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This Latino From Glendale Is Going Viral for Transforming Cobijas Into Tote Bags

3:14 PM PST on January 26, 2023

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

Meet Jovani Gonzalez, the Glendale designer whose love for thrifting gave him the courage to quit his retail job to create his own line of tote bags made entirely out of second-hand items. All are made to teach people how fun and fashionable sustainability can be when it comes to repurposing items that are typically tossed away during spring cleaning. 

His brand La Segunda has one motto: “Giving second-hand items a new purpose.” 

“I've always liked the idea of passing down items to another person,” Gonzalez said as he moved a stack of material from the living room to his room. “This item has already been loved and served its purpose as is, and now it’s time for someone else to experience that item, but in a new way.”

That’s where his tote bags come in. They are a nostalgic experience made from items like Mexican "San Marcos" blankets, old pillowcases, graphic t-shirts, and curtains adorned with tweety bird, the Powerpuff Girls, and la Virgencita on them. 

The Salinas-born creator received some of his first lessons on sustainable fashion and sowing in high school but one of his earlier memories of recycling an item actually came from his mom. She would often use empty yogurt containers for her homemade salsas. Who hasn't been there, right? “You go to the fridge looking for some yogurt only to open it, and you’re like, ‘oh shit, it’s filled with salsa or leftover food.’” 

“Even the cerveza bottles, the glass ones, she would use those as bases for her flowers, so that's one way that my family has for years recycled,” he said. “That has always been in me, and I think it’s actually very common in many Latino households.” 

He continued his family’s tradition and, four years ago, began to make his own tote bags. At first, it was solely for himself, merely a hobby for a then-college student that had to lug around heavy books. But in 2022, he decided to try and sell his bags and created La Segunda Brand on Instagram. 

“I didn't have a pattern or anything, so I literally got a tote bag and took it apart to see how it was made,” said the 28-year-old as he carefully snipped a thread. "Then people said to start selling them, and that’s when I launched my website.” 

Before then, he strictly sold on Instagram and at flea markets around Los Angeles. Then he began to post his tote bags on TikTok where his Mexican embroidered pillowcases and Virgin Mary blanket tote bags went viral. 

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Stacks of Virgen de Guadalupe tote bags lay on Gonzalez's couch, waiting to be shipped to their buyers.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Jovani Gonzalez poses with one of his latest creations, a tote bag made from a Virgen de Guadalupe Mexican blanket.

The vibrant colors on his Mexican embroidered pillowcase bags are some of his follower's favorite bags. Each one with something different on them, flowers, a donkey, a peacock, and one that reads “Solo Recuerdos.” For his customers and TikTok followers, the bags resurface old memories of loved ones who have passed away and memories made on the other side of the border.

“Someone once commented that their mom, who passed away, used to own a lot of these pillowcases so when she saw the bags in my video, to her it felt like a hello from her mom,” Gonzalez said. “It really touched me.”

The pillowcases he used to create these bags were actually given to him by his abuela and mother when he visited them for Thanksgiving last year. While his mother was cleaning the garage, trying to get rid of unnecessary items before the new year, he asked her if she had any old blankets or curtains that he could use to make bags. She returned with a stack of pillowcases. 

“Me dio pena, but I asked if she was sure about giving them to me, and she said yes because she only used one pair,” he said. “So I made them, posted them, and the video blew up, and I got to work.”

Like many small businesses, the headquarters of La Segunda is humble. When you enter his room (workstation), the sound of the 2000s greatest hits plays on the TV setting the mood. “Baby I’m Back” by Baby Bash, and Akon becomes the soundtrack to Gonzalez finalizing details on a tote bag. The needle on his sowing machine is almost in sync with the beat, bopping up and down as he lines a bag.

To his side are stacks of different cloth scraps ready to be used for straps or pockets. Each bag he creates takes almost two hours to make, and finding the items takes even longer. He spends an hour in each store, from thrift store to thrift store, sifting through piles of clothes and household materials.

“I go to thrift stores because, again, I want my brand to bring back purpose to things that are given away,” he said as he carefully placed bags on his couch for a photo op. “And I like that because nothing in my store will be the same all the time.”

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Gonzalez, sits in his room finishing up the final touches on a tote bag. Playing in the background is the 2000s greatest hits.
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

For example, if he has a blanket with horses on it, the amount of bags he makes will be determined by how many horses there are. Some bags will have two horses, while others will only have one, and the sizes of bags also vary. But everything in his shop is handmade "con amor." Each bag is unique, even if it comes from the same material. 

As for how much each bag costs, it varies from $30 to $60 each bag. He considers every step of the process when pricing his items. 

“Small business owners are doing everything themselves, corporate companies are mass producing, so it’s very important for people to realize that and respect the price someone puts on their items,” he explained. “When things are handmade, the process is slower, but the quality is better.”

Although Gonzalez encourages his followers to purchase his one-of-a-kind tote bags, he also supports those wanting to take a stab at making their own bags, saying, “Go for it, find the magic in your items and transform them into something special. Don’t let your belongings go to waste.”

Follow @lasegundabrand on Instagram for more information on how to donate, and visit La Segunda website for available bags. 

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