Building a Brand and a Movement with Badass x Bonita
We’re living in an era in which social media offers a platform for different voices to be heard. It’s a way of connecting with others and creating space for groups that haven’t previously been represented. Kim Guerra of Badass x Bonita has harnessed that power of community to share her own journey, building a successful brand and movement in the process.
“So much of it is just putting yourself out there, putting your message out there—the world needs to see it. Especially when things get difficult, people turn to art, to things that inspire them, that bring hope, that bring resistance. The world wants to support artists.” Read on to find out how using print-on-demand has enabled Kim to bring her designs and her message to a wider audience, and meet growing demand.
Ideating a brand
Kim Guerra is a writer, advocate, and entrepreneur. She’s the author of Mariposa and Mija: collections of bilingual poems, affirmations, and revolutionary love letters. Her work has been included in various publications including Oprah Magazine, Today, People, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Univision, Televisa, Remezcla, and R29Somos. She’s also the creator of Badass x Bonita, a brand and movement centered around inspiring and empowering mujeres to give themselves wings through revolutionary self love.
How did Badass x Bonita come about? In 2016, Kim was experiencing many changes in her life. She’d gotten married and moved to Seattle to start grad school. “I grew up in L.A. and Mexico and most of my community was Latine people of color, so when I moved to Seattle, I felt really out of my element. I felt like I needed my community. I missed my food and I missed Spanish—I missed feeling close to all the things that were important to me. With all the changes going on in my life, I felt like I was drowning, that I was losing myself.”
An idea came to her during an early morning self-care session in the bath. “I started thinking, ‘What are words that I can use to celebrate myself?’ Brown, badass, and bonita came to mind. I hopped out of the bath and got my phone and started playing around with designs. I knew immediately I had to put it on a shirt. I wanted to wear something that’d remind me of who I am.” Even though she was in grad school for marriage and family therapy, Kim’s always been very creative and loved drawing and painting. She searched online for how to make a t-shirt, ordered one with her original design, and it arrived a week later.
From there, Kim found a website, ordered 100 t-shirts in bulk, and set up shop on Etsy. “We sold 100 shirts that first weekend. I prepared, packed, and shipped everything out with the help of some friends. I was selling shirts I’d created with words of affirmation for myself to people that I’d never met before. It was so special because I’d felt so alone and then this community came to me simply by celebrating who I am.” Due to the popularity of the shirt, her network only grew from there, and she’d eventually need a smarter system to meet growing demand. More on that later.
Finding success with a clear mission and vision
Today’s customers care about what your business stands for, not just the quality of your products or the variety you offer. Kim learned that early on.
In the course of her own journey to process her identity, she started sharing her writing and connecting with people who were experiencing similar things. “Many people reached out to me and said, ‘I feel the same, but nobody’s talking about it’ or ‘nobody put that into words, in Spanglish or in Spanish.’ That’s when I started to create art with my words.” Kim realized that she’d found her niche, and that her mission and vision with Badass x Bonita was to respond to community needs with messages of self love.
At the core of Badass x Bonita is the tenet that social change starts with revolutionary love. “When you love yourself for who you are, especially as a person from an oppressed group, it changes everything. It changes how you see yourself, how you take up space, and how you engage in your community. You start to see yourself as a person with power. At that moment I didn’t have much, but I love my community with whatever I have. I’m going to put that love out there and show up in whatever way I can.” For Kim, that meant expressing her activism through her words and designs, and giving people the opportunity to wear their solidarity.
Right around the time she was getting her brand off the ground, Donald Trump got elected. “I started thinking, ‘What can I do to show my community and the spaces I’m in where I stand?’ So, I created a shirt that said I stand with Brown, Black, Muslim, LGBTQ, Indigenous, and Undocumented Humans.” Although the shirt got some hate on social media, it also got a lot of love, and many people started wearing it to marches and protests. “People would message me and say, ‘Seeing somebody wearing that shirt in my small town gave me hope. It made me feel less afraid.’ That really inspired me to keep putting my message out there.”
Prior to posting her first shirt on Instagram, Kim was not particularly savvy when it came to social media. She had to quickly learn the ins and outs of Instagram to connect with her followers. That soon evolved to hosting in-person meetups. People were grateful for the community—but so was Kim. “I got a divorce, came out as queer, and people really went through it with me, they were there for me. From that, we also formed the Queer Enamoradas community, where we are creating and highlighting space for queer latinas because we don’t see much representation. I’ve invited people in and just been real and vulnerable in my own journey. I think that resonates.”
Establishing a brand based on something that’s very personal to you or the people in your circle is a great way to find success. If you’re emotionally invested in your brand, it’ll give you the strength to stick with it when you face the challenges of running a business.
Kim knows how important it is to stay focused on the original mission and vision of her brand: community response. She doesn’t want to feel like she’s just producing merchandise without a purpose. A compelling brand story enables her to support these goals. It also builds trust, inspires engagement, and increases customer loyalty.
Every shirt Kim’s made has a story as to why it’s important, why she created it, or why it needs to exist in the world. “I create something that I wish I had but I don’t see anywhere else. How dope would it be to walk into a store and see a shirt for queer latinas or with a message written in Spanglish? That’d make my day! I’d feel like they were talking to me.” Tapping into a niche, staying focused on her mission, and telling her story has given her the foundation for success.
Transitioning to print-on-demand
After several years of going at it alone, Kim was fed up with coordinating with suppliers, inconsistent product quality, and handling large amounts of inventory. In November 2021, she and her team switched to on-demand printing and fulfillment—and haven’t looked back. Here are some of the benefits she’s found:
- Everything you need, all under one provider
Kim had started out working with multiple suppliers, but things were getting difficult. “Finding local, high-quality distributors was such a pain, it was so stressful. Then, when you’d finally find distributors, you’d have to wait on their timing and their turnaround. It was frustrating because it can take a while to get a large order.” Aside from multiple steps to the process, there were also many moving parts. “I had distributors for different things: someone for my prints, someone for my shirts, someone for screen printing, someone for DTG, someone for embroidery. It was really exhausting. There were also times we had inconsistencies with our shirts, either different brands or different sizing. It was a mess.” That all changed when she partnered with Printful.
- Manage your business from anywhere
Kim splits her time between L.A. and Mexico, which inspires new experiences and gets her creative juices flowing. “It’s been really cool because I’ve been able to collaborate with Mexican designers and queer Mexican non-binary folks. Creating bridges between my community in Mexico and my community in the U.S. has been great.” But being in Mexico was making it difficult to keep up with demand. With Printful, she’s been able to continue running her business seamlessly. “When I’m in Mexico, I can handle everything online. I just upload my designs and start playing around with the different product options, so that’s been way easier and much less stressful.”
- Focus on design, not logistics
With an on-demand printing and fulfillment provider like Printful, Kim can focus on what she really enjoys: designing and connecting with her community. “What I love is creating and getting my message out there. Before, I’d get bogged down with everything that had to be done: the shipping, the labels, having to store everything. I have a small studio in L.A. and it was getting to be too much. With Printful, what’s been amazing is that when an order comes in, they automatically receive the order, fulfill it, and ship it.”
- Add as many collections as you like
Badass x Bonita has been able to expand its offering with the on-demand model. “In the beginning, we’d create one shirt with a message and put it out there and that was it until the next cause came up or I had the time or the energy to create a new design. With print-on-demand, we’ve created different collections and can offer a wide variety of merch. Now the focus is getting it out to our community.” How does Kim decide what products to offer? “People ask for what they want! They’ll tell you, ‘I want this design in a sticker,’ or ‘do you have this message in a different color,’ or ‘can you put my name on that?’ It’s great because if someone wants something different, we can just order it on demand. Plus, the Printful catalog is so expansive, there are lots of options.”
Staying true to your roots
Kim continues to rely on social media to get her message out there and expand her business. She and her team use mostly Instagram and TikTok, but also newsletters and email blasts. She’s super grateful that she’s been able to connect with so many through this journey. “The community I’ve built through Badass x Bonita has taken me through some of the most difficult moments of my life, and to think it was all from a shirt.”
Her advice for those just starting out is to ask for help when you need it: “You don’t have to do everything on your own. A lot of the businesses I’ve worked with have been started by first-generation kids. We didn’t have the funding or mentors to tell us how to do it, we’re figuring it out as we go. Ask for help, find a mentor, learn as much as you can. Find someone who can show you ‘this is how you run a business, this is what you need, this is what you should do.’” Partnering with a service like Printful is one way to make starting your own business easier.