Estefania Rodriguez is the founder of Brewbles Studio, a bath and body shop that sells products based on nostalgia and Latinx culture. Estefania began making bath bombs as a form of self-care and a way to manage her mental illness. To make ends meet, she started selling them. And the business took off...fast. This is what happened next.
Tanya Hoshi, Emma Fedderson, Rachel Rath, and Anshuman Iddamsetty
Senior Supervising Producer
Jason “Metal” Donkersgoed and Spencer Sunshine
Anshuman: Where does the name Brewbles come from?
Estefania: I was leaning towards a witchy vibe when one of my older sisters, Andrea, was like, “Well, why don’t you call it Brewbles?”
Estefania: It’s a mixture between brewing like a witch brews and bubbles, since you’re making bath bombs. And I was just like, That is absolutely genius, and I took it! [laughs]
Estefania: My name is Estefania and I am the founder and creator of Brewbles Studio.
Estefania: We are basically conjuring up magical bath concoctions to evoke relief and relaxation for everyday self-care rituals.
Anshuman (voice-over): This is Vanguard by Shopify Studios. It’s a podcast about how people from unexplored subcultures and unexpected communities make money today.
Anshuman (voice-over): I’m your host, Anshuman Iddamsetty.
Anshuman (voice-over): If you’ve never used a bath bomb, here’s a primer:
Estefania: Bath bombs are fizzy bath time treats that contain salts, butters, and scents that evoke relaxation...
Estefania: But in reality, there’s a lot of people that have never used bath bombs before. If you’re one of those people, once you throw one in, you’re just mesmerized, ’cause it just starts foaming and fizzing and twirling. It’s basically bath art.
Anshuman (voice-over): What makes Estefania Rodriguez’s bath bombs different is how they draw from Latinx culture and her childhood memories.
Anshuman (voice-over): Like growing up in Mexico, surrounded by avocados.
Estefania: I’ve never seen a giant avocado bath bomb until I made it.
Estefania: The Aguacate bath bomb! It is a giant bath bomb. It’s basically heaven.
Estefania: I mean, I love it. If I’m making a batch and, you know, I have one left over, like, I snatch it for myself.
Anshuman (voice-over): Today on Vanguard, I speak with Estefania Rodriguez, the founder of Brewbles Studio.
Anshuman: How is a Brewbles bath bomb different from your average bath bomb?
Estefania: I began with the regular circle bath bombs at the beginning when I was testing out my own. And I think at some point I wanted to create something that was out of the ordinary, you know, I think it all started when [laughs], it all started with my mother. I was making my own bath bombs. She came into my room and she was like, “You know, you should get up and make the tamales that you said that you were going to make two weeks ago and you didn’t.” And so I was trying to be funny and I made like a bunch of bath bombs in the shape of tamales and gave them to her. And I’m like, Oh, like, I made tamales that you asked me for. And she thought it was hilarious. But she told me, she was like, “Well, you know, instead of being so funny, why don’t you just take your hobby and turn it into a side hustle, you know?”
Anshuman: How do you come up with your ideas? Like I’m picturing a teenage Estefania dreaming up cool new bath bombs.
Estefania: Actually, it’s not that far-fetched. Yeah. I remember when we—before I really decided like, Okay, I’m going to do this—I had this notebook that I had from, like, I guess my junior year of college that was all scribbled with, like, just random things. And I sat down one night and I started, like, drawing up—ike, it was like, Oh, it’d be cool if I could do this or if I could mold that. And I started thinking like, Well, you know, what reminds me of who I am?
Anshuman (voice-over): When Estefania was a kid, her family left Mexico City and moved to the US.
Anshuman (voice-over): In fact, they ended up moving around a lot. So when she started to make bath bombs, she looked to some of her fondest childhood memories for inspiration.
Estefania: And I think what came first are the paleta bath bombs. They are basically Popsicles. And I wanted to re-create, you know, sweetwaters that we have, like horchata, stuff like that, and things that would trigger my memory. One of them, it’s a strawberry and yerba buena, which is spearmint, I think, bath bomb, which reminds me of my summers with my aunt. And, like, it was so blistering hot in Mexico City whenever I lived with her. But she would always come out with, like, a nice tall glass of fresh strawberry and mint water, you know? I just remember those days, just playing outside, and it’s so hot, and I could see her tending to her garden, and I’m just, like, here drinking fresh sweetwater, you know, like fruit water. So all those paletas, paletas bath bombs, they all stem from that. Like, they’re feel-good memories for me, basically. Nostalgia. It reminds me of a time where everything was easier, reminds me of a time where everything was simpler. And I feel like, maybe sometimes, you know, we still long for those things.
Anshuman: This idea of having a home and having these really warm and inviting memories of home seems to be a constant with the entire Brewbles project. What does home mean to you?
Estefania: I moved around a lot my whole life. So I feel that there was never really, I guess, more of a literal sense of home. You know?
Anshuman: Oh yeah, for sure.
Estefania: Because I was always moving around, you know, we always rented. We always picked up and left and went to the next place. So, I think for Brewbles, it sort of became like a form of identity too, you know, finding identity or, you know, holding onto it, in a place that wants you to erase it or wants to fully assimilate without, you know, repercussion of who you were before.
Anshuman: I’d like to take a step back and talk about how the Brewbles company began. What was your life like around the time you started Brewbles?
Estefania: Yeah. I was going to school full-time, and I was also working full-time. So I was very extremely swamped and busy trying to make sure that not only am I getting my education, but also making ends meet. It was early October that I got a letter, a notification that my financial aid was running out because I was taking a little bit longer to graduate from college than most people do. And that’s because, well, I have to make ends meet too. You know, I did have a full-time job, so a lot of my semesters that I took, not all of them were full, some of them were part-time just so I could be able to pay my bills at some point and afford to live and afford to buy food. It was like my parents—they didn’t finish college and then, you know, I was the second person from my family to graduate from college. So dropping out was not an option.
Estefania: But I was not only doing that, I was also, like, house-sitting and dog-sitting and stuff like that and finding anywhere or doing anything I could find to be able to still have, like, money to buy food that week or be able to pay my light bill. And I think that’s one of the weirdest things about, you know, present day, that is just like, you could have a full-time job and still not make ends meet.
Anshuman: No! That’s very real.
Estefania: Yeah. It’s very hard. I don’t think it hit me until that very last semester that it was just like, “Well, I don’t have financial aid to pull me through, and I’m not going to have financial aid to pull me through at the end of it.” So whenever the option came up, when I got that suggestion that she was like, “Well, why don’t you turn your hobby into a business?” I was just like, you know, you’re absolutely right. It’s just like, I could make a couple of bucks out of this and, you know, be able to pay, like, the remaining balance on all my bills, you know? And then it sorta just blew up unexpectedly, and I didn’t know what to do with myself! I think I remember like our first thousand followers, I I cried so much. I was just like, I’m a crybaby.
Estefania: I’m a fully emotional person. So I was just like, “Oh, my God. It’s like all these people. Like, I don’t know what to do.” I was freaking out. And so I took it upon myself as just like, you know what, take this as inspiration and let’s continue. Like, you know, if my hobby is becoming my business, I’m going to do the best job I can.
Anshuman (voice-over): Before Brewbles even began, Estefania was making bath bombs for herself. She was basically her own first customer.
Estefania: I mean, for most of my life, I’ve experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety. So, some days I have very manic lows and others, I have very manic highs. So, at the point when I started, I was beginning to understand my symptoms and their triggers a bit more, which led to taking a lot of time for my personal self-care, which I didn’t do before or I didn’t think it was as important. And it became a religious part of my routine.
Estefania: So, I began experimenting on making my own beauty products, since I realized that I could just customize them, and ingredients that I knew where they were coming from, and I knew they were organic, and I knew they were made for specific purposes. So, I mean, that’s basically how it started. It was mainly just for my own personal self-care.
Anshuman: Now coming from a South Asian family, I know firsthand that concepts like self-care and wellness, and especially mental health, can be unfamiliar?
Estefania: Right. [laughs]
Anshuman: What has your experience been like talking about self-care in the Latinx community?
Estefania: I feel like in our culture and, you know, it’s just difficult to talk about things like mental health, you know. Talk about things that are so blatantly ignored because we’re supposed to put on a strong face and keep going forward. You know? And I think I learned that a lot from my parents, especially my mother, where it was just like, We went through a lot, being here in the US, you know, sometimes not making enough money to pay our light bills or not making enough money to buy food that week, and stuff like that.
Estefania: And it was just like, Well, are we going to sit here and cry about it, or are we going to do something about it?
Estefania: And so even talking about, like, “I feel really sad today” or “I’m just having a bad day,” they’ll be like, well, “Suck it up.” You know? You should not feel like that, there’s worse things in the world or worse things that could be happening to you. It’s like, yeah, there is, but that doesn’t mean that my feelings aren’t valid.
Anshuman: I know firsthand that there are good days and there are bad days. What was it like for you, especially when you were running a business at the same time?
Estefania: I feel like it was very exciting, but it began to take a toll on me. So much so that there was times where I just shut down—just not get on social media, just sit in the dark and just look at the ceiling, the ceiling, you know! It’s just like, I just, I couldn’t do it. Like I was completely shutting down. Just ’cause I was not only overwhelmed with, like, school deadlines but also like being able to keep up, you know, Brewbles. It’s like being able to create, being able to make product, being able to ship, being able to reply to emails as fast as possible and give the best customer service I could—it made me feel kind of like a failure.
Estefania: And it’s hard to say that because sometimes I explain that to others and it’s like, well, how can you be a failure? Like you’ve done all this: you went to college, you started a business, blah, blah, blah. But it’s just like, you still get a sense of, like, impostor, I guess, disorder, which is like, Did I really do that? It’s like, I’m not sure if I did that. Did I deserve this? I don’t think I deserve this at all. It makes you feel like you’re almost, like, not good enough because you’re not trying...more.
Anshuman (voice-over): By the end of 2017, Brewbles was blowing up, and was even featured in People magazine. But a year later, the company went on hiatus.
Estefania: I was so burned out by 2017 that when 2018 rolled around, I was just like, “Okay I’m gonna take a small two-week break and then get back into it, and I’m going to quit my job and I’m gonna Brewbles full-time.” And I started to do that. But then I realize when Brewbles did start, I did not have, like, organization. I didn’t know it was going to blow up the way I did. I did not have a plan. I think all that burnout energy came all at once and it hit me, you know, it’s just, I was just like, I can’t do it anymore.
Anshuman: And is that when you decided to just stop altogether?
Estefania: I think it must have been, like, November 2018, and I was just laying in my bed and I was just, like, I can’t do this anymore. Like, I need to rest. Like, I want to continue to do Brewbles, I still have plans to continue doing Brewbles, but I just, I just needed to take my own advice for once and be like, I can’t sit here and preach about mental health and taking time for yourself and self-care when I’m not doing any of that anymore.
Anshuman: You announced on Instagram that you were taking a break from Brewbles to do what you just said: to take care of yourself. What was that moment like when you posted that message?
Estefania: Oh, man. I remember writing it too, like, I remember what I was doing, what I was wearing and it’s like, and it seems like, it’s like, Oh, it’s not a big deal for a lot of people, you know? But for me it was like, This is my whole life, you know, I worked so hard to get Brewbles to where it was, even though it wasn’t like big or anything, you know, it was still small business stuff, but it was my personal project, you know, something that I was doing for myself, you know, something that I believed in, something that, you know, I drained my bank account at the beginning to even start, you know, because I believed in it so hard. But whenever it happened, sitting there writing the message, I was just like, Is this the end? Because my first thought was just like, I should just stop altogether. Not even plan stuff coming back, just goodbye. That’s it.
Estefania: But I sat there maybe, like, three hours prior to posting that message. It was just like…like, I’m not going to give up. You know? I think it’s important to recognize when you’re overwhelmed and you’re overworked and you’re burned out and that you need help.
Anshuman: So what was it like to go on hiatus?
Estefania: You know, I started going to therapy. I started seeing a doctor, and I genuinely tried to find better ways to cope with my symptoms. And I feel like I’m in a better place than I]ve ever been in the past 10 years of my life, especially when it comes down to, you know, being manic and having lows, or I generally feel like I’m not disassociating. In fact, I’m a real person and I’m present. I generally feel like I have control for once in my life.
Anshuman: When you dream about the future for Brewbles, what do you imagine?
Estefania: I mainly imagine quality. [laughs] Quality and a business model that genuinely has a future. You know? I want to be able to carry this as something I do the rest of my life. You know, I want to inspire other people to seek help. And I want to inspire people to take care of themselves and, you know, find their own self-care and their peace.
Estefania: And it’s so weird to think about it, that you could do that through bath bombs or, like, through scrubs and soaps and stuff like that. But it’s just, like, whenever you go in the shower and get clean, then you feel so much better. It’s like, I want that after-shower feeling forever, even though it’s just like a silly, you know, foaming product and water. [laughs] Sometimes it brings you joy, and I want to bring joy to people. I want to bring comfort, and I want to bring peace.
Listen to more episodes of Vanguard by Shopify Studios, a weekly podcast that explores the human stories of entrepreneurship from unexpected corners of our current moment.Feature image by Franziska Barczyk