For as long as she can remember, Celina Villarreal, founder and owner of Houston online boutique Margarita Mercantile, has had a mind for business. As a kid, the youngest of seven kids would sit at a small table and chair (bought by her Dad), and sell candies to the clients of her family’s business in Monterrey, Mexico, where she grew up.
“I was always with [my parents] on business trips, and I was always able to interact with their employees,” Villarreal tells Houstonia. “I was using [the table and chair] as a front row to learn business.”
Years later, after a move to Houston, a law career, and multiple bouts of homesickness, Villarreal decided it was time to create a business of her own—one that honors her heritage.
Margarita Mercantile, at first glance, is a simple women's boutique with brightly colored, intricately embroidered dresses and tops. However, to Villarreal, it’s much more than that.
Villarreal sells traditional Mexican dresses* that are handmade in five different central and southern Mexican states: Oaxaca, Michoacán, Yucatán, Aguascalientes, and Chiapas. All of these areas have a rich history in clothes making.
“I didn’t come up with [the dress design]; it’s been in my culture for years,” Villarreal says.
Sure, everyone would love to wear a Chanel blazer or one of those Diane von Furstenburg wrap dresses, but to Villarreal, nothing compares to a product of multi-generational clothes making, because each piece tells a different story.
“It’s not like the dresses are made in a massive production,” Villarreal says. “Each piece is handmade and unique; each piece reflects what [the dressmakers'] surroundings are.”
Whether you like a brightly colored dress, exquisite embroidery, or a simple top perfect for a summertime barbecue, Villarreal has options for every Houston woman, including a new option for nursing mothers. The Sadler Nursing Dress, which was recently seen on Astros in-game reporter and new mom Julia Morales, are made for easy access for breastfeeding.
“This dress was my idea,” Villarreal said. “I think it is so important, as a mom, to have the opportunity to breastfeed your child anywhere, comfortably; you still want to look pretty and fashionable, too.”
Margarita Mercantile offers 13 different dress styles in various colors, embroidery patterns, and prints, not to mention tops, wrap skirts, and accessories. There are also adorable children’s dress options and even guayaberas for men. The shop’s a little pricey—children’s dresses are $120, and women’s dresses start at $150—but your money is going to a good cause.
A portion of Margarita Mercantile’s profits go to Albergue Infantil Josefino, an orphanage in Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico. Plus, the profits for some of Villarreal’s campaigns, like her face mask line from last summer, go 100 percent to the shelter.
Don’t worry if you missed the first couple campaigns, as Villarreal says there are more coming soon. Keep an eye on Margarita Mercantile’s Facebook and Instagram, which she says have been the store’s saving grace during the pandemic. (Since June 2020, Villarreal has grown her online following by 121 percent, which increased her sales by 30 percent.)
“If it wasn’t for Instagram and Facebook during Covid-19,” she says, “[Margarita Mercantile] would not be alive."
Although Margarita Mercantile doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar storefront, but you can spot Villarreal’s dresses in trunk shows and the occasional boutique around town. In the meantime, shop dresses, tops, and more at margaritamercantile.com.
*A previous version of this story implied Margarita Mercantile only made huipiles. That has been corrected.