Danielle Alvarez is starting a revolution. As the founder of the PR agency The Bonita Project, Alvarez is determined to change how fashion and beauty brands speak to the Latinx community. In 2018, the Peruvian-American opened the doors of her one-year-old agency, which now represents clients like Alamar Cosmetics, Clinique, Botánika Beauty, and Stitch Lab.
Alvarez’s professional success is deeply rooted in her own relationship with style and identity. Born in New Jersey and raised in Miami, Alvarez always had a hard time fitting in. Whether it was her curly hair or her flamboyant fashion, she says her heritage always clashed with her entry to powerful spaces inside the industry.
The Bonita Project is a direct response to that feeling of inadequacy and a freedom card to ride her own journey to success, as she told Emperifollá‘s editorial director Frances Solá-Santiago.
We come across beauty in so many different ways when we are raised by what we see around– our mom, our grandma, our tías. So I feel like at least for me, beauty has played such a big role in my life. My mom was a very big beauty junkie. She let me play with makeup at the age of 4.
My beauty routine is a very big part of me because I don’t do this in 20 minutes. When I usually do my beauty routine every day, I put in at least 30 to 45 minutes. I guess my favorite part is the transformation and I mean this in a good way. I love seeing that glow up. It’s the one time in the morning I dedicate to myself.
You have to feel your most beautiful. You can’t rely on others to tell you, “You’re beautiful.” And I hate that we are living in a day and age that we rely on Instagram likes to tell us we are beautiful. It’s definitely all mental.
As a Latina woman, I feel like we do have a very deep relationship with our hair. My hair even played a big role in my life as a kid because my hair texture changed when I was about 8 years old. I’ve always had very thick hair and then straight, wavy hair towards my ends. People used to actually stop my mom and be like, “Oh my God, your daughter has gorgeous hair.”
I spent a summer in Peru and I came back with hair lice. My mom didn’t know what to do. She was like, “Danielle, we have to chop off your hair.” I moved to Florida at this time, so the humidity, the hair chop… I don’t know if it was that, but my hair texture completely changed and it went to frizzy. And I hated my hair.
And then, I discovered a flat iron through like a family friend and that was like my best friend. And I was flat-ironing my hair all the time but the thing is also living in Florida, a blowout is going to maybe last you a good 5 minutes and, as you step out the door, it poofs again. And I was literally addicted to DryBar and going to DryBar once a week, getting blowouts spending $60. I would make my blowout last for about a week.
Now, as a 29-year-old woman, I actually re-discovered my curly hair and I entered the curly hair journey– something that I thought I would never be a part of. I discovered this hairstylist, who basically transformed my way of thinking. She was like, “Danielle, you hate your hair because you’ve always blown it out and you have this conception that you look better.” It’s a mental thing that you have to change. Sure enough, after six months I saw the difference. So now I feel so much more confident when it comes to my beauty routine because my hair is now super curly and it should be. I haven’t blown out my hair in 9 months now. I am very proud of that. And I want to empower other young girls too, especially Latinas because we grow up thinking we hate curly hair.
Fashion, for me, is another big part of who I am, especially the role that I am in now. I am a beauty publicist. I have to dress the part. I have to look the part. I learned this at my old job. I worked at a very reputable PR agency here in New York City. I have to thank Miami because it was a city where girls were dressed up all the time. So I had that in my mentality, where I was like, “I have to look cute all the time.” At the time– we are talking about like 2009 or 2010– I was very Miami. I was shopping at Bebe and Armani Exchange. Those two were my favorite stores in the whole wide world. Now, you will never see me shopping at either.
But when I entered this old job of mine, it was a bit of a culture shock for me because a lot of the girls that worked there were wearing designer clothes. It was a few months into the job, one supervisor gave me the feedback and she was like, “Danielle, so and so told me to tell you that you have to tone down the Miami. You kind of dress too Miami.”
I worked at an office where I was the only Latina. It’s a common thing. When I heard that, I felt like crap because I remember that day I was wearing what I thought was cute. I had to change where I shopped. I went from the Bebe’s to a Zara or Club Monaco– things like that.
I love playing with clothes. And also I’m a shortie. So not just anything fits me. I can’t decide to wear a long skirt and think it’ll look fabulous because I’m probably going to look like, I don’t know.
My mom, actually, when I was younger, she was always like, “Daniela, te bendijeron con las piernas del millón.” And ever since then, it got stuck on me. I like my legs. I have videos when I was a baby when I used to be like, “Look at my legs!” I used to walk around pretending I was wearing mini skirts. I am five-feet-tall but I do have that Napoleon syndrome. I’m short but I pretend I’m not.
I’m big on heels. When wearing heels, I feel much more empowered. It depends on the occasion. I don’t wear heels every day to work. That’s not realistic. The more real me is jeans and sneakers. But when I want to dress up, oh, I’m going to go all out. And I don’t know if that’s the Latina in me because we are not basic whatsoever. If I’m going to dress up, I’m going to do it right and I’m gonna go all out. For me, heels are just that extra perk.
On The Bonita Project
I founded The Bonita Project because I wanted to create a brand that was different from what was out there. I was working at a job for almost 7 or 8 years and I left very inspired. I asked myself, “What’s going to be my next step?” I had a bad day at work and I came home crying. My mom was like, “Danielle, if you’re tired, just try to do your own thing.”
I actually had taken a trip to Colombia for Colombia Moda, which is the annual fashion week in Medellín. And I left that trip so inspired. I got to meet and learn about so many beautiful Latin American designers– designers that you don’t even hear about here in the US. And then, the song that kept playing on the radio was Bonita by J Balvin. And I don’t even think it had made it to the states yet. This was like a summer hit there. I was obsessed.
I started playing with Bonita because it’s a universal term. Anybody that’s not Hispanic, for the most part, will know what “bonita” stands for. It’s something that is very uplifting. It’s a compliment that we’ve been hearing since we were young. It also played into the whole area that I work in. I come from working in beauty PR and I want to stay in the beauty PR roots. Then, I said, “Well, it’s The Bonita Project.” The term “bonita” came from the song.
The biggest challenge has been honestly making the time to do anything. I don’t enough hours in the day to get anything done. I joke I wish there were 48 hours in the day because I’m working all the time. It’s not all on me. I do have a small little team but these girls are learning. I’m teaching them. There’s a lot of things of learning how to juggle and prioritize things. That’s something I’ve struggled even at my old job. But I’m always jumping around and wanting to do the most.
The most rewarding thing about The Bonita Project has honestly been the support that I’ve been getting. When I hear people say, it’s amazing. Or Danielle, I’m so proud. A lot of the followers we have don’t even know I was the original person behind this. And I want that. I don’t want this to be about me. When we get DMs, it’s like, “Hi, Bonitas!” It’s the cutest thing. That warms my heart.
– As told to Frances Solá-Santiago.
This interview has been edited and condensed.