Home remedies are a staple of immigrant families.
If we burned our finger, mami or papi would give us a special cream or herb to heal the wound. Latinxs have nostalgic scents of our childhood, such as Vaporub, yerba mate, and jamaica. These scents and remedies are woven into our culture.
Horacio Portillo, a Mesoamerican immigrant (born in El Salvador and raised in Mexico) had been working in manufacturing in Los Angeles, CA prior to becoming an entrepreneur. His company “GYV”, pronounced like “give”, specializes in scented candles and hand creams from his ancestors’ natural ingredients.
The name “GYV” is a play on “give” but has a more personal meaning to Horacio as well; it has the first letters of his childrens’ names in it– Gaby and Victor.
Portillo’s mission with GYV is to celebrate the rich history of the land, spanning from Central America to Mexico, by showcasing the voices, scents, flavors, and places of this historic region. Their site lists an amazing selection of candles from Mango flavor to “Limon” and “Vainilla”; which Portillo says encompasses his background.
“This business all started [in 2017] with a conversation with my daughter,” says Portillo. “She was telling me how much she loved Swiss chocolate. I looked it up and the ingredients are actually from Mexico. We realized the companies removed the origin of the ingredients and packed it as Swiss or European, but the ingredients are Mexican and [or] Central American.”
Portillo is no stranger to the production of candles or creams. He is a 13-year veteran of the production industry and is now the director of operations at Archipelago Botanicals.
“In the beginning they didn’t trust me,” Portillo says about working in production. “I was brown and I had an accent, but I worked up.”
Portillo admits that he lacked the ambition to start a business, but things changed once his daughter was born. GYV is now a family affair. “My family was very supportive when I decided to start and now we work together.”
While Horacio is responsible for production and identifying chemists for his scents, his wife Rocio does the shipping and his daughter Gaby manages the website and social media.
He says it was a bit easier for him to start the actual production of the line because of all his years in the industry. Something that many immigrants have more trouble with when starting their own businesses. “That was the easiest part.” he starts, “I truly respect chemists and people who do production to make the product. I let them do their job and the results have been great.” But he does insist as a immigrant, it IS harder to start a company than normal. Latinx people in America are the most entrepreneurial culture out there, but there’s always extra steps to make it compared to Americans. “We started from the bottom up. It was a process.”
For Portillo, the most challenging component of creating a business is marketing.
“How do you get your message out there without a marketing department/budget,” he asks. “The field is so saturated with all kinds of home fragrance brands and stories.” GYV has recently joined the Instagram giveaway game, teaming up with other Latinx brands to get their name out there by giving out some of their product to a lucky winner. Along with daily posts on their official Instagram page. Community is important and GYV is hitting the right spots online. “Seeing the message of the company resonate is a huge reward, working with my family, we all have a part to play. The market is ready to accept a luxury mainstream product line from the perspective of Latinos. We had an IG user that received a candle point out the fact that our Vainilla candle is not vanilla it is spelled V A I N I L L A that was awesome.”
The candles have proven successful. Customer reactions have been great. “For the most part very positive, we get a lot of people getting the idea. The candle for example, is a display piece as well as a fragrance dispenser. We are not trying to mimic a fruit or flower, the fragrances are meant to evoke/trigger a memory; a place in time. They are perfume level fragrances not flavors and people are getting it. We have only been shipping product for the last couple of months and the acceptance has been great.” And now Horacio and family are venturing into creams, which will include GYV’s familiar scents. “It’s the same amazing ingredients, repeated” Horacio says. He also is proud to showcase the scents from his mixed history. “I’m trying to show a small geographic area, MY area. This is what I know and what I know I can produce. We are a huge culture, this is just a small part of it.”
What does Horacio think is in store in the next couple of years for GYV?
“GYV is not just a candle company, we are really a personal care with a home fragrance line. The candle was our first product because it was ready to launch and Hope starts with a candle. We are about to launch a hand cream that the main ingredients are black beans, corn, pumpkin, chile and prickly pear seed oil, we have in the pipeline body lotion, body wash, body polish, salt scrubs and many more exciting personal care products. Our goal is that in the next 5 years is every product we make contains ingredients not just inspired but sourced from Mesoamerican producers.”