Dude.Be Nice's Co-Founder on How She's Spreading Kindness Through Fashion
Photos: Courtesy of Veronica Tolentino and dude.be nice
Helping others has always been in Veronica Tolentino's blood. Empowered by her family's strong sense of community, the Fashion Mamas LA member spent a decade working in the nonprofit world before she and childhood friend Brent Camalich set out to create a fashion brand — despite having zero experience in the industry — dedicated to inspiring others to take action towards positive change in their communities.
Enter dude.be nice, a do-gooder clothing brand based in its founders' hometown of Whittier. After spreading its message of kindness via its comfy slogan tees and sweaters for the last three years, the brand recently relaunched by teaming with Rich Honey founder (and FMLA member!) Luddivina Bowes to produce its merch locally in an ethical and fair wage factory. In addition to offering inspiring basics for women, men, and kids, DBN continues its mission of inspiring people to "be nice" by sharing heartwarming stories of its efforts on its YouTube channel. That's not all: The brand has even created community building guides to help people take their first steps into organizing for good.
Here, we sat down with DBN president Tolentino to find out more about her career journey from fundraising to fashion, what drives her to build open and accepting communities, how motherhood has made her a better business owner, the lessons that she hopes her kids learn from her, and more — read all about it below.
What's the name and age of your kid?
Lukas, 2 years old.
Tell us more about your career journey: How'd you get to where you are today?
I've always been fascinated by self expression through personal style. I spent 10 years in nonprofit fundraising before starting over a new career in fashion almost five years ago. The opportunity to [help create] dude. be nice came to me shortly into my new career journey and I was very excited about the opportunity to build a fashion brand with a mission. It was the perfect intersection of who I am at my core: Creative but fiercely passionate about positive social change.
What inspired your passion for giving back to your community?
It was instilled in me when I was young. My mom tells stories of me being concerned about helping others since I was a little girl. I'd make these passionate public statements at family parties and other places and my family thought it was hilarious. It's always been a natural part of me. My father grew up in the projects in East LA, my mom came to the US from Mexico when she was young — community is deep-rooted in our family. My family has always stepped in to help each other and the people around them. That had a profound effect on me.
What do you love about working with a fellow Fashion Mamas member to produce your clothing in a South LA factory? Why do you think your partnership so successful?
Luddi [Bowes of Rich Honey] and I clicked immediately. It just made sense. I respect her and the amazing business she's built. I visited the factory to touch and feel her product and then learn about her passion for her team — it made me double down on our partnership. She's loyal and honest and a great friend. It's usually tricky maintaining friendships with people when you're doing business together, but it's been easy for us. She's a master at what she does and I'm proud to know her.
How does motherhood influence your business decisions?
Motherhood keeps you grounded in a beautiful way. It has enhanced my intuition. It has shown me how powerful I am. It has inspired me to be extra honest with myself and the people around me. It has taught me how to cut through the bullshit far quicker. All of this affects the way I run my business: Leaning into my intuition, trusting myself, and getting comfortable with vulnerability.
What do you hope your kids/the next generation learn from how you do business?
I hope my kids will learn the lesson that passion alone isn't enough. It takes a lot of hard work. I hope my kids will see that perfection doesn't exist — not in me or my husband or anyone else. I sincerely hope that building a for profit business with a social mission inspires them to remember affecting positive change should be a part of whatever career they take on (if even, a small part).
Why was it important to create video content that highlights community members who deserve more recognition?
Our brand's mission is to inspire people to treat themselves and others better. We felt telling stories of awesome people in awesome communities everywhere was a wonderful way to do just that. If our video content can inspire kindness and empathy and maybe a more open minded view of the world, we've done what we've set out to do.
What's your advice to entrepreneurs who want to be successful/inspiring content creators too?
Be thoughtful. Really think about the stories that need to be told. We should all be more focused on inclusivity. Make sure what you create highlights people from marginalized communities. Our company can do better when it comes to this, I think we all can. We are in a time when we are consuming content in obscene quantities — let's make it beautiful and powerful by utilizing it to truly connect people to each other.