Peace, love and joy are three central themes in the work and life of Reyna Noreiga, a 2011 graduate of Coral Reef High School and a South Beach resident.
Whether it’s spending time with her Cuban dad and Bahamian mom, her three siblings, or her schnauzer Pepper, the 2015 Florida International University alum is proud of her Miami roots and of the Caribbean lineage of his family.
The visual artist and entrepreneur’s latest collaboration with hair care company Goody is emblematic of this. For the project, Reyna designed 60 hair accessories, such as scrunchies, bows and combs, which can be found in approximately 3,000 Walmart stores locally and nationally. Her full name is on the packaging, making it easy to spot her collection of products in stores.
Noriega, 30, took the time to discuss her heritage as an Afro-Caribbean Latina, the importance of representation, and how she balances her creative skills and routine as an entrepreneur.
LEARN MORE: A Cuban-American immigrant breaks all records
Why was it important for you as an artist to stay in Miami?
He talks about a lot of things that I love. I am a very balanced person and like being able to observe chaos from a distance. I like my peace and I come from a Caribbean family, so I’m drawn to the beach and the tropics. I just feel like Miami has a lot of diversity and different areas with different feelings, and those bring out different aspects of my creativity.
I’ve been to other places and I love them. In New York it’s very fast and makes you feel very ambitious, but I haven’t felt the peace I feel from the ocean. A lot of my friends in the art world tend to go to Los Angeles or New York to find success. I always wanted to succeed here.
How has being an art teacher led to your career as a visual artist and entrepreneur?
I was a substitute teacher and the Everglades Preparatory Academy administration knew I loved art, so when the art teacher quit at the last minute a week before school started, they asked to replace as a substitute. I liked it so much they didn’t end up hiring someone and I stayed. I set up a bunch of clubs and it was great fun.
Other than that, as an artist, I started creating through the lens of my students. They were creating more carefree and doing it for fun, whereas I was putting so much pressure on myself before that. It allowed me to enjoy making art and I was doing it for them. Everything I did, they loved it. It was like having a built-in audience because they were cheering me on.
I brought a lot of my friends who were full-time artists to talk to my students. It was a school where many of my students came from migrant worker families, so I wanted them to know that education wasn’t one-size-fits-all and success wasn’t just that either. If they like to create, if they like sports, all these different things, there is also a possibility for them to be successful. So to help them take what I was teaching seriously, I brought in my friends who were full-time designers and photographers. At some point, I felt the need to lead by example and show my students.
How is entrepreneurship different from having a 9 to 5 job?
I had to really rely on myself when I was freelancing. I did this and set goals for myself regarding how many clients I would need to maintain my lifestyle and how much I would need to charge. Gradually, I began to understand.
From the internet you’ll need to run your business to the subscription plans you’ll need for your design tools, you need to factor it all in and price it out. It gave me at least one goal that was achievable. I was not directionless and as an artist or entrepreneur it can be very directionless. The structure really helped me get this far because I learned from teaching that there is a time for doing different tasks, there is a time for free time and a time for rest. Really structuring my days like that has really helped me take it to the next level.
How was the Goody collaboration born? How important is it to be able to design hairpieces that resonate with people like you?
Once I developed my art style, it basically came from trying to tell my own story and trying to create a representation for myself. I was decorating an apartment at the time and was trying to buy a lot of wall art and artwork. There was nothing like me. I also wanted to bring color into my space and wanted to create a style that was colorful and very representative of women of color. From there, telling this story consistently online enabled a community of people who were looking for this to find me. Over time I kept doing that, I kept building my platform and it created an avenue for these big brands to find me and work with me.
How you position yourself online tells people where they can use you. If you don’t tell your story, if you don’t say what you’re passionate about, it can be hard for them to find out. Sometimes they’re not going to put the pieces together so you have to show them, that’s the value I bring and that’s the perspective I bring. As for the collaboration with Goody, it was a long-term collaboration that took two years to develop and will be in stores for probably two years. They gave me a voice to say as an artist, that’s what I think, but as a woman of color with curly, textured hair, these are the products I would use on a daily basis. These are the products I’m looking for that I can’t find, especially not marketed as we did.
What message do you want your art and collaborations like this to send to people who see it?
I think of my students walking into stores and thinking, yes, she was right, it’s possible. I think of little girls who use hair products, but also think they can conceive something like this. That there is room for that. We take real space. We are not just pushed onto a shelf somewhere. You can take up space in a department store and you deserve it. This is the biggest takeout I want people to have.
Growing up I felt like I wasn’t Latin enough or didn’t fit the mold because I didn’t speak enough Spanish or my skin or hair was different than a typical Latina . Growing up, I also saw that just living in Miami and having my Caribbean and Cuban background and being able to mingle with all these bands, I definitely have a privilege. I try to use it to give the underrepresented a voice and lift them up. Positive portrayal and occupying space show that you are valuable and can occupy space and that you matter. It’s not just a look, shape or style that is valid. We all deserve to be celebrated.