Latin-American beauty Regina Merson had a very specific, very personal point of view when she created her makeup brand, Reina Rebelde, which translates to “rebel queen."
“I founded the brand on my experience as a Mexican American woman and my relationship to beauty and its rituals," says Merson. “There are many nuances within the culture to explore."
With the goal of uniting bold, saturated colors with artful packaging that was expressive of Latin culture, Merson's brand is meant to capture some a Hispanic woman's key attributes; namely “big emotional eyes," strong brows and “gorgeous full lips.'
“Two categories that have been hallmarks [of Latin women] in pictures featuring Aztec princesses to revolutionaries to beautiful entertainers in the Fifties, have always been a strong eye and beautiful lip."
Merson, who was an attorney before launching her beauty company is a self-taught “makeup junkie" who wanted to create a line that mimicked the experience of being a Latin woman in this country.
“My brand expresses the duality of my life: speaking Spanish and English, having multiple cultural norms, traveling, feeling intense nostalgia and pride in my heritage and being part of a community of fierce Forward-thinking, hardworking Latina women.
To wit, Reina Rebelde products incredibly long-wearing, with pigments that are versatile (can be applied dry or wet), as well as buildable for more intensity from morning to evening.
“We have a very similar relationship with beauty as a Hispanic culture," says Merson. “People who are interested in beauty are captivated by unique messaging that is so rooted in a specific point of view."
According to Merson, her consumer community has been built via grassroots word of mouth initiatives, and is the brand's social channels reflect real women using the product line.
“Our Mentality is we are rebel queens," she says. “Each woman is part of it."
Here, 10 questions with the gorgeous founder, on changing the narrative on diversity through beauty.
What separates your brand from other brands in today's crowded market?
Reina Rebelde is the only brand on the market that directly and authentically celebrates and speaks to the Latina consumer, specifically by recognizing what it means to be bilingual, bicultural Latina in the United States, which we bring to life via our carefully curated makeup products.
Can you speak a little about the look of your products, specifically the art you chose to feature on the components?
Every touch point of Reina Rebelde is designed and inspired by the essence of this unique Latina woman and the many dualities she has in this life—spiritual, physical and social. From the initial encounter with the carton, which features butterflies and skulls—Mexican symbols for the spiritual transformation that we undergo in our lifecycle, to the interior of the box with the vibrant red and pink Mexican roses that speak to our inherent love of life, color, and our own cultural and personal vibrancy. The main icon of the brand is our Chica, who was was designed by a talented tattoo artist in East Los Angeles. The Chica is meant to be a pictorial representation of our customer. She is always beautiful and her makeup is always flawlessly applied, because we are very much in touch with our feminine energy, but she also has another side that is constantly operating in her life. She is so fierce, brave, strong and unapologetic -that is where the imagery of the tattoos come in. The tattoos are “Milagros," which mean miracles in Latin-American spiritual folklore. The tattoos are not meant to be literal, but rather they signify this long history that we have of women in our lives and in our communities who have prayed for us and blessed us with the best of intentions.
There is a very unique culture within this empowering demographic and we get it, because we are this demographic. It is also a brand with a very defined and specific point of view not just on brand identity, but product performance, and speaks to the unique cultural relationship that Latina women have with their makeup and their beauty routines.
How has being a Latin American shaped your brand?
As I always say, being a Latina woman has been and will always be the most profound privilege for me. It has shaped me in many complicated, but ultimately positive ways in who I am as a woman and how I relate to other women around me. There is a such a deep, connected, multi-sensory attachment that I have to my heritage and my homeland of Mexico, and knowing that my cultural core has given me the foundation from which to explore what being a modern woman is in the world. The name is a complete reflection of that journey that I know I share with so many other women — how we call each other “Reinas" (queens) as terms of endearment and empowerment in our culture.
It seems today all social influencers are launching beauty products to immediately successful results. In your opinion, is this a good thing or a bad thing for the beauty industry?
I think it is a positive thing, because it is democratizing beauty in many respects. It is no longer in the hands of just major corporations to decide what products consumers get, the consumer gets say in the process to some extent, and that is always a positive in my book.
What are your primary marketing activities? How do you find and attract new consumers?
Primarily, we use social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) to market Reina Rebelde and attract new consumers. Reina Rebelde was built on a very grass-roots ethos that is very word-of-mouth based. We know it will take more time to grow, but we also think we will ultimately reach the consumers that really connect with the brand and will hopefully connect emotionally with it as well.
What are some of the challenges in terms of running a beauty brand?
It is ALL challenging, but that is part of the fun. Some of the key challenges are having the patience to do things the right way for the brand long-term even if there are so many short-term solutions or options that feel very seductive at times. Product innovation is difficult, because the options may seem endless, but finding exactly what you are after can be limiting. Running a tight ship is difficult, as a start-up beauty brand, I want every dollar to count in ways that are meaningful/impactful for the consumer, which often means that there is more work that has to be done by me on the backend, and as I am learning, there are many aspects of the operations that I am not great at, but am learning to be proficient at.
Can you describe your target customer?
A Reina Rebelde is a fierce, aspirational, unapologetic Latina woman who appreciates and owns her identity. She is an exquisite and ambitious woman who embodies her powerful cultural duality by showing her grand beauty to the world.
What beauty brands do you think a good job of being inclusive of different ethnicities?
Overall, I created Reina Rebelde because I felt that so many beauty brands were missing the mark with the Latina consumer in the United States and their unique cultural relationship with beauty, specifically. So many beauty brands were/are talking to Latinas in a monolithic manner, which dismisses the complexities of our culture or they create “one and done" marketing initiatives once a year and don't truly dedicated an ongoing dialogue with this powerful beauty consumer.
What are some of your creative inspirations?
I'm a multi-sensory woman in the sense that I absorb the sights, sounds, smells of everything I do and experience. To that end, I find creative inspirations in the most random of places, but always discover that I am at my creative peak when I am traveling (especially to Mexico or other countries in Central America) and when I am meeting and connecting with different women through the brand. Their individual stories, how they bring the product to life as part of their daily narrative and express their individual version of being a Reina Rebelde gives me a constant source of creative material.
What is your expansion plan? What can we next expect from you?
We have some new products in the works that are taking some time to get right. And that will of course be a constant process, but only when it makes sense. And there are some big strategic ways we are working on to connect with individual communities around the country and penetrate deeper in these amazing Latina communities.
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
Up at 6:30 AM, tons of coffee + check all emails + work out, dressed and made up by 8:30 AM, do my morning calls from 8:30 AM to 9:30 Am. Next, in-person meetings/social media marketing and management/special projects preparations through lunchtime.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Steve Jobs - because his journey to Apple started with his love of an art form (calligraphy), not the linear route we would have expected. I love stories of moguls who have no technical background in the companies that they build.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Flaming Hot Cheetos.
5. What is your spirit animal?
My 13-year-old golden retriever Maximus.
6. What is your life motto?
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." - Joseph Campbell
7. Name your favorite work-day snack.
Flaming Hot Cheetos. It's an obsession and my guilty pleasure.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?
"A little crazy."
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
My dog (for my heart and soul), Reina Rebelde Bold Lip Color Stick in Rosa Salvaje (for my vanity), and my iPod (for my mind).
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.