I’m no public relations expert, but having worked in editorial for as long as I have, I’m used to being approached by agencies everyday, mostly always multiple times in a 24 hour period. Throughout the years I’ve come to know these people, on a personal level, quite sparingly. But there’s always an exception to the rule, those individuals that have a genuine way with people that makes you respect their hustle and appreciate how much they put into actually building a relationship, and at times friendship, without being obnoxious.
As warm and inviting as anyone you’ll meet, Anita Herrera is that exception, but don’t get it twisted, she won’t hesitate to hold back either. Born and raised in Huntington Park, a city in South East LA long considered the hood, Herrera comes from a place not necessarily known for producing outstanding scholars, or even success stories in general. Infatuated with fashion from an early age, Anita’s passion for something else, has allowed her to become a beacon of light in an industry inundated with pretentiousness, including graduating from FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) and continuing her education through real time experience and human interaction.
A couple of weeks ago, I caught up with my friend and contemporary and got to talking about the path that led her to where she is now. As the head of her public relations business, Latina ambassador for Hennessy cognac, stylist, designer and all-around dot connector, it’s tough to catch her when she’s on the run so often, but on this day I was just fast enough.
CREATING OPPORTUNITIES WHERE THEY DIDN’T EXIST
LUIS RUANO: Was fashion always your calling card?
ANITA HERRERA: Ever since I was a little girl I knew that I always wanted to work in fashion within some capacity. I grew up reading and collecting magazines and watching cable television, like VideoFashion Daily. I idolized Tim Blanks, the backstage reporter for VideoFashion Daily. When the time came, I didn’t want to go to a traditional college or university, all I knew was that I wanted to go to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising). Luckily, I was born and raised in Los Angeles so it was right in downtown – at least I didn’t have to go far.
I told my parents, “Hey, I’m not going to go to UCLA, I’m going to go to FIDM.” And of course, they thought I was crazy because, for them, they would have preferred for me to take the traditional route. My parents were very traditional because they were a lot older, but I was like, “No, I’m going to FIDM.” So I went to FIDM and my major was merchandise marketing, because at that time, I wanted to be a buyer for a store and there was a reason for that.
“UNIVERSITIES WEREN’T AN OPTION FINANCIALLY FOR MY FAMILY.”
I’m from Huntington Park, which is pretty much the ghetto of Los Angeles, it’s like South East LA, where these types of opportunities or jobs aren’t even a thought because it’s not usually even an option. I give this example all the time: growing up, the only form of higher education that we thought was available to us was a Bryman College or ITT Tech, the stuff you see on television, where you get these vocational degrees. “Why don’t you just be a dental assistant? That seems like a secure job.” “Why don’t you go to ITT Tech, because that seems to be the best option.” Or community college.
Universities weren’t an option financially for my family or other families [in the neighborhood]. The fact that I went to FIDM was almost unheard of at the time. Just because people didn’t do that. So I went and applied to be a merchandise marketing major because I knew that I wanted to be on the business side of fashion. That particular degree offered education and public relations, event production, merchandising – basically all the initial tools – fashion math, and things that you need to basically apply to your career.
Anita’s styling for The Hundreds’ Spring 2015 lookbook
DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS EARLY ON
How did you find inspiration in a place like Huntington Park?
Growing up, there was only one boutique in the entire Huntington Park area. The Pacific Boulevard was super famous for, back in the day, being a shopping destination. And of course, through the years it deteriorated, the biggest stores were these huge retailers that weren’t cool, but there was one store, a family-run business that I discovered. It was the only store that sold cool brands. I would go in there on a weekly basis, I developed a really close relationship with the family. I basically told them, “when I graduate high school I’m going to go to FIDM and I’m really interested in maybe getting a job”. So they hired me. The store was called D’arte Connection, named after the family that grew up in Huntington Park as well, the [D’arte] family.
I started working for them and at the same time, I was going to school. I was really, really lucky because basically everything I learned at school I would apply to my job. I think it was less than six months into that job, that I started asking for more responsibility. I was like, “Hey I’m learning how to do buying, I’m learning all this math and all these courses.”
“WHEN I WENT TO MAGIC FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE SEAN JOHN DOUBLE BOOTH THAT LOOKED LIKE A NIGHTCLUB STILL EXISTED.”
I know you love MAGIC. How was your first show?
When I went to Magic for the first time, the Sean John double booth that looked like a nightclub still existed. I was blown away, that was the first time where I was completely overwhelmed by the entire process, but I really fell in love with the trade shows. ‘Til this day, I haven’t missed a Vegas show, twice a year, every year. I think I was 19 when I started going and I haven’t missed until this day.
So the family kind of took me under their wing and they started taking me to the showrooms. I started as kind of an assistant buyer. That’s how I learned, through experience. That’s how I got introduced to fashion markets and then, eventually, the next year we went to Vegas for Magic. That’s how I discovered all the trade shows. I was super, super, super lucky because I was so young.
I was basically right out of high school experiencing all these real life work situations. That’s how I learned about fashion, Korean brands and Saint Pedro. When I started going to Vegas I started learning what trade shows were. I’ll never forget the first time I went to the Vegas Magic show. Because at that time – this will date me – PROJECT still wasn’t in Vegas. So it was basically only MAGIC and then the POOLTRADESHOW, which back then, was the first alternative trade show for up-and- coming truly influential brands.
FINDING SUCCESS IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
I was eventually hired to rebrand this women’s label. So I redesigned the logo, I redesigned the hang tags, the woven labels, I came up with a new trade show schedule for them. So we started doing POOLTRADESHOW just because it was the offshoot of MAGIC. I started traveling across the United States.
I was young and got an opportunity, obviously through this sales job, to travel to different markets. I went to Dallas, I went to Atlanta, I went to New York – I basically went to – you know how we have LA Market five times a year? I went to these other markets five times a year. I traveled a ton, but also learned a lot about what’s really going on in the United States as far as sales and spike patterns and meeting all kinds of different people.
“I THOUGHT I WANTED TO BE A FASHION EDITOR.”
Even when I went to Dallas, for me, that was a culture shock. People were asking me where I was from because I have an accent. I’m like, “Excuse me, you have an accent.” Like what? [laughs] I never received a “you’re different” or something like that though. In Dallas and Atlanta – I really fell in love with those cities, but that’s when my eyes really started opening to the world and people and just traveling. I got my feet wet with that job and then I got another opportunity to to apply to POOLTRADESHOW.
That must have been a perfect match.
I really, really, really wanted this marketing job for POOLTRADESHOW. This is when the company’s office was right here in Silver Lake. They were like, “Hey, we’re not hiring right now, but our PR agency is hiring.” I’m like, “Well okay, I don’t know.” I had some PR experience from the women’s label because the editor started calling and I would put together the packages and I would send them and I actually really liked doing that stuff. At that time, I thought I wanted to be a fashion editor so I was like, “Oh, I’ll work at this PR agency and I’ll gain experience and then I can go work for a magazine.” Because that’s what I thought I really wanted to do.
Anita’s work extends to Hennessy Cognac as a Latin ambassador – seen above is the Hennessy Horchata.
ONLY THE STRONGEST SURVIVE
How important is patience when instant results are always expect in a field like Public Relations?
Most people that I meet now want so much instant gratification and it’s just like, “Yo, it doesn’t happen like that.” You really have to work, first of all. Our jobs, they don’t develop overnight. It’s a building process and an investment and I think the biggest word is investment. Investing your time to want to learn, to want to grow, and see where your lane is. The actual work is really important. There’s a lot of façade nowadays with social media. Especially with visual outlets such as Instagram. A lot of the younger generation now see all these glamorous lifestyles or whatever they think that they want, they think that it’s right there. It is, but there’s a lot of steps before getting there.
“MOST PEOPLE THAT I MEET NOW WANT SO MUCH INSTANT GRATIFICATION.”
Even producing an event – let’s say the event is 8 to 11pm; three hours. It’s actually three months prep [to get to those three hours]. It’s the same thing that goes on with any single job, it’s like you get to a certain point, but that point was a journey that came from here and there and there, and there were a lot of obstacles to overcome to get to these points. I don’t think a lot of people really understand the value of investment and the value of building and creating and hustling.
It never stops.
Our jobs are so unconventional, they’re not the dental assistant or the baker or a 9 to 5. These are true lifestyle jobs where your life is your work and your work is your life. If you want to go that path, awesome, but just know it’s an investment. If you want to work in anything creative, such as the fashion industry, art industry, anything that has to do with creativity, it’s a lifestyle. So it’s like if you don’t love what you do and if it doesn’t drive you, it’s not the industry for you. Literally go find a 9 to 5 job where you have stability or whatever you’re looking for. That’s cool, but these creative industries are a lot of sacrifice.
AN ORGANIC APPROACH
You’re known as the dot-connector. Can you talk about connections vs. relationships?
I tell Daniel [my assistant] this all the time… connections are one thing but being able to build organic, natural relationships that aren’t forced, that’s where real collaborations come from, they’re built over time.
I started when was 18 and there’s still so many people that I still work with and still am in communication with. A lot of mentors that were mentors for me, when I was starting out and learning and building, I still communicate with them. We’re still a part of each other’s lives, and for me, that’s more valuable than just being like, “Cool, you work here.” That, to me, bugs me so much.
“CONNECTIONS ARE ONE THING, BUT BEING ABLE TO BUILD ORGANIC, NATURAL RELATIONSHIPS THAT AREN’T FORCE, THAT’S WHERE REAL COLLABORATIONS COME FROM.”
That’s what’s happened to me a lot with my Hennessy role because I come from the fashion industry. So for me, I’ve built a lot of relationships through work. But natural, very natural. We’re part of each other’s lives, me and my best friends all work in fashion. Whether it’s styling or store owners or they have their own clothing companies. But it was all built through years and years of building together.
So now, it’s a little different. When people meet me and they’re like, “Oh, you’re the Hennessy chick.” I’m like, “Hey, I have a name.” You’ve heard it. “My name’s Anita Herrera, nice to meet you, who are you?” I don’t mess with that. If I don’t know you or have a natural built-in relationship or if I get introduced, I have a tendency to back off and shy away. Because for me, I like to build.
LEARNING HOW TO BE INDEPENDENT
What’s been the most challenging part of being your own boss?
It taught me how to do invoicing – your client isn’t going to pay you on time all the time. You’re your own accounts payable, you’re your own accounting department, you’re your own office supply department, you’re your own technology department. You’re basically accountable for how your business runs. That took adjusting because I’m not an accountant, I don’t have experience in that, and I definitely had to learn how to manage.
The first time I was on my own I was used to having things readily available like, “Hey, that’s the shipping department, I just drop off the package.” Nope, you’re going to have to print out the label, put it on yourself, go to the shipping department yourself. There were just so many details involved with managing your own company.
“I’VE HAD TO LEARN HOW TO BALANCE, THAT’S PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.”
At the same time, even though it was really overwhelming at first, I did have a lot of gratification because I was doing something on my own. It wasn’t the easiest, I definitely would say there have been a lot of hard times where there is no stability financially, client-wise there’s no stability, sometimes I’ve over-overextended because sometimes I have no clients, sometimes I have too many. I’ve had to learn how to balance, that’s probably the most important thing; balance. Finding balance.
It’s definitely seven days a week, 24 hours, which is cool because it’s part of my life and lifestyle and how I live. Sometimes we’ll be texting at midnight… [looks at Daniel] “Oh my god, here’s the checklist for tomorrow, is this done?”
You can follow Anita’s fashion adventures, travels and work life through her Instagram – @anitaherrera_.