MELROSE PARK, Ill. (CBS) – A creator turned his love of making things with his hands into a brand that's a love letter to the City of Chicago and his Mexican heritage.
CBS 2's Marie Saavedra had the story.
Inside a warehouse in Melrose Park, Emmanuel Cabrera puts in the work to make his passion his full-time job.
And it's special to catch him at this point, as his business is breaking through because it took a lot to get here.
"I was always interested in how things were made," Cabrera said.
As a curious kid raised in Melrose Park, Cabrera was always drawn to design, then fabrics.
"I went to the university of YouTube and Google, and so that's how I learned how to sew, actually," he said.
He became the family member or friend who'd tailor your clothes. Then, he spun that skill into a successful company. Midwest Cargo Equipment, which, among other things, sews tarps for truck drivers.
"That's been my main focus, my day job, I guess you'd say," he said.
But at night, he started making modern clothing with nods to the cultures that shaped him: Mexican tradition and Chicago pride.
"I pour everything into this one idea, whether it's a t-shirt, a hoodie, pants," Cabrera said.
In 2018, he gave the side gig a name: Gente Fina.
"We were listening to Trump, something was going on with Trump at that time," he said. "And he was talking about immigrants coming into this country and he said they're not fine people or something like that. First it was like, 'Yo, what's this guy talking about?' but then we're al like, 'That's it.' Gente Fina, which means 'fine people' in Spanish."
The brand reflects the kind of people Cabrera aims to represent with his work: Children of immigrants, and blue-collar Midwesterners who "work harder."
"Being Latino, yeah you have to work harder," Cabrera said.
For him, that meant finding ways to get the word out about his pieces. So he cooked up a giveaway on social media with one of the biggest and best-loved brands in towns.
"If you want to win this jacket, all you have to do is just tag your favorite Bulls player," he said. "So we got hundreds and hundreds of comments and that got a lot of players' attention, so they'd start messaging us, 'Hey, can you make a custom jacket for me?'"
First, Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu donned a Gente Fina jacket. A year later, the Bulls organization placed an order for more.
Cabrera has made new pieces with all that new attention, but he's just as thrilled to know someone from the neighborhood is wearing his clothes. The community that inspires him is the same one that's cheering him on, as if they're along for the ride.
"That is one thing that I did not expect," he said. "Immigrant parents or just Latinos in general who just feel connected to the brand."
He added, "It became more than just the bran. It became more than just clothes, so I do get a lot of love."
And he's making the very fine people of Chicago proud.
To see more of Gente Fina's products, visit gente-fina.com.
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