The last thing Denver native Joni Cordova imagined as Donald Trump rode the escalator to his presidential announcement almost two summers ago was that his words would change her life. Did they ever!
What rocked her world---and still does---was his thoughtless characterization of Mexicans. “When Mexico sends its people,” said Trump, “they’re not sending the best.” He didn’t stop there. “They bring drugs, they bring crime,” and for good measure, he added, “they’re rapists and some, I assume are good people.”
Trump hit a nerve. In minutes Cordova was on the phone calling her sister, Theresa Flores. The former banker turned seamstress was seething. “Did you see Trump just now,” she asked Flores. “Yes,” she answered.
The sisters were equally as angry, as they did a slow burn on the phone that day. “We have to do something.” They did. They started a business.
On a recent Saturday morning at their north Denver headquarters, the sisters took a break to talk about how Trump’s insulting characterization of Mexicans and, in their view, all Latinos, changed their lives. It angered them; roused them; turned them into business people. Today, the pair are half of “Flores By Design,” a T-shirt company. Their mother, Anna Flores, and cousin, Gary Martinez, are the other half.
The foursome pooled resources, bought a hot press and, after flying to California to learn its intricacies, began applying images to fabric. The company’s first efforts were obvious takeoffs on how they felt about the man who would be President; a variety of ‘Dump Trump’ tees in different colors and fonts. Nothing original but unmistakable reflections of their passion.
But the sisters knew their anger over Trump’s often boorish behavior---he also mocked a disabled reporter during the campaign---would only take them so far. The needed a ‘Plan B.’ The single-themed approach was abandoned and, amazingly, new opportunities suddenly began to sprout.
In the nearly year and a half of the company’s existence, FBD has made tees for everything from birthdays to graduations, from the ridiculous to the sublime. “We know it’s just a t-shirt,” said Flores, a mental health specialist for more than twenty-five years. “But what it says means a lot to the person,” added Cordova. The sisters often finish one another’s sentences.
Customers call asking them to create commemorative garments, marking everything from births to deaths. Retirements, holidays, team tees are also a growing part of the business. They will put almost anything on a tee, they say, as long as it doesn’t cross the line of good taste or propriety.
While it would make more economic sense to sell in a traditional ‘minimum order’ fashion, the women say they’ll periodically print a single item for a customer. So far, they’ve received rave reviews for the quality of their product and their prices which are more than competitive. “One customer actually refused to pay the price we quoted him,” said Cordova. “He actually raised it!”
Like any new business, they’ve grown wiser about their product and their customers. Price, quality and responsibility to the people who buy their tees are important. It’s a philosophy learned as they watched their own father grow his business from scratch to one that found its way to cities and towns around the world.
Their father, the late-John Flores, was a well-known Denver artist whose work is found in homes and galleries from Denver to Dubai. “We want be a company that does his image right,” said the women.
From their earliest and admittedly in-your-face protest products, FBD has ridden a steady upward arc. “It’s been a word-of-mouth climb,” said Cordova. “Someone sees a shirt that someone was wearing and they call. It’s just caught on.”
Proceeds from the business have all been reinvested, including in the construction of its
firstname.lastname@example.org website, or banked. “We haven’t touched anything,” said Flores. Their mother, Anna, is the day-to-day business manager. “She tracks inventory, handles orders and tells us when we need to pay special attention to things.” She also provides space for the company, sacrificing the living room of her north Denver home for the hot press machine.
All of the partners are still excited about the company and its future. When an order comes in, someone is there to make sure it’s handled, delivered on time and to the customer’s satisfaction.
It is too early to tell if President Trump can live up to his promise of creating thousands of new jobs. But, in an odd twist of fate, he remains the inspiration for the creation of at least four new jobs right here in Denver.