27 Mar From the Fashion Corporate World to Entrepreneurship, Xitlalt Herrera-Salazar takes her Career to the X-Level
If you’ve been to a fabulous event at Neiman Marcus, the Catrina Ball or charitable events for the San Antonio Public Libraries, chances are you’ve met or at least heard the name Xitlalt Herrera-Salazar. From fashion to philanthropy, to award winning fashion events, Xitlalt has been at the forefront of the fashion industry from the PR seat. Shifting to a new and almost shocking career move, she continues to make waves in the industry. Today, we met via Zoom meeting, thanks to technology during a time of forced physical distance, to catch up and truly get to know the woman who has led the way of elevated fashion in Texas and find out what made her take her career in a brand new direction.
Xitlalt Herrera Salazar. Photo Credit: Liz Garza-Williams
SLTV: Xitlalt, I am so glad we’re able to do this interview via Zoom today. We’re so thankful for technology to be able to still connect while practicing safe distancing during these times! I wanted to tell you that I’ve sincerely admired you since we met around 5 years ago. The day we met I immediately felt your energy emitting go-getter and yet compassionate vibe. I’m sure everyone that has crossed paths with you has felt the same. But for those who have never met you, can you share a little bit about yourself and your career?
XHS: Sure, I’ll take it way back. Most people don’t know that when I was 20 years old, I was an Associate Producer for a show called Totalmente Latina. It was in six different national markets. I got to work with Jamie Lynn-Sygler, Adamarie Lopez, Eduardo Noriega, and the like. I bought my first condo at 21 and was very fortunate at a young age. During my time there, 9/11 happened and I came to the realization that my life was not balanced. I started to venture out and got recruited by several companies. I did interview, but I honestly could not work in certain environments. I just felt that my creativity and my soul would not thrive in a corporate setting. I always wanted to join the Peace Corps, so when a position for Development Director at Mi Escuelita Preschool opened I thought “That speaks to my soul!” So, what it was, part Headstart, part private school for children of working class parents who no longer qualified for government assistance due to their salaries. I will tell you, working for a nonprofit was the most amazing and rewarding experience of my career. I even met my husband through that experience! One of the fundraiser activities we had was flying in celebrities to Dallas and have them read their favorite Latin American Literature for the kids. It was so poetic, literally, to see an actor reenact these books! I think that when you’re doing good thing, good things happen.
So, one day I got a call from Neiman Marcus letting me know that they would love to donate $5,ooo. I really wanted them to send a representative to come in and read to the children. They insisted on just offering the check, but I was set on tracking down the Vice President of PR was, who happened to be Ken Downing at the time, so I called his office. They were so happy to help out! Fast forward, they saw my passion and my drive, and they recruited me for the Media Manager in Corporate PR at Neiman Marcus. Ever since I was a child I loved fashion and growing up in West, Texas I never imagined that my path would lead this way. So, I jumped at the opportunity! 15 years later, I am so grateful that I took the journey that I did in my life. What I learned from working with incredible people like Ken Downing, and from Mr. Marcus’ legacy was to look for excellence, because that is what you stand for. That is what is going to set you apart, and I would love to tell people that they all have this potential. Hopefully with time and between the both of us, we could get more people to believe in themselves that way!
Xitlalt Herrera-Salazar at Glasswing Intl. Photo Credit: BFA
SLTV: Yes! I am a firm believer that everyone has unlimited potential and it just takes a spark to realize it within yourself. I love that we’re so akin with that belief! I’m sure it took you plenty of experience before you realized that in yourself as well. How was the shift from nonprofit to the Corporate world like for you? What were some “aha” moments for you?
XHS: I worked in Corporate PR in Dallas, handling all Media Relations for Neiman Marcus. When I joined the corporation, everybody was so busy doing their roles, which is understandable, but I didn’t get a manual on how to be a Media Manager (laughs). It was a challenge, but I knew I had to get creative. Of course, I had built wonderful relationships with Latinx celebrities and contacts from my days at Totalmente Latina, but I had no one in the Fashion world, certainly not anybody at like Vogue or anything like that! So, I asserted myself and asked to join in on client meetings; I bought every fashion magazine and made an Excel spreadsheet with every Masthead and made it a point to reach out to all of these people. I’ll never forget the first time we were able to get one of our products on the Oprah show! That was a major turning point! I went on to open 4 out of the 5 stores in the U.S., and was also part of the team that opened the Last Call stores for San Marcos and San Antonio, among others throughout the country. I also got to work with local charities, because when we built a store we were also building the fabric of a community. Ramiro [husband] was Director of Libraries in Dallas but also was over a lot of the art projects there as well. San Antonio, eventually came calling with an opportunity. He came to San Antonio first, and I had an original plan to move to New York, plus I had said to myself I would NEVER move for a guy. Low and behold, a year later Ramiro proposes and when Ken [Downing] found out, he, serendipitously, had a PR position available in San Antonio. 13 years later, here we are!
Xitlalt with Husband Ramiro Salazar
SLTV: What a beautiful story! We have heart eyes! How kismet that you were able to merge your career and personal life so perfectly. You two are definitely couple goals and you have maintained such an admirable career in your own light.
XHS: That is very kind of you to say. You know, in Dallas I was known as my own person, a career woman. The hardest thing for me when I first moved to San Antonio, not knowing anyone here, was being known as somebone’s fiancé and people not realizing that I had a full blown career before him and during that time, but I’m actually glad those interactions happened because I rediscovered myself and regained my identity. It was funny because in Dallas, I would just take off and go to happy hour with my girlfriends, vent and have a complain session with them. Then moving to San Antonio, where he was literally the only person I knew, I think it brought us closer together, making our relationship stronger. I’m grateful for that period in my 30’s that taught me so much. Looking back, Neiman’s gave me the opportunity to grow in my own light, I get choked up… Now, as I transition to my next phase in my life and career, I knew in my heart, just as it was time for me to leave Dallas, it was time for me to move on from Neiman’s as I reached my 15 year mark or my Quinceañera, so to speak.
Fashion Event and Panel at Neiman Marcus. Photo credit: Kelly Jo Johnson
SLTV: Wow! I’m sure you had so many amazing experiences working with designers, bringing in major names, and hosting beautiful, award winning events. What would you say was the highlight of your career with Neiman Marcus?
XHS: I have many amazing highlights, and I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best designers from David Yurman to Giorgio Armani, to Tom Ford and so many others, it’s just been a dream come true. I was this close to bringing Iris Apfel, and she would be my Swan Song, but the way things worked out, it became very difficult for her to travel with her age and I had already delayed my departure. Just knowing that the stars were aligning for me to bring her here, was huge for me. My biggest highlight was bringing Annie Leibovitz March of 2019, and during Women’s History Month no less. The legend herself complimented us and told me personally that this was the best event she had been part of. I was like “Did anybody record this?”. That moment was amazing to me. I’ll never forget it! Of course, hosting events and combining them with charitable causes made me extremely happy. Philanthropy has been in the very essence of me, the fabric of everything I’ve done since I was a child, so you see even though I was responsible for creating an environment that my team was proud of, everybody who was part of it would take away something special with them. That’s how I treated my role within the company. To know that my crazy ideas would work out, and to have a team that would execute them with joy, that was a constant highlight for me.
Annie Leibovitz at Neiman Marcus Event. Photo credit: Vincent Quaranto
SLTV: That is so true! I could always see that your team seemed to be so joyful and devoted and looks like your new team has the same or even more enthusiasm, today! So, let’s talk about your new venture. Tell us everything about X Level Inc.
XHS: The biggest thing we do is brand and talent management. We’re being very strategic with the company. So, we built it as a corporation because we’re constantly evolving. There are several facets to the X Level, where there will be other companies built into us like an umbrella type corporation, but one thing at a time of course. I’m very upfront with this part; I may not have all the answers to everything, but I will get the right village behind that brand or that talent or the strategy to evolve them. Case in point, I’m partnered with Inclusion Management in Los Angeles and talent management with Mucho Mas Productions, so I have an office in Burbank, CA which is so dreamy. When I met with them, I wanted to make sure that we turn the talent from our community into A-listers. With my fashion background, and PR experience it’s been about connecting them with the right stylist, the right team and the right image to propel their careers. I’ve actually even taken a page from the Spurs model, thinking how can we adopt this for the entertainment realm. So, now we manage amazing talents like Valeria Jauregui, who is on Fox’s new show, Deputy, and Jill-Michele Meleán, a comedian who’s been in the industry for almost 20 years as a performer, writer and director, whom it seems I met almost by fate. Now, we’re also part of a groundbreaking vegan, Latinx ran makeup brand created by celebrity makeup artist Cynthia Hernandez, Holy Mother of Makeup, launching in April, 2020.
Holy Mother of Makeup Campaign. Photo credit Liz Garza-Williams
SLTV: Holy Mother of Makeup is creating quite a buzz and is almost a movement. What was the inspiration behind the campaign that launched earlier this month.
XHS: This campaign is very special to me because I want to change the stereotype that Latinx women are placed into when it comes to Hollywood, the media and the beauty industry. When major corporations see us as just that, we’re limiting our potential of what we can actually be. What I feel is diversification of the beauty industry, so when I teamed up with HMM I envisioned a “Soy Latina” movement. This would be a campaign that featured all skin tones, all body types, all upbringings, and all career levels, because the mainstream media doesn’t show us as diverse as we really are. My goal in life is to change that paradigm by making space for all these conversations and unifying us. That’s why the campaign also features a white crisp, embroidered button down shirt, with gold cufflinks. The symbolism is major, because a “guy” in business is known to have “made it when” they have these things right? So, I wanted the campaign to feature a diverse group of Latinas in the white shirt, no pants, loving and living in their bodies. Which almost backfired on me when I realized that I would have to show my legs, too! (Laughs) But in all reality, the camaraderie and comfort level made this campaign such as a sisterhood and it turned out really beautiful. The message behind the campaign as a whole, is to use makeup as a unifier. It’s not just about lipstick or eyeshadow, it’s about showing the already existing beauty that we all have and those little Latinx girls looking at this group and seeing themselves represented and knowing that they too are beautiful, like you! We’re so happy to have you be part of the campaign yourself!
Holy Mother of Makeup Campaign. Photo credit Liz Garza-Williams
Jeanelly Concepcion for HMM Campaign. Photo Credit: Miguel Flores Photography
SLTV: I am truly honored and I wholeheartedly agree with this message. As a Dominican-American woman, with light-skin but undeniable Afro-Caribbean roots, I literally never saw a woman that looked remotely like me in the mainstream media, much less in beauty campaigns. As an adult, I now see actresses like Zoe Saldana, and supermodels like Joan Smalls and Avril Guerrero, and I’m happy to see more diversity in the Latinx community showing up in magazines, billboards, movies and ads. So, I’m very grateful to be part of your campaign and do my part in breaking the stereotype and shifting the paradigm. I get chills just talking about it! And now I feel we’ve come full circle, what is your vision for the future of X Level Inc.?
XHS: I really want to make a difference that’s going to be felt for years to come by bringing the best team together. So, what does that mean? That means if we get a campaign and I don’t know everything or have all the resources myself, I want to collaborate with the right people that will make it happen. I want to be a pipeline, with X Level we strive to be the crossing, that connection in the right direction. One thing I want to do is create workshops and bring Hollywood to San Antonio, for example, like Casting Directors and industry titans. With the amount of talent we have here, I want to show them what they can do, to discover their true potential and elevate their careers to the next level they so deserve. I also plan to continue to highlight and elevate San Antonio by fostering a collaborative spirit. I feel very strongly that we can continue grow if we work together.
Discover more about X Level Inc. by following them on Instagram!