CEO And Entrepreneur, Sandra Campos, Gets Candid About Life After DVF, Her New Startup, And Embracing Her Latin Heritage

Photo: Sandra Campos’ Instagram

Women in the C-suite are having quite a moment. As of this year, 37 women are leading Fortune 500 firms – up 12% from last year. Progress, certainly. But what about women of color, primarily Black and Latina women holding these leadership roles? That stat has dropped to 0%? Dismal, sure, even after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer, with corporations “committing and pledging” to diversifying their workforce and hiring minorities to executive positions. Seems like the enthusiasm and solidarity has died down, hasn’t it? But, the good news is that women-owned businesses, specifically those of color are starting businesses faster than anyone else, according to Fast Company. Women of color account for 89% (1,625) of the new businesses opened daily for the last year. And they are just getting warmed up!

Women-owned businesses generate 1.8 trillion a year. This year, Latina-owned businesses grew more than 87%, as evidenced by statistical data. Women in business are the driving force in our nation’s economy. A testament to this fact is former and the first Latina CEO of Diane Von Furstenberg, Sandra Campos. Under her leadership, the veteran fashion executive has restructured 6 contemporary women’s brands for the Global Brands Group – popular labels such Juicy Couture and the BCBG.  We recently chatted with Sandra Campos to discuss the current state of fashion and her next career venture in the continuously evolving industry.

You’ve recently parted ways with Diane von Furstenberg (DVF). Can you go into detail about the split?

Yes, I left in mid-June, or rather resigned. It was completely amicable. COVID has impacted retail significantly. There has been a plethora of bankruptcies. With DVF, we had a complicated turnaround – which is why I was brought into the company.  COVID presented an opportunity, as a private company, to change their business strategy – and it needed to for a while. Diane was looking at the future – to maintain and leave a legacy; the business model was changing; it didn’t make sense to have a CEO, especially with DVF becoming an IP business and transitioning into a small company by early 2021. We’re still on good terms. I’m a big believer of DVF’s “Women In Charge” mission – if you are around it, you become it. Whatever we can do as women to help other women become more confident is the biggest priority for me.  Since then, I founded a fashion startup called Fashion Launchpad – a digital online continuing education platform for fashion and retail. It’s a Master class-type of micro courses that really touch upon every aspect of the industry and it is all continuing education. Fashion Launchpad will be up and running early 2021.

Photo: Sandra Campos’ Instagram

That’s fantastic for individuals looking to get into the fashion business. Can you walk us through your career trajectory, some of the milestones you’ve had?

I’m first-generation. Both my parents are from Mexico, my mother from Mexico City D.F. and my father from Zacatecas. I was raised 1 of 6 kids in Texas. When I was growing up, for whatever reason, I had a very strong interest in color, prints, sewing and fashion. I was changing my mother’s drapes, making slipcovers. I went to college in Western Texas – Texas Tech University. Not at all a fashion mecca. I was making clothes for friends and sisters and forcing everyone to wear my stuff. I thought I wanted to be a designer, but instead, I went into a pattern-making internship and decided design was not for me.  So I pursued a job in New York City. I had never traveled New York City and I was so naïve. I knew I had to go to the fashion capital of the world. I was making 17,000 year as a salary, so I had to have 3 jobs to live in the city. I was working at a retail store, the buying office, and in sales. It was all fashion-oriented, more business than design. With that, I was always motivated to become a CEO.  I knew I wanted to be a VP young, and hit these different title milestones sooner rather than later. At that time, presidents and CEOs in fashion and retail had come out of sales. My career trajectory was one in product merchandising, being in stores, really understanding the consumer, then in sales, understanding the clients from a retailer’s standpoint: planning, financial analysis. And, eventually I worked my way up to becoming CEO of Diane von Furstenberg, prior to accepting this role, I held executive roles within Donna Karen, Ralph Lauren, and a license of Oscar de la Renta. I also had my own company a couple of times as well. I had corporate and entrepreneurial experience. The entrepreneurial experience more than anything else gave me exposure to all things. When you’re running your own business, you are all things to everyone. I was going out and pitching, doing the press releases. I was customer service, production, and manufacturing. It helped my understanding of business, my corporate roles, and how to build a brand and generate awareness and engagement from the customers.

It can be very gratifying, if you’ve worked in every facet of production and are privy to the ins-and-outs of any given department and what makes it tick.

That’s exactly why I’m launching Fashion Launchpad. It is all about knowledge and understanding your industry, inside-and-out. There used to be some training programs that allowed you the flexibility to be in the warehouse and understand how that operates, on the sales floor of a retail store, then go back into the financial office and be in sales showroom – and get to experience all the different aspects of the business. Not anymore. And if you’re in a silo you don’t know what goes on in other areas and unless there’s a lot of cross-functional partnerships, it’s very hard for somebody to understand the business as a whole and become a well-rounded individual. These courses will be taught by top industry executives – executives who are operating businesses on a day-to-day basis, therefore individuals will be able to really understand – in-depth – what a merchandising life plan is, what an PNO means? All kinds of things people need to comprehend; whether they are starting out in the industry or still in the C-suite level; crucial elements people should possess to be a team player, a better collaborator and the ability to run a profitable business.

As you ascended into your executive roles with various fashion brands, did you ever encounter obstacles because of your Latin background as opposed to your white counterparts in Texas or New York City?

I’ve thought about this topic a lot recently. There’s 2 parts right now that create barriers: 1) One is being woman 2) The other is being a minority.  For me, I saw the impact and bias against women more than I saw the bias against Latinos. That said, I was very unaware, until 5 years ago, I was told that when I joined my sorority, they actually had a conversation on whether or not they wanted a Mexican in their sorority. Now, I didn’t know that at the time.  I became a member of that sorority and became one of their leadership VPs. I love that sorority and I’m so involved with it. You don’t really know what people are thinking and what those racial biases might be – the undertones of that. Really some of it is subconscious as well. As a female, you see a lot more of that because there are a lot of men in my industry – especially in the C-suite and board-level executives. Thankfully, that’s changing. There is focus on building and supporting women to get to the C-suite – which is incredible; there are quite a few organizations and memberships helping women by providing so many resources and tools to succeed. That didn’t exist when I was starting out in the industry. I’ve put aside my own inhibitions of being Latina and decided to move out of Texas, because at the time, it wasn’t diverse enough. I wanted to be part of the diverse melting pot that makes up New York City.

Photo: Sandra Campos’ Instagram

Latino consumer buying power will be reaching 1.7 trillion within the next year. Shouldn’t luxury brands and other mega brands make a concerted effort to reach this huge demographic with this kind of disposable income?

There are so many conversations happening right now about race and racial bias, and not just with Latinos; Latinos start 80% of startup businesses, exactly to your point of representing a huge percentage of consumer spending power. Change needs to start from the top in a couple of different ways. First and foremost: we have to push to have more diverse boards in companies, more diverse leadership. When I say diverse – it’s not just about Latinos, but diversity in general, male and female. Unless you have diverse C-suites and a diverse group of leaders that understand and empathize with consumers’ needs, things won’t change. They have to be able to really walk the walk, instead of saying: Hey! Here’s a segment – a group on a piece of paper we’re targeting. That’s futile. Instead, let’s try: truly understanding this segment by making them part of the corporate community, the board, and executive suite reflecting the group(s) targeted.

As far as Latinos demanding representation in advertising and entertainment with real diversity to reflect their increasing spending power, do you think Latinos from different nationalities lack a united front?

That has definitely something to do with it. We are all so separated in a way. We should be able to figure out a way to come together, because together we are more powerful and a stronger force. That has an impact, sure!

Have you confronted colorism biases within your personal and professional life as a Latina as you’ve paved your way into the C-suite?

Absolutely. It’s not a conversation I’ve had a lot of discussion about. Honestly speaking it’s there. Skin tone has been a topic since I can remember. I’ve never really embraced my Latina heritage until 5, 8 years ago. Only then because of my own kids – seeing my oldest daughter embrace her Latina heritage, feeling more Latina than I did. And I thought: Why is that? I realized it was because I grew up in a situation where I had lighter skin than the Mayans, Mexicans growing up in my area. My last name wasn’t specifically Latino. Campos could be from Spain, European and I felt that it put me in a situation where I could walk away from certain responsibilities of being a Latina. I lightened my hair. People would say I looked Greek, Italian or from Spain. No one ever said you look like a Mexican. I felt I needed to cover that up throughout my career and life to move upwards. I didn’t embrace my Latin heritage. That was an issue I didn’t address. Now, the conversations are so much more prevalent. I see first and second-generations, like my kids, part of Generation Z that are activists and being prideful of their heritage, I look at that and I realize that girls can’t be what they don’t see. So I have a responsibility to share my story and help the next generation not have that level of prejudice I dealt with. 

Sandra Campos is among the many Latina pioneers consistently breaking barriers in their respective industries after achieving many firsts in business, government and heads of households. It the responsibility of the next generation to receive and pass the torch of opportunity, forge ahead and fight for seats at the decision-making tables in every aspect of our lives. We must harness our voices for the collective advancement of Latinas in the United States to impact change and see true representation of multidimensional cultures claiming our over due space in this country.

Amara La Negra’s Star Power Continues to Illuminate: Undeterred by the Pandemic Lockdown, ‘The Love and Hip Hop: Miami’ Personality Pursues Bigger Aspirations

Amara La Negra, Photo: Tag Media Group

Diana Danelys De los Santos, otherwise known as Amara La Negra, ascent into fame didn’t happen overnight. The singer/songwriter/author and TV host has been in the limelight since age 4 as part of “Sábado Gigante’s” el Clan Infantil (children clan), hosted by Don Francisco. “Sábado Gigante” was the holy grail of entertainment for Latino households across the U.S. – a variety show filled wild performances, comedy skits, games, and lots of models. On for 53 years and acknowledged by the Guinness World Record as the longest-running variety show, it shaped Latino television as we know it.  As a teen, if I dared to change the channel – I’d be punished by my parents or encounter a flying chancleta. I remember watching Amara dancing with other little girls – the only Afro-Latina in the group with energy to spare.

I’ve hummed her songs (Ayy and Se Que Soy) and seen her on “Love and Hip Hop: Miami”, but recently watched her on HBO’s “Habla Now” documentary discussing colorism in the Latin community. Out of the 14 celebrities that spoke on Latinidad and their experiences in the U.S., Amara’s words resonated with me: “Colorism and racial issues happen among Latinos as well. We can be very racist amongst Latinos with one aonther. And that’s the truth!” Amara went on to say, “We consistently are trying to see what nationality is better than the other. What race is better? We create this division amongst ourselves. If we don’t see each other as equals we’re never going to be able to grow and feel empowered.”  Quite the statement, calling out the hypocrisy in our own cultures, I was drawn to her candor. And reached out for an interview. We chatted about everything from her experience on reality TV, to reinventing herself during the pandemic, to building generational wealth among Latinos.

You’ve accomplished so much before the age of 30. Singer/Author/Actress/TV Host. That’s Quadruple Threat Status. What are you most passionate about and can’t live without doing?

Yes, I guess I am a quadruple-threat (laughs). Being on stage, that’s it. I love performing. I love getting dressed up. I love my dancers and rehearsing with them. I’m a showgirl. I grew up admiring Tina Turner, Janet Jackson. People that put on a show. I love being in contact, in touch with the audience. Feeling that we have a connection. That’s why I appreciate my fans so much.

“Love and Hip Hop: Miami” is in its 3rd season and you are one of the breakout stars that has gained popularity. Has production resumed and do the producers coerce or suggest that you engage in certain situations that are scripted?

Love and Hip Hop: Miami” isn’t scripted. I would never bad mouth my producers, no matter what my thoughts are, out of respect and gratitude. But I will say some scenarios are not the ones that exist in my day-to-day life. When you’re on a reality TV show, you have to confront certain situations. Me, away from the camera, I don’t have time for these exchanges and I leave. I’m not a fan of the drama. People place artists, celebrities on a pedestal. Thinking it’s impossible for them to get upset. In real life, people have real personalities – no matter how much you admire them, they have good and bad days. Sometimes you might get them on bad day.

Do you find at this point in your career you still have to explain your Afro-Latina heritage to new members on the show or anyone else you encounter?

When it comes to the show, I’ve made my stance known and everybody knows I’m Afro-Latina. I don’t think I’m the most famous Afro-Latina and everyone should know who I am. I don’t see myself that way. Will I continue to answer questions about my ethnicity and background, if people have questions and don’t know? Definitely. As long as it comes from an educational place, not a disrespectful place and they want to learn.

Amara La Negra in Tu Cara Me Suena, Photo: Amara La Negra’s Instagram

You’ve recently been co-hosting “Tú Cara Me Suena” on Univision. What has that experience been like?

I’ve been with Univision with a long time. I basically grew up in Univision. I never thought as an adult I’d see myself hosting with the network. I’m lying. I’m lying. When I was younger that was my dream. When I used to See Lili Estefan on “El Gordo y La Flaca” I said: One day I want to be a host and do what she’s doing. It’s surreal that I’ve been doing it for the last 2 years. I hosted” Premios Juventud,” “Mira Quién Baila” backstage, and “Sal y Pimienta.”I’m doing another awards show in November, legally, I can’t mention it. But it’s big for Latinos. It’s a blessing. Feels good. I’m able to break barriers for others to come. I’m giving young girls and young men that come from the Afro-Latino community, like me, visibility. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been very vocal about it, but I was able to get a spot. And thanks to this spot, I’m able to open doors for others.

Do you feel Afro-Latina celebrities are scrutinized more as opposed to non Afro-Latina celebrities?

It’s really hard. I’m just speaking for myself. I have only but the best intentions. I’ve never wanted to make anyone feel uncomfortable or offend anyone’s culture or religion, etc. A lot of times, people have these really high standards for me because I’ve become one of the most recognizable faces for the Afro-Latino community, not just as an artist, as an activist too. It’s A LOT of pressure because you have to be so careful with what you say, because you may come across as offensive, even if what you say is true to you. I have to think about my career – something I’ve worked so on hard my whole life. A lot of things can be ruined in a second based on my opinions. It’s hard to be real and be yourself, express how you feel, how people view me without jeopardizing my job.

What do you think about cancel culture? Especially if in the past, you’ve made a controversial statement.

People have become very judgmental. It’s very easy to point fingers at everybody else’s mistakes, without pointing fingers at themselves first. I feel we have to give people opportunities, because we’re human. There’s no guidebook to how to live in this world. We learn as we go. In that process, we make mistakes, and we grow. A lot of people make mistakes – that doesn’t mean we should disregard all the hard work they’ve done, their accomplishments, or impact they’ve made for their culture and communities, up until that moment they said something deemed wrong. I don’t think it’s fair.

Photo: Amara La Negra’s Instagram

What are your thoughts on the anti-Black sentiment expressed by certain Dominican communities in Washington Heights, New York?

I’m not 100% informed on the subject, but I heard something. I don’t want to call out Dominicans specifically. Colorism and racism exist all over the world in every single Latin community. The lack of education, the lack of knowledge brings a lot of ignorance to the forefront. The way people react is based off of ignorance. Everyone is trying to find his or her niche. Everyone is trying to find a spot where they belong. It’s also a system that has brainwashed us for hundreds of years – a brainwashed mentality that has been passed down from one generation to the next and so forth, dividing us instead of uniting us. If we united forces, we’d be unstoppable. It’d be crazy. They wouldn’t know how to handle us as a community. Through education, we can press the reset button in our minds and break that cycle for the next generation to come.

Amara La Negra has kept busy during the pandemic, apart from TV hosting, leading on-air radio shows, and partaking in our interview, she’s been buying real estate. The multi-faceted star bought her first home for her mother, Ana Maria Oleaga, last year. Amara said, “She worked so hard for me to become successful. I wanted to give her something in return.” Amara wants to make smart investments as the pandemic has shut down entertainment production across the globe, she, and all of us, have come to realize: you can’t rely solely on just one source of income – a true test in reinvention. She preaches to her fans about generational wealth and leaving future generations with tools and the foundation to becoming successful. She plans on owning 5 properties by the end of 2020; an empowering Latina female artist realizing her potential and leading by example.