I got my Bachelor’s in psychology.
I actually started working out of the field with my degree, and I guess I can say I didn’t really like it, so I didn’t do it for very long. I was working at a foster care agency and I just didn’t have the heart for it. It was just too much. I was dealing with kids that had a lot of trauma, who had had really bad childhoods – so I would get home and my soul was hurting because of these kids. So I decided to leave, and that’s when I started the business.
Q: How did Jen Zeano Designs come to life? What drove you to begin this venture, and what did its early stages look like?
A: When I quit my job back in 2016, I didn’t really know what I was gonna do. I just knew that that job wasn’t what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life.
Before I started JZD, I actually tried having a cupcake business, so I kind of always knew that I wanted to start my own business. But I hadn’t found what I was really passionate about and what I wanted to commit to.
I started with the “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” shirt - I just did that one shirt. And it was kind of just a, “let’s see what happens.” Because I had no experience in business, I had no experience in e-commerce, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just took a chance. And then I realized I really enjoyed doing it, even though most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing, because I didn’t have a background in graphic design or anything. I was spending hours on YouTube trying to learn how to do things on Photoshop and Illustrator so I could get these designs to what I wanted
Q: What is your mission for JZD, and how did that mission develop?
A: After the whole Trump election happened, I took it very personally. That’s when I created the “Latina Power” shirt. That shirt literally defined my business. And from that point on, I knew that what my heart was in and what I wanted to do was create a brand that empowered people like myself, people that were going through the same struggles or the same discrimination. I wanted other women to feel validated and empowered and to embrace being Latina.
So that’s where I let it take me. Once that shirt became a hit, it was the sign that I had been waiting for … that it wasn’t just a feeling - this is really what I had to do for the rest of my life. Ever since then, that’s exactly what I’ve been dedicating JZD to: empowering Latinas.
Our mission is just to empower women (specifically Latina women) and to spread our Latina magic. I always say that I want to be in this world and leave a little mark, and if that means empowering only one woman, then I’m okay with that.
I think a lot of times we feel like we’re the only ones in the room that are Latinas and that kinds of puts us in a shell, and we don’t feel comfortable being our true selves. My goal is that Latinas will wear this shirt and feel empowered and feel comfortable to be yourself, whatever it may be for you and the culture in you – to not to be afraid to let it out into the world … to be comfortable in your own skin and be comfortable being a Latina woman.
Q: If you had to collaborate with another designer, who would it be and why?
A: I really admire Rachel from Viva La Bonita – she has a mission very similar to ours, which is just to empower Latina women. And I love how she does that and how she comes across with her audience. She’s super interactive and I feel like her customers are also there to feel a sense of comfort with being Latina.
Q: You’re based out of your hometown of Brownsville, Texas – have you ever felt the societal pressure of feeling like you need to move to a big city (LA, NYC) to grow more? How does working out of your smaller town influence your business?
A: Sometimes there are days where I really wish I was in L.A., because they have access to so many things that we don’t have here in the valley where I’m from. I don’t want to say it’s something I want, but it would be nice to be based somewhere where there’s so much, because it has so much to offer. But where I live, we’re mostly Latinos. It’s just the norm here. And I’m super grateful for that.
But the Latino brands in L.A. have Buzzfeed and Mitu and Pero Like - they’re all in LA. So it would be impossible to ever get somebody to come and interview us. But there are so many other advantages that we do have here in Texas. For me, being close to home, on a border town - those are things that I wouldn’t trade.
Q: Who are some Latinas who inspire you and your work?
A: The biggest one is for sure Gina Rodriguez. I love how hard she works to be an advocate for our community. I feel like there are a lot of people who advocate, but don’t put an emphasis on their culture, or who are still embarrassed or ashamed. When I was younger, that was something I struggled with, especially when I was in school. I remember the first day of class, teachers would always want introductions, and one of the questions was, “where were you born?” I was always the only one that had to say Mexico. And I hated it; I hated that the first day of class, that was already something people knew about me, and so therefore I felt they were gonna treat me differently.
So I feel like people that are so confident in being Latino … I feel like that’s admirable. Because it isn’t always easy to do that. Gina does that very well, and America Ferrera is also amazing.
On a personal level, the people that I work with - my wife, as well as Stacy, who’s the person who helps me with screen-printing. She’s also a Mexicana and she started a home business as well. She used to have a reliable, steady income working for a corporation, and she was unhappy and started her own thing. People like that are always an inspiration. My mom also helps me out with the business all the time. Knowing how hard she worked and how much she sacrificed when we moved to the U.S. … things like that guide me every day.
Q: Being such a huge Gina Rodriguez fan, how did it feel to see her wearing your Latina Power shirt?
A: I couldn’t believe it! I was in shock…. it was a mix of confusion, shock and excitement. It was just surreal and amazing and magical. I’m still so happy that happened. Some people actually found us because of that.
For a while she was hosting these “Fiercely Latina” brunches, and for the very first one, Gina gifted that tee to everyone that was there. To think that America Ferrera and all of these amazing Latina artists have our shirts is unbelievable!
Q: What are your future goals for Jen Zeano Designs? How would you like to grow?
A: I want it to keep reaching different people. We’re growing fairly quickly, and that’s super exciting. I want to keep spreading the Latina magic. I don’t know exactly how I want it to grow … I just know that I want it to grow. Whatever comes up, I’m up for it. Any way that the business is growing, I am down for it and I’m gonna go with the flow
Q: What words of wisdom would you offer to anybody who’s just starting/trying to grow a new creative venture or business?
A: Do something that’s gonna make you happy, and be authentic doing that. Whether that’s starting a business or starting a blog or any creative venture, I feel like you have to go where your heart is. And then just hustle.
Sometimes it’s hard and you feel like nothing’s gonna happen and you’re never gonna make it, but if you truly love what you’re doing and enjoy doing it, I feel like it’s gonna happen for you. You just have to be open for these things to happen whenever they may be and then just deal with them as they come.
I feel like a lot of times we have this very specific goal and when we’re so focused on that specific goal, we don’t see all the other amazing things that are happening to us just because that one goal isn’t happening. As long as we do what we love and we’re authentic while doing it, these things will just come to you. You just have to be ready for them and you have to be open for them and keep spreading your magic.
Q: With all of our interviews, we like to sign off by saying thank you! We know you’re trending, which is why we chose you to be one of our featured guests. In honor of the tradition, we would like you to finish the sentence…I’m trending because…
A: I’m trending because we are empowering Latinas!
To check out more of Jen’s Latina magic, head over to @jenzeanodesigns on Instagram and jenzeanodesigns.com.
Interested in getting involved with JZD, connecting with other inspiring hermanas across the country and spreading your own Latina magic? Click the “JZD Hermanas” tab on the JZD website to apply for their ambassador program!