NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's Hispanic Heritage Month and a rising star in the fashion world is making it her business to wear her pride on her sleeve. She went from a small town in the Dominican Republic to recently gracing the billboards in Times Square.
Growing up in Cotui, located in the countryside of the Caribbean nation, Cenia Paredes had no idea becoming a fashion designer was even a career.
"My mom was a seamstress of my hometown in Dominican Republic and I started imagining dresses for her clients and sketching them out," Paredes told CBS2's Lisa Rozner on Wednesday. "One day my aunt came from the capital and she saw all my sketches and she told me who Oscar was and show me magazines and immediately from that day on I made the decision that's what I wanted to be when I grow up."
Paredes was inspired by Dominican-American designer Oscar De La Renta, who she later interned for. Cenia immigrated to Jersey City at 18 years old in 1990. She learned English at a local college and soon got married and had her first two children, but the relationship ended shortly after.
"He didn't want me to work. He didn't want [me] to pursue a career," Paredes said.
So, as a single mom, she pursued a Bachelor's at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
"While I worked a full-time job during the day, it actually took me six years to graduate," Paredes said.
After years of working for others, she started Cenia in 2008 with all the money she had saved in her 401K.
"I realized there was a void in the market for clothing that understood the women body more," Paredes said.
Now Paredes is in the prime of her career. She won a competition to sell her patent pending waist-adjusting jeans on the Home Shopping Network and recently debuted her new line on a runway at the crossroads of the world, at the Times Square Fashion Show.
A few years ago Cenia went back to get her MBA from FIT. Today, she mentors young design entrepreneurs who want to follow the same path as she did.
"Knock on doors. If you fail, because you will fail, get up and just go at it again until you can make it," Paredes said.
She fills her pieces with bright colors a nod to her Hispanic heritage as a way, she says now, to lift women's spirits during the dark times of the coronavirus pandemic.
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