By Karen Morales & Lana Mack|Nov. 20, 2016
“When I first started this, I didn’t say, ‘I’m going to become a millionaire. I’m going to have this house in Beverly Hills.’ It’s not me. That’s not what I want.”- Tony Aguilar, Owner/Operator at Funky Town Pomade and Sad Girl Cosmetics
Tony Aguilar is a passionate business man from the City of Bell Gardens with the drive to uplift his community and a heart of chrome. His company, Funky Town Pomade and Sad Girl Cosmetics is one that is a true reflection of the art and likes of his upbringing. He’s putting Cholx culture in a positive light through preserving family traditions, creating work for local businesses, and offering products to families that are good for them and affordable.
When companies are only about profiting and mass production, the health and the well-being of their consumers are compromised. Sure, their products are affordable and more people have access to things they could not otherwise buy, but how good can that be if the product is not the best for them in the long run?
The other side of the spectrum is the expensive natural ingredient products that the community simply cannot afford. A neighborhood that has a lower income isn’t privy to these items and it’s inhumane that natural ingredient products are not available for everyone. Where people are born and raised are not a choice.
Submerged in the heart of LA Cholx and car culture, Tony Aguilar makes cosmetics “for raza by raza”, as he often likes to hashtag. Not only does he satisfy the needs of his community by single-handedly manufacturing products that accurately mirror their culture, but he also has their well-being at heart.
With their health is in his hands and literally on people’s hair, skin, and lips, Tony sets the tone for small businesses in local communities and highlights LA culture keeping his roots alive and growing.
-Lana Mack, SLxB contributor
The following is a conversation between Tony and Karen Morales, a contributor to ShopLatinxBiz:
Karen Morales: Tell me a little bit about the beginning. What were the early days like? What was the line of products that you started?
Tony Aguilar: When I first started this company, Funky Town Pomade, it was last year April/May. I made the first batches in around May but I didn't actually make it a "company company"- to where I gave it a name until about maybe mid to end June. The first thing I ever made was lip balm.
K: Lip balm?
T: Yeah. I started with making different flavors and from there I figured, you know what, why can't I make a pomade? I used this stuff every day. I used it since I was God damn 11 years old. You know? So, I started after the lip balm. I finally got my ingredient list set to where I said, “Ok this is how I want it. This is what I want it to be.” So I said, “Ok let me try the pomades.” I made probably about 40 different tins. You know trying to get it right.
T: So I finally got it where I said, “Ok. This is the texture and the consistency that I want.” So It was about maybe June, the end of June, close to July when I finally said, “Ok. This what I want. This is what I feel. It's what it should be.” So the first line up that I had was the lip balm, the 2 different holds of the pomade and that was it. That's how it started.
I slowly by the next couple months is when I added the beard oil and the beard wax and the mustache wax for the guys.
K: So in those early days, did you find it easy? Did you find it hard?
T: No In the beginning it was hard. In the beginning it was hard because I wasn't too sure what I wanted in it. So along with all my other products, I usually do tons and tons of research on what oils and what ingredients are not only good for you, but that you'll benefit from it because anybody can just throw stuff together and say, “Okay. This is cool,” but I try and keep it as natural as possible without using preservatives, without using chemicals, without using any of that stuff. So everything that's in it from oils to the beeswax I use, is all stuff that you can benefit from.
K: Was this always your industry? What propelled you to start the company?
T: You know what? No. Believe it or not, I've worked with my dad my whole life. I don't work with him now, except for side jobs doing plumbing and construction -my whole life. So my background is a general contractor.
K: Oh wow.
T: That's my background I'm a welder. I built cars my whole life. I've worked on cars. So when I kind of got into this industry my family was like "what the hell? How do you go from working on cars and doing plumbing work to doing this now?”
My parents were like, at first, "Oh that's pretty crazy." My dad uses pomade. He uses my pomade every day. He's the one that got me into using the Murray's and the Three Flowers, and all that stuff when I was a kid. So that's kind of where it started. My background is general contractor, welding, working with my hands. So I kind of just fell into this, I guess you can say. It was never something that I said like, "Hey, you know what? I want to try this someday." It was just one day to another that I said, "I want to try this."
K: How would you describe your aesthetic?
T: I've grown up in and around the LA area my whole life, so I mean, all I really know is LA. I have family out in El Paso but even then, they lived in LA and then it was back and forth. But I've always wanted, everything I do, where ever I go out of town, I always like to give that impression, “This guy's from LA.”
I went to Albuquerque one year and half the people I met there, I would tell them, "I'm from LA." It was cool to see some people that would say, "Oh I lived in LA, we just ended up in New Mexico." So when I started this company, I told myself, "I want something that no matter where it ends up, it's going to scream LA." Like, you can look at this product and say, "This thing has to come from LA." You know? I wanted that that old traditional style. Not penitentiary artwork but that old traditional, Hispanic style artwork with the guys and the girls. That whole outfit.
K: There's a lot of nods to Cholx culture, which I think, you know, we need to start seeing it in for a more positive perspective. The art, the music, the fashion. You know what I mean? Because it's a really important part of our story here and especially L.A. You know the art on your labels looks a lot like stuff that you'd see in prison letters in old zines. So was that completely intentional?
T: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly yeah. I did that on purpose. Like I said when I when I first came up with this company, I wanted something that said "L.A." I wanted something that could be looked at and you'd say, "Oh shit."
A guy like me, I don't see this like, "Oh. Its penitentiary style art," to me it's like, "I've seen that artwork my whole life."
K: It's apart of our story.
T: Yeah. It's part of my culture from my dad's tattoos, my uncle’s tattoos, to artwork that my dad has laying around. That's what I've seen my whole life. That's all I know. So to me, when I first started, to me it was like a no-brainer. Well that's what I want on my labels. I want people to look at it and be like, "Oh yeah, that's cool."
K: How did your neighborhood influence your company?
T: We lived in the VNE projects off Olympic for a little while. I lived in the city of South Gate. I've lived in the city of Bell, Bell Gardens. I've lived everywhere. We've been around. We've been moving back and forth. So we finally live where we live now, which is the city of Bell. And we lived in the city of Bell years when I was a kid. Back then the city of Bell wasn't nice like what it is now. Back then it was like you had a lot of cholos, but they weren't cholos like “You don't mess with us, they don't mess with you.” The stupid ones. The one's that you couldn't even walk through there because they were throwing gang signs at you or they were yelling nonsense at you. I mean it all depends on the age. It's like now, I have a lot of older homies that are all old school. They have that respect. I lived in Maywood for a little while off 55th street. I had a little studio there and the block down was Maywood neighborhood. I drove my lowrider car at the time and the older dudes would just give you the nod you know.
K: I do that all the time.
T: Yeah, exactly.
K: It cracks me up because that's how I know another person is Latinx because I don't even notice I do it.
T: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah! It'd feel like a respect thing. I'd seen the younger dude. They were throwing their neighborhood at me and I would just pick up my arms. Obviously, they don't know the nod. So I would just pick up my arm, and wave like "Hey how's it going?” Like, “I come in peace,” you know?" Depending on the neighborhood where you lived.
K: I'm from Panorama City, Pacoima, so I always feel like back in the day it was more intense. Now it's very more calmed down.
T: It's calm now. Like the city of Bell. Now it's like half Hispanic, half Armenian kind of Indian-ish area. That city has changed a lot for good. It's nice. I can walk through that city now any time of the day and I don't have to worry about anything. But back then, it wasn't like that. Back then, it was such a small town. I'm borderline Huntington Park, I'm borderline Cudahy. Cudahy kind of stayed in that world, I guess you can say. Like Cudahy, back then was bad and Cudahy now is still bad. I used to live on Elizabeth St. and that's a heavy 18th Street neighborhood right there. That area kind of stayed in that time zone, I guess you can say. Some people, just get used to it. It's not something you just adapt to it. It's not something you just, "Oh I hate living here. Oh I hate these people." It's just kind of like, you adapt to it. You learn the neighborhood, you learn where you are at and you just get used to it. Of course if you go looking for trouble you are going to find trouble. No matter where you go, you're going to get trouble. It's just a matter of respect.
K: So this is another one of my questions that cut into the Cholx culture: Car culture is something that features a lot on your website.
T: Yeah. To me, the Hispanic culture is always going to have lowriders in a Hispanic area. It's just hand in hand. I mean, I myself have a lowrider. I love lowrider cars. I've been in the car scene for a long time. I like hotrods. I like all that stuff so to me, I enjoy selling at the car shows. I enjoy selling at the cruise nights. Especially the cruise nights. I do a lot of cruise nights everywhere in the LA area. Usually it's a lowrider cruise night. So, all you get is like 99% of the people there are Hispanic and they love that! And they love the products, you know? And it just goes hand in hand. It just goes hand and hand together, the whole car scene, and that whole world is just *tight* knit.
K: I feel like that you can't deny Cholx culture and car culture, like there's no way to separate the two?
T: No. It's impossible. You can't. There's no way of separating it. There's a lot of different companies out there. A lot of like what I do, you know? But they all do their own thing. They all have their own theme and I guess it depends on where you grew up is how they based it all off of. Like me, I grew up in this area and I go to those kind of shows because that's what I know. I go to the lowrider cruise nights because I've been going to them in my car for years. I mean, that's what I've always seen and when I started this company, the first show I ever sold at, was at a big car show last year called White Wall Nationals, which is wasn't so much of a lowrider thing, it was more of a hotrod thing, and I started off with half of a table. Like 3x2 space and the crowd was a little bit different.
K: Do you feel like your car culture has been gentrified to a certain extent?
T: Little by little, yeah. I can use my dad as an example. Before I was born, my dad just had old cars/lowrider cars. I was born, he had a couple cars here and there, but back then times weren’t like they are now. That same car, my dad’s baby, pretty much, was a ’65 Impala Super Sport. It was like you picture a lowrider and that’s what this car was. As I grew up, times got tough. My mom wasn’t working at that time and my dad had to -back then I think he said he sold it for like two thousand dollars. Now that same car is like forty thousand dollars. It’s ridiculous how expensive that same car, same everything. Back then, he told me all the time, “Back then those cars were like a dime a dozen.” Everybody had one. They were so cheap. Now recently, he’s been trying to get another car and I show him it’s not like before. These things are like almost triple what you paid and what you sold them for.
K: Do you think it’s the mainstreaming of Latinx culture? That people are willing to pay all these millions of dollars for all these cars?
T: Yeah. There’s a big car show coming up in January called the Grand National Roadster show and what I love about that show is that you get a big mixture of everything but they have a building where it’s all lowrider cars. When I say lowrider cars, these are like old 70s/80s style cars. Those were when those cars were built: 70s/80s. So they’ve been around that long and they’ve kept them looking immaculate. So when you see some of those cars, they’re kind of like, “OH yeah. They’ve been around 30 years and they’re still the same way?” But some of those guys nowadays, what I call the “modern day lowrider” cars, where they put the TVs in it, they put all those modern day stuff in it. Some guys like it. Most guys in that area/that scene, they don’t like it. Even big wheels. You see a 64 impala that goes to a show and it’s a lowrider car on wire wheels. Then you see that same car, same color, but it’s on 20 something inch wheels and they’re chrome and they kind of look at it like, “That dude’s lost. That dude ain’t from around here.” That’s just the way it is. That’s just what it’s become now.
K: What made you want to keep your product affordable... for the quality?
T: When I first started it, I always said, I want to make something and I want to build something that's always going to be affordable. Like at lowrider cruise nights, I get the little girls that come to my booth. They want to buy a lip balm, because what little girl doesn't have Chapstick and all that stuff? That's why I sell them for a dollar. I've always said to myself, “This kid comes and he wants to buy pomade for his hair. He has $10 in his pocket and he can get more than one thing.” It's not like now. Now you go to the store with a dollar and you can't get nothing anymore.
K: So is that almost a way for you to keep it in the community? You could have easily, because of the resurgence of Cholx culture, because of the resurgence of people wanting to hop on the Latinx wagon, you could have easily, for a pomade, charged like 20 bucks.
T: Oh yeah! Easily! At car shows I get people that tell me all the time, “Oh. Why don’t you sell it more expensive?” I don’t -need- to sell it more expensive. You know? I make the money I make on it. I spend it in my products making more products. I have some to help me pay some bills and I am more than happy with that. When I first started this, I didn’t say, “I’m going to become a millionaire. I’m going to have this house in Beverly Hills.” It’s not me. That’s not what I want.
I started this as a way to help me pay some bills. I put clothes on my little girls. I feed them and I am more than happy with that.
K: So it’s almost a way for you to, and correct me if I am wrong, to keep it in the community, and us have quality, fashionable products?
T: Exactly. “First choice”, I guess you can say. I’ve had two different barber shops that carried my stuff and it was cool to see my products inside of a store, but I started thinking, “Why should I sell to all these people in the area they’re in? They’re not from around here.”
I have a guy, a couple weeks ago, they’re from Japan, who owns a store called “California Sundays.” And in their store, you know the Japan scene, in Japan.
K: I’ve seen it!!
T: The Chicano culture is humongous there. You got some of these Japanese people that you would think they’re Hispanic. I met up with this guy, him and his wife, who own that store California Sundays, and they bought a bunch of my products to take back to sell in their stores. Real humble people. That dude spoke maybe 8 words of English and that was it. I’ve been following that scene from Japan for a good while now and it’s crazy to see. Man, they love it! They’re almost trying to speak Spanish just to try and fit in with it. When I first seen it, I was like, “Man, these guys are confused.” And little by little, I was like, “Man. They’re more Hispanic than some of the Hispanics in my area. They love it. They dress it. They live it more than we do and it’s crazy to see it. They’re cars look like somebody built it in the 70s. To them it’s like a fresh car, but it’s crazy to see that. It’s crazy to see it expand like that.
K: I guess I wanted to elaborate when I said “fashionable” I meant it in a sense of like it’s already very “in” to be Latinx, even when it goes, it’s still for us.
T: Everywhere it’s [my products] gone, I’ve always wanted to make sure that whoever is using it whatever bathroom it ends up in, that they look at it, “Man it screams ‘Hispanic.’ It screams –screams- ‘Chicano.’” With the artwork. With what I named it. It’s just what it is. They can love it. They might hate the artwork, but they’re going to use the shit out of the product. That’s why I say, I call it “Funky Town Pomade” because I’ve always used the word with my friends when they do something weird, “Hmm. Funky ass dude.” So to me, that’s what I’ve always said. “Funky ass fool.” That’s just my saying. So a lot of my friends know me by that.
When I was first doing this, I was like, “What should I name it?” The first thing that came to my head, “Why don’t I name thisFunky Town Pomade?” That was really the only name that came to my head. I didn’t have all these names and say I’m going to choose this one. I chose that name and that was the only one that I could only think of naming it.
K: Did you mean “Funky Town” is it a positive or negative thing?
T: It’s a positive. I see it like I’ve lived in funky areas my whole life. So to me, my town is funky, because of the mixture of people in it. There’s no Asians in my neighborhood. There’s no white people in my area. I mean, not anymore. The house we live in now, when it used to belong to my grandpa years ago, that area was white people everywhere. The whole little area was white people. There was no kids. There was nothing like that anywhere near us. Now my little area right there, there’s kids everywhere. There’s Hispanic kids in every neighborhood. So that’s why I always said, “Funky Town.”
K: Do you see it as kind of, because I feel as Latinx people, I’m Guatemalan so I’m not Mexican, I feel like Latinx people in general have this... George Lopez always sums it up really well where it’s like “Ay muy chigon.” They’re haters but they love you but they’re haters at the same. Is that how when you say “Funky” it’s like, “this town is kinda funky, but it’s mine?”
T: Yeah. Exactly what you are saying. It’s like my car it’s fucking funky ass car, but it’s mines. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of what it is.
K: Describe in your own words what Funky Town Pomade means to you? If you wanted to get to the bottom line, the core: What does it mean to you?
T: What does it mean to me? That’s a good question.
K: Take your time.
T: I repeat myself all the time. To me it’s something for raza. I hashtag every once in a while “Made by raza for raza.” To me it’s something for the Chicano culture. The Hispanic kid sees it and he says, “This is me. This is something I can use.” To me it’s something for the people. It’s not something you’re going to go to the mall and find it on a shelf. It’s something that you have to go into the barrio to find it and hunt this thing town. I think that’s one of the reasons why I kept it so exclusive like that. To where you’re not going to find it at every barber shop.