Sunday, March 3, 2013

Glendale woman’s T’s and trinkets are star-studded

Cha-Cha the Chihuahua doesn’t know it, but somewhere out there, a celebrity might be sporting his mug on a T-shirt. Fashion hounds scattered around the continent don Glendale resident Cathy Garcia’s handiwork under her Cha-Cha Chic label, an accomplishment that draws both a broad grin and stray tears.

As a child, Garcia sold vegetables door to door to help her single mother raise her and her three siblings. As a 56-year-old woman, she sells clothes for as much as $69 for a long-sleeve shirt and sends her goods to the gift lounge at the Latin Grammy Awards each fall.

Her most recent break involved her shirts landing in gift bags at last month’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles and this week’s Oscars. The swag — from a resort vacation in Australia to a $5,000 face-lift — carries a retail value of at least $45,000 at the Oscars and $60,000 at the Grammys. All free to nominees. ‘You’re creative. Create.’

Sitting in Garcia’s office in north Phoenix is like reclining in a giant jewelry box. One couldn’t begin to count the rhinestones twinkling from the shirts hanging on the walls or the calculator resting on her desk. She leans back and peers at a T-shirt featuring her Chihuahua, Cha-Cha. The pooch is wearing a headdress inspired by the late samba icon Carmen Miranda’s head wraps adorned with bananas or pineapples and flowers.

That T-shirt is one of eight she sells, with four more designs on paper awaiting production.

“I think I’m supposed to be out there making everybody pretty and colorful,” Garcia said. “As stressful as everything is, if you have a little bling, you’re ready to face any challenge. And if you can’t handle it, at least you look good.”

Behind the fabric, the glitter and the gems is a folder containing random designs and art elements that Garcia began collecting from magazines, newspapers, restaurant menus or posters years before she started Cha-Cha Chic.

“I was saving this folder for years with things I didn’t know what I was going to do with,” she said. “I just felt like I should save them.”

In 2009 she figured out why.

She had been out of work for a few years, spending time with her daughter, grandchildren and her husband when her granddaughter, Angelina, challenged her. She said: “You’re creative. Create something.”

Garcia started drawing designs rooted in her Mexican heritage. Some were inspired by the clippings in that folder: a guitar or a beach scene. Some developed in memory of family: her deceased uncle who played in a mariachi band. Her husband, Jimmy, lent her money to get started.

She picked up the phone and cold-called the Latin Grammys in Miami, which put her in touch with Distinctive Assets, a marketing firm that coordinates gift bags for such events. Would they use some of her shirts in the Latin Grammy Award gift bags? The firm said yes.

“The (celebrities) can afford anything and here they are looking at my stuff,” she said From that point, she has been a mainstay in that gift lounge. She got a contract with a clothing factory in California to produce her designs. She took online orders. She made more phone calls. While she pitched her merchandise to area boutiques, the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix called. Customers were asking for her. “She’s sort of a local celebrity,” said Marcelino Quiñonez, the center’s program director. “She’s a good role model for all other artists, that if you work hard and persevere, your talent will be recognized at a national level.” Quiñonez said Cha-Cha Chic products make up the top5 percent of merchandize sold at the center and Garcia’s recent publicity has boosted that interest.

That shop is the only bricks-and-mortar place where Garcia sells her products for now. She has about four prospective boutique buyers at the moment, she said.

Garcia doesn’t get reimbursed for the clothes she sends for celebrity swag — she sent 65 shirts to the Oscars and 170 to the Grammy Awards — but she does get exposure.


The Los Angeles-based Distinctive Assets spends a whole year searching the world for products worthy of the celebrity gift bags.

The company looks for a wide range of products so there are gifts to suit anyone from the “20-somethings to the silver foxes,” founder Lash Fary said via e-mail.

“It’s the way a lot of celebrities are able to shop without paparazzi or fans,” he said.

And it’s the way designers who can’t afford to hire a celebrity spokesperson have found an in with Hollywood. Beyoncé once wore a T-shirt from her Grammy gift bag on a magazine cover.

As for the Oscars, only the nominees who did not win got Distinctive Assets gift bags.

Garcia imagines seeing her clothes in glossy print someday.

“Even if not a famous person ... didn’t get photographed in Cha-Cha Chic, that’s just more territory where people are wearing it, even if it’s just the housekeeper or the nanny,” she said. “I’m just adding a little more color to somebody’s day.”

A ‘flashy’ grandmother

“If you can’t see me coming, you can hear me coming,” Garcia says, tugging at one of her large hoop earrings. Her grandmother would be proud.

Garcia imagines what her “nana,” who died before Cha-Cha Chic opened, would think. “She’d try squeezing into one of these shirts,” Garcia says.

Garcia’s grandmother, Nacha Espinoza, moved to Arizona from Sonora, Mexico, and brought her lively style with her and always valued Garcia’s eye for bling.

The two were inseparable, bonded in a close relationship important to Garcia during tough times.

Garcia’s father sold insurance door to door and would disappear for weeks at a time. He owned a pool hall and a bar, which the family lost when he left for good. Her mother turned to beauty school and cut hair, often depending on her children to sell a relative’s vegetables door to door for extra cash.

Her mother always told her children that not having a father in their lives shouldn’t hold them back.

Garcia has worked different jobs, whether in department-store cosmetics or interior designing. Decades passed before she conceptualized opening her own business. Four years into the venture, she hopes to expand her line to include dresses. Customers have requested dog clothes and children clothes.

She attributes much of her success to the people around her who loved her, such as her grandmother.

She ponders what a shirt tailored to her grandmother’s taste would look like and tears immediately rush from her eyes. “I don’t know if you could see it, but it would be a lot of love,” she says.

Pausing, she smiles.

“And maybe a bottle of Kahlua.”

by Caitlin McGlade The Republic Mar 1, 2013

Glendale woman’s T’s and trinkets are star-studded

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