Colombians bring LGBTQ-Globally-Certified Supply Diversity business to America’s retail and networking industry
By Kayla Carnes
Andrés Vásquez and Felipe Cárdenas are on a mission to empower LGBTQ individuals through community engagement and increased economic diversity.
Born and raised in Colombia, South America, Vásquez and Cárdenas are the owners and founders of the international distribution corporation GAYHILLS, Inc and the online men’s retail brand OUTfair.com.
Partners Vásquez and Cárdenas cultivated an entrepreneurial spirit early on in their professional careers once their eyes were opened to the cultural bias leveled against members of the LGBTQ community in their home country of Colombia.
“Unfortunately, many LGBTQ identifying people in Latin America have been openly discriminated against or even fired from their job,” said Vásquez. “The only option for these people who are now unemployed is to start their own business.”
After years of experiencing this struggle for workplace equality firsthand, Vásquez and Cárdenas resolved to dedicate their professional careers to creating opportunities for fellow LGBTQ entrepenuers. In 2012, following years of independent consulting in Colombia, both men immigrated to the United States with a vision to promote professional interconnection for the LGBTQ community stateside. GAYHILLS — a network that enabled members of the LGBTQ community to easily interface and share business contacts — was launched shortly thereafter.
“It was a bit like LinkedIn, if you will,” said Cárdenas. In 2015, after three successful years in operation, both men saw an opportunity through the NGLCC to implement a diverse supplier program into the fabric of GAYHILLS Inc. With the help of the NGLCC, Vásquez and Cárdenas launched an international distribution business that now stretches across the globe.
“We are believers that if you include diversity to the culture of any venture, your business is always more competitive,” said Cárdenas. “Corporations grow when diversity is a pillar, and when all corporate talent doesn’t look the same. Difference isn’t something wrong — it adds value.”
Today, OUTfair.com exists under the umbrella of distributor GAYHILLS, Inc as a flourishing online marketplace that hosts a variety of high-quality retail goods all purposefully designed by LGBT-owned businesses and Certified International Diversity Suppliers. OUTfair’s digital store recently celebrated five years online, and as of 2019, now exists as a brick-and-mortar storefront in the hub of Miami Beach.
“Above all, we want to offer high quality services and goods that are an expression of the community in order to help the community succeed,” said Cárdenas. He and Vásquez greatly credit the success of their retail ventures with an uncompromising commitment to hiring and sourcing from diverse creators who exist along the LGBT spectrum.
“We don’t care who you love — we just care about your talent,” said Cárdenas. “Through these efforts and commitments to diversity, we are supporting the LGBT community around the world.”
As 2019 rolls to a close, both Vásquez and Cárdenas forsee continued growth and supplier expansion as OUTfair continues to adapt to its evolving clientele.
“If we could give LGBT entrepreneurs one piece of advice, it would be to learn from your customers,” said Vásquez. “Especially if you are working in a diverse environment, listening and learning is most important. For example: this past year, we have learned a lot about the trans community, and how to provide goods and services that most benefit their lifestyle. Learn about who you are selling to and what they need.”
Says Vásquez, “Our philosophy is that a person who is empowered is less subjected to discrimination. Helping the world is part of our mission, and the reason we are here.”
Andrés Vásquez and Felipe Cárdenas