Wearing white sneakers, gray jeans and a flowery top, Sonia Villar welcomed us to her boutique last week just a few days after they reopened to the public again.
Pink walls, a neon sign that says “Girl, you already have what it takes” and other women empowerment messages throughout the store such as “The future is female,” are all part of the ambiance Sonia offers to her clients as part of the retail therapy she firmly believes in at Layer the Boutique.
“Retail therapy as I tell my customers is real, and you know it, I’ve seen how you dress, I’ve seen how it makes you feel: it empowers you,” Sonia said while we sat on the green velvet chairs at the back of the newly remodeled store.
“It might seem such a materialistic thing to people but it’s real and I feel specially now with COVID and with women having to home school and work from home, there is so much pressure. As soon as we reopened we see that women come here just to get a break.”
Sonia now dedicates all her time to Layer Boutique but it was not always like this. The entrepreneur said Layer started as a side business while she was still in the marketing world. She studied in the University of Texas in San Antonio and did her master’s at the University of Incarnate word with a focus on communication.
“I was living in San Antonio and then I started Layer as a side business, as a project just to test my marketing skills but to also provide a need here in Brownsville,” she said.
“I was fortunate enough to have mentors that allowed me to work remotely, so back then which was 7 years ago, that really did not happen a lot so I moved back to Brownsville to be closer with my family. So I was traveling from here from Brownsville all over the country working on the campaigns.”
The business started online but Sonia saw the need people in Brownsville had to try on the clothes before buying them. She remembers how complete strangers would show up to her apartment because they wanted to try on the clothes before purchasing them. Layer’s retail location will turn 5 years old this year.
“I started it all online, which is so odd and not a lot of people know this about Layer but it started online and then I saw how people started coming to a room in my small apartment to try on the clothes because at least here in Brownsville they were not comfortable shopping online,” she said.
“And then I thought ‘I think I need to open a retail location because this is getting out of hand’ I had a lot people coming to my apartment, people I did not even know because they wanted to try the clothes because it was something different, something that they did not find anywhere else here in Brownsville.”
Before coming back to Brownsville, Sonia climbed up the corporate ladder and worked in places such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their HIV/AIDS campaign, United Airlines and Northwestern Mutual. Now with a daughter, Sonia hopes to set the example that it is possible to have both a family and a career of her choice while still being happy.
“For me, my job in the marketing world was very challenging. At 20 years old, and this is something I really don’t talk about because I don’t like to brag about myself, but I was in a room with the heads of marketing of Coca Cola and they were all men dressed in suits, and I was a hispanic young woman and people did not take me seriously. My ideas were often shut down because they felt they were not what they needed and to be honest those ideas I’ve applied them to my business and they worked,” she said.
“I feel like women empowerment for me has come way before my daughter, just because I experienced it in real life and in the marketing world, the financial industry, the corporate world. But now that I have a daughter I just feel like I want her to know that it is possible to have a family and to run your own business and to make women happy in several ways.”