How this South L.A. woman uses her online shop to empower her community

Lopez sells her products at Molcajete Dominguero on Olvera Street in addition to her online store. She said usually sells out of her mugs, sweatshirts and t-shirts by the end of the day. (Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Lopez)

It began as an ongoing joke between Cindy Lopez’s dad and uncle.

The two brothers would tell their friends they were graduates of USC. When people reacted with surprise, they would elaborate: “The University of South Central Los Angeles.”

“Growing up in the hood, not many people get to go to college, especially first generation here in the U.S.,” Lopez explained.

Lopez said her South Central Los Angeles sweatshirt is a tribute to her community. (Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Lopez)

Years later, Lopez has kept the legacy of the family joke alive through her online Etsy store Crafty Chingona. The native of Florence-Firestone — an unincorporated community in South Los Angeles — sells a cardinal and gold sweatshirt that reads “The University of South Central Los Angeles” as a tribute to her community and family.

“It’s a beautiful place with a lot of hard-working people,” said Lopez, 27, of her hometown.“People don’t see the first or second generation people trying to make it.”

The sweatshirt is one of the many products Lopez has created for Crafty Chingona, a brand she uses to not only empower South L.A. residents but to “remind women we are badasses. We are chingona.”

Since Crafty Chingona first came to life under the Instagram handle @craftycl in April 2017, the working mother and wife has built the store from the ground up.

Initially named Crafty Cindy Lopez, the store developed into Crafty Chingona seven months later after her husband told her, “You’re a chingona. You work. You are a wife. You are a badass,” she said. Since then, the term “chingona,” which is synonymous to the English word “fierce,” has been emblazoned in many Crafty Chingona products.

Lopez’s customers range from 18- to-35-year-old Millennials. Since the term “chingona” is known as an insult among older generations, Lopez said some were appalled when they first saw her products and questioned why she would call herself “chingona.” In contrast, the younger generations see the empowering intentions of the Crafty Chingona brand.

What started as a side project has blossomed into a new career. Lopez features the word “chingona” on dresses, water bottles and mugs.

Lopez said she wants women to know “everyone is a badass in their own way, whatever it is that you do, you are a chingona.”

When she began her business, Lopez was also working a full-time job as a case manager in a personal injury law firm. She would get home about 6:30 p.m. to pack lunches, clean the house and help her daughter with homework until 9 p.m.

She would then work on her orders past midnight and wake up at 5 a.m. to do it all over again. Since her husband was working on his master’s degree during the start of her business, she had to be the homemaker and bread winner at the same time.

To advertise her brand, Lopez began setting up shop at Latinx pop-up events such as Molcajete Dominguero on Olvera Street where vendors are invited to sell their products.

“I started doing pop-ups by Olvera Street [in 2017],” she said. “I grew my following from my first event with 200 followers to my fifth event with almost 1,400 followers.”

Lopez’s Frida Kahlo mug is one of her most popular products. (Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Lopez)

Lopez said she brings about 50 to 55 different mugs, sweatshirt and shirt designs and usually sells out at these events. The most popular item is the Frida Kahlo-inspired mug.

Crafty Chingona will be at Molcajete Dominguero on Nov. 18 at the Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles.