Nativas Studios has been on 5th Street since last summer, but it was all-in street marketing during South by Southwest (SXSW) that brought its biggest crowds. Co-owner and stylist Liz Valadez stationed her husband at the door like a town crier offering free professional headshots, which the team turned out in minutes flat. This, the founders decided, would mark the studio’s official launch.
Inside were Valadez herself, co-owner and photographer Richelle Monae, and their favorite makeup artist, Angelo Pegran, each working on different steps of an editorial process sped up for curious crowds.
“It was so cool just to see how, when people actually said that they were going to go, that they showed up,” says Monae, marveling over the reliability of Austinites they met at the chaotic festival, and perhaps forgetting that free headshots are a contemporary holy grail.
The Nativas creators, from Los Angeles, are still getting used to their new surroundings. It was a trial by fire — or more accurately, ice — when the two first arrived in 2021 with their partners, considering a personal move before the photo idea was even born. Staying in an Airbnb, the group had its first impression of the Texas city completely overwritten by Winter Storm Uri.
Thankfully, the house was close enough to the hospital that its power never went out, so the visitors hosted friends in the area who weren’t so lucky. Stuck inside, they discovered a treasure trove of costumes and had such a morale-boosting photoshoot that it became a professional genesis. When Nativas was ready for business, the friends’ shared real estate agent was their first client.
“What we learned from doing this and [about] people from Austin,” Monae concluded, “is the amount of support — just how amazing people really are.”
Given more time than the hectic pace that day allowed, the Nativas Team is all about folding clients into a professional experience without assuming any prior experience or modeling prowess. It starts with a consultation, then moves through talks about wardrobe — either selecting the client's pieces or using Valadez’s resources — and even vision boards. When it comes time to shoot, the client gets a modeling lesson and a killer playlist.
In our very short, impromptu window before I had to run to a different reservation, Monae cued me to think of my favorite celebrity, and embody them. My frazzled mind went directly to Liam O’Brien, a voice actor I don’t think I would ever look like in a photo. I crossed my arms in an O’Brienish way. It’s not how I would normally choose to be represented in a photo, but an interesting departure from my usual instinct.
Breaking through the clients’ preexisting mentality is not just Nativas’ mission, but both creators’ raison d'être. Both Latinas from families with native heritage, they point out a generational pattern they’ve noticed.
“A lot of times when you're born into a situation, you think that situation defines who you are,” says Monae. “And then you get stuck in that conversation, and it's a conversation that you didn't even make up. It's a conversation that was generations before youm, from your mom and from…your mom's mom's mom.”
Valadez co-signs the thought. “If you start thinking of yourself in that [limited] manner, then your pictures are not going to look good. We're not therapists, but we definitely want to be able to help them facilitate [change] by the outside, and the inside, and the voices in your head.”
Much like Queer Eye ethos that swept the world up in a supportive embrace, this philosophy, the Nativas team hopes, will empower clients to see themselves in a new light, then carrying that confidence onward to more real-world achievements.
Nativas hopes clients will use photos for more charismatic corporate headshots, dating profiles, and creative self-promotion. To help build up the latter portfolio and help visiting artists during SXSW, the team set up free shoots for Austin local Moody Bank$, South African singer-songwriter Manny Walters, and Norwegian alt-pop duo Ask Carol.
A photoshoot at Nativas Studios is inherently flexible, so the team is still nailing down its pricing. So far, a three-look photoshoot inclusive of all planning, styling, and makeup starts at $800. Because Nativas hopes to work with creatives, it will also factor in some sliding scale negotiations to work with clients who are still getting established.
More information about Nativas Studios is available at nativasstudios.com.