Salsa Company For Sisters Helps Immigrant Women Succeed Through Entrepreneurship

Sulma Felipe and Yesenia Espinoza offer samples at the Wynwood Farmers' Market.EXPAND
Sulma Felipe and Yesenia Espinoza offer samples at the Wynwood Farmers' Market.
Photo by Julie Harans

Every Saturday outside the Fresh Market in Coconut Grove, two women serve samples of their handmade salsas under a hot-pink polyester canopy. They don’t speak English and instead communicate with warm smiles that urge passersby to pause and enjoy a taste of their Mexican culture. Yet their company, For Sisters, is hardly the average authentic Mexican food line. Founder Leni Ibarguengoytia says the business was formed for a deeper purpose: to provide economic stability for female immigrants and their families.

An immigrant herself, Ibarguengoytia came to Miami 12 years ago from Mexico, where she owned a company and worked as a graphic designer. When she left her business behind and moved to the States, she recognized the common immigrant struggle of integrating into the nation’s economy through what she calls an "unjust" system.

Ibarguengoytia studied at Florida International University and now works as an artist and art teacher, but even after establishing her own life in America, she kept thinking about the women experiencing the same difficulties she had faced only a few years ago. After she met housekeepers Sulma Felipe and Yesenia Espinoza, she couldn’t shake one question from her mind. "How can you help these people to become part of the social and economic fabric of this community? How?"

For Sisters sells a variety of authentic salsas, in addition to kits and tortillas.
For Sisters sells a variety of authentic salsas, in addition to kits and tortillas.
Courtesy of For Sisters

After consulting an immigration lawyer and conducting her own research, Ibarguengoytia knew the only way for these two women to become self-supporting was by creating their own business. Ibarguengoytia says her inspiration stems from the women’s strong work ethic, as well as from a passage in Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yanus’ book The Banker of the Poor.

"'As women become empowered, they look at themselves and at what they can do. They are making economic progress and, alongside that, making decisions about their personal lives.' That’s where For Sisters was created," Ibarguengoytia says, "the model that provides all the know-how for the women to become independent, transform their lives, and build prosperity through small-business ownerships." 

For Sisters is divided into two groups that are independent from each another but began simultaneously: Felipe and Espinoza’s branch, Centroamericana LLC; and Martinez Partners LLC, which is owned by four other female immigrants. The groups share the space outside the Fresh Market, taking turns selling salsas, kits, and tortillas on alternating Saturdays. The products are also available online at forsisters.net.

This model of providing resources for female immigrants to create their own businesses is one Ibarguengoytia hopes can be replicated across the nation, whether the brands continue carrying salsa or expand to other products. The groups’ sizes won’t have to be divisible by four, Ibarguengoytia says, but it’s the team element that’s significant. "When you come to this country alone, your girlfriends start becoming your sisters,” she says.

Of course, even with a heartfelt story and a passionate mission, no business can succeed without a solid product. Ibarguengoytia says the salsas are about as far from a jar of supermarket Tostitos as you can get, with freshly prepared local ingredients used in recipes straight from the women's Mexican grandmothers.

In addition to offering 12-ounce jars ($10), For Sisters also sells kits for creating chilaquiles ($15) — a traditional dish of salsa, fried tortillas, and cheese — and handmade, white corn tortillas ($8 for 15).

The business officially began last October, but the ladies still work as maids for about four days a week. Fridays are reserved preparing product for their Saturday stand that opens from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. "When you give women the tools and the small things to start, they work together and they have a lot of success," Ibarguengoytia says. She makes sure to emphasize that For Sisters belongs to the women, not to her. "They have their own business – I just help them start it."

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The Fresh Market

2640 S. Bayshore Dr.
Coconut Grove, FL 33133

305-854-7202

www.thefreshmarket.com


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