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A conversation with Bianca Boezewinkel Rivera: Founder of Alegra Collective, the company connecting Latin American creatives with European Markets.

Hi Bianca, FEM-START is happy to interview you today! Tell us, what inspired you to start your own business, and how did you come up with Alegra Collective? 

In the past 10 years, next to my corporate career, I was running a foundation for underprivileged Peruvian children, founded by my mother. Born in Amsterdam and raised in a multicultural environment, (My mother is Peruvian and my dad Dutch) from a young age we would often spend time travelling to Peru.

It was last year, when I realised it was time for my own project, more aligned with my personal passions and interests. In my recent travels to Peru, Mexico and Brazil. I fell in love with both traditional and contemporary artisanal craftsmanship performed in those countries, the storytelling and sustainable, ethical ways of producing. This time of exploration and findings made me reconnect with my roots and to my purpose, it resulted in Alegra Collective. I really wanted to pursue something that would make me truly happy. And that is where the name comes from. Alegra means joy in Spanish! 

This January the concept and the vision around Alegra became clear to me. However, translating those thoughts into words has been another journey. I’m proud that Alegra is now out there: helping independent conscious Latin American creative entrepreneurs gain exposure to expand into European markets. My interests lie in art, fashion and design, therefore this collective focuses on the creative spectrum of craftsmanship. 

What are some essential steps and actions you took to get your business off the ground? 

I’m a firm believer that the most important driver is to feel passionate about what you want to pursue. There will be challenges along the way and passion keeps you motivated. Second, getting out of my comfort zone, and sharing my vision. You need to believe, breathe and live it. Also, trust that you can share your vision. There have been times that I was too protective of the concept, and that doesn’t help to meet the right people. As part of this process, I joined several entrepreneurial women communities, and memberships and followed courses. This has been an amazing experience. It allowed me to network and position myself in certain areas to get things off the ground. Lastly, I think an advisory board and mentorship are also really crucial and underestimated actions to get your business growing.

We know you followed our courses. How did the FEM-START courses help you as a female entrepreneur? Did you get more financial awareness out of it and would you recommend it to other fellow entrepreneurs? 

Yes! I definitely would recommend the courses. They offer tangible advice. As I did not have a background in finance or funding, the idea of pitching to angel investors or a VC felt intimidating to me. I had read and heard that female entrepreneurs have not always been treated with mutual respect, in this often white-middle-aged-men-dominated industry. However, on the contrary, it has also motivated me to advocate for change, to study and prepare myself.  The courses came at the right time, I knew I had a good concept hence it was important to me to understand what I could encounter. 

I had the pleasure of joining two cohorts in the mentorship, including Marian (CEO and founder of FEM-START). Marian really is a role model. It was amazing to be with women from different walks of life and different stages of entrepreneurship. Some had a successful business already! I was in the beginning phase but felt just as welcomed, heard and listened to. I received feedback and I asked multiple questions; it all helped me narrow down my concept. Besides, it is not the biggest investment as an entrepreneur and it will help you get some tools to walk the path and get into the world of finances. Now I walk into a room with much more confidence. 

You have a socially responsible business that also promotes inclusivity and cultural celebration. How important do you think this factor is for the future of entrepreneurship? Is Corporate social responsibility fundamental to a business? 

In this day and age, there is no question that it is essential. For start-ups it will probably be ‘easier’ to take it all into account; rather than those who need to pivot and change their whole business models and strategies. Upon starting, you already foresee the supply chain, and choose who you work with. Alegra is rooted in responsible luxury, fine craftsmanship and preservation of cultural heritage. The artists and brands I collaborate with need to check at least one of the boxes. But ideally all three. Alegra in essence is a community/platform connecting conscious Latin American creative entrepreneurs with thoughtful European collectors. It was born out of the desire to celebrate the richness of that part of the world and its cultural heritage. 

Often I say: ‘Overconsumption, overproduction and climate change have shown that sustainability is the only way forward for a world worth living tomorrow’. My aim is to become a changemaker, inspiring people to make conscious decisions and buy ethical products. Changing consumer behaviour requires patience but this is an important mission. 

What are some of the biggest mistakes you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?

I am a perfectionist and detail-driven, I needed to reason with that. Perfection does not exist and you need to make decisions to move forward. Probably I also waited too long to communicate about Alegra online, I was focused on the North Star. However, getting there still requires a first step. The successful recent Pop-Up was a great way of putting the concept out there. Don’t focus too long on the North Star, you need to start! I choose to grow the Alegra community online via Instagram (@alegra.collective), many successful businesses once started on a social media platform.

Dare to make mistakes, you will learn from them and improve.

Tell me more about this strategy to build on social media.

My starting point is Instagram. I am building the Alegra community out of the inspirations I obtained from my recent travels, the connections I’ve made and by showing my true colours.

Also, hearing from other successful business owners growing on Instagram directly motivated me to start there, to put my fears aside and to manifest myself and everything I want to achieve with this collective visually. 

My numbers are still shy, yet I am already being approached by companies, artists and like-minded people interested in my concept. I barely started and already have brands wanting to collaborate with me! It is very exciting to me that this is happening so fast. 

What is your biggest achievement since founding the company, and how did you get there? 

I have two answers to this. If you had asked me this last week: it would 100% be the Pop-Up. That was a huge milestone for me. 9 months ago, I was still digesting my travels and finding the right words to bring my idea to fruition. This summer, I decided to go for it. In approximately 3 weeks, I put the whole Pop-Up together and I had an amazing turnout of 75+ people! (all via Instagram). I was able to meet new people, and collect learnings, and insights. 

My ambition is now to expand and soon have Pop-Ups in London, Paris and Madrid. 

Today, I am also excited that I am submitting to the FEM-START UP Awards! I do not feel ready at all but I am doing it anyway. I was told many women never feel ready, which is why the funding gap remains (0.6% of funding goes to female entrepreneurs). I see this experience as part of my journey and learning curve. I am currently preparing a pitch deck and the fact that I am doing this is already a huge achievement! I have a social-entrepreneurship perspective and knowing that I just completed a successful Pop-Up and am now submitting an application for the Awards in less than a month…someone pinch me, please! 

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs, particularly those who do not seem to believe they can do it? 

Not too long ago, I was one of you. The thinking phase is on a loop. There is this famous quote: ‘Breakthrough what no longer serves you’. This meant getting out of my comfort zone, which to most people is difficult. For me, that meant breaking from my ‘safe’ corporate lifestyle that did not fulfil me any longer. Ever since I did, I have been amazed by the rewards, meeting the right people at the right time etc. My advice; Start! Every step counts, even small steps like claiming your URL. Get out of your comfort zone and you’ll be surprised how good it feels when you enter this new chapter.

When are you launching? What can we expect from Alegra Collective?

I’m proud to share that Alegra launched with Amsterdam Fashion Week, a Pop-Up experience held on September 1st. The next steps are countless. We plan on expanding into different European (key) markets with the pop-up concept, and have a permanent showroom based out of Amsterdam, as a hub for other countries. There are more dreams I want to pursue, but I’d love to keep some surprises. Currently, I’m in the process of talking to people who have shown interest, to see who could step in. This includes a co-founder. I do believe it will come in due time and through a more natural way of connecting and sharing the same purpose. I learned from FEM-START as they prepare you for talks with co-founders; that a co-founder is similar to someone you would be open to marrying, as it is a huge commitment! 

There will be highs and lows, so it is important to meet someone you can count on through these waves. 

For now, you can expect Alegra to tap into luxury craftsmanship and celebrate Latin American heritage: one of our partners, a fashion designer, works with a Peruvian community of the Amazon to preserve Kene art, an Ancestral practice, where every line has a meaning and is painted with natural dyes. The shoes we displayed at our Pop-Up are made from Alpaca waste yarn from the fashion industry, reinforcing sustainability. All the brands and creators have a story. We want to be a platform for cultural admirers from a place often forgotten, who will invest in conscious design, art, and fashion. 

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