Growing up in Irvine, Calif., an affluent city with a small Latino population, Nicole Di Rocco recalls feeling disconnected from her roots.
As a child, she put a lot of effort in trying to fit in with the rest of the girls at school. She even begged her mother not to “speak Spanish when my friends are around because it is embarrassing.”
Much has changed since then.
Dirroco’s Cuban-inspired swimwear line was featured in this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and has appeared in magazines such as Cosmopolitan en Español. The young entrepreneur has collaborated with artists such as Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Rihanna and has been asked to be the guest swimwear judge at the World Championship of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, Calif.
Furthermore, Sí TV’s new documentary special, "PastPort Cuba - The Search For Nicolita," features the Cuban-American Di Rocco's journey to Cuba for the first time.
“I was at a crossroads of figuring out who I am,” says Di Rocco. “I knew what I was doing was right for me.”
In the documentary, Di Rocco, 30, stresses how she is part of the generation who wants to reconnect with her family history and identity.
So, to educate herself and reconnect to her roots, Di Rocco tdid what came naturally -- she designed. What started out as a handbag quickly blossomed into “Nicolita Caliente Swimwear."
Di Rocco’s parents, Thais and Xavíer Sainz, left Cuba around the time of the Castro revolution. Her only connection to her parent’s birthplace were the photos in old family photo-albums. What her mother wore in these pictures, her sense of style, ultimately inspired her collection. Her mom was her muse.
Emulating the feel of the romantic era in Cuba during the 40’s and 50’s, Di Rocco’s line is conservative yet sexy, with “Cuban-style” bottoms catered to the curvaceous Latina figure.
Flying to Cuba, finding her ‘Nicolita’ model, and having an on-location photo shoot for her 2011 collection outside the Capital buildings in Havana, was a dream come true for the designer, whose line has been sold in department stores and boutiques nationwide.
When Di Rocco’s business was still in its infancy, the 30-year-old entrepreneur was told by a fellow sorority sister at the University of California (USC) that ‘Nicolita’ sounded too “Latin and people wouldn’t like that.”
“It was a very weird and odd moment because, it hurts when you put yourself out there and you get that reaction," says Di Rocco. "I was proud of the name that I had finally chosen for the line. It makes you question yourself.”
She stuck to "Nicolita" and never looked back.
Throughout her trip, Di Rocco and her family reconnected to Cuba --family, loved ones and old friends.
"The fact that I could share this with my family and have my all my passions come together full circle has great," Di Rocco said. "I did what was right for me."