From Rags to Riches: The Evolution of Family Business


From Rags to Riches: The Evolution of Family Business

After fleeing Castro’s Cuba in the early 1960s, two branches of the Fernandez family settled in McAllen and started over again in the fabric business they knew so well. With little money for inventory, Jose Fernandez, who had owned La Elegante fabrics in Guantanamo, and his nephew Lazaro Fernandez Sr. opened Rio Bravo selling fabric remnants.

Fifty years later, the second generation of the Fernandez families carries an in-depth inventory of fabrics at Rio Bravo and Dos Rios, operates a San Antonio showroom and distributes high end decorating fabrics to interior designers in the U.S. and Latin America through its trade showroom Novel Design Centre in McAllen.

Lazaro Fernandez Junior and Senior, take pride in Novel Design Centrec. (Eileen Mattei photo)­­­­

In the 1960s, once the immigrant family got on its feet, Rio Bravo moved from remnants to bolt fabrics. In 1972, Jose’s son Noe Fernandez partnered with Lazaro to open Dos Rios Textiles. The new store specialized in exquisite European fabrics such as French Chantilly and Alencon lace, Swiss trims and original fabrics purchased at Italian designer showrooms. When Lazaro Fernandez Jr. graduated from college in the 1982, he saw the potential to take the family business further, building on what they had. Novel Design Centre, his idea, became the third division, specializing in fine decorator fabrics and accessories for the trade.

“When you are attuned to your business, your business takes you places. You know what the business has to be,” said Lazaro Fernandez Jr.

His sister Maria Luisa Salcines recalled, “For the family the fabric stores have been much more than a business. It was almost another child in the family. My parents left everything behind to start over for their kids. They focused on working, surviving.” The family lived in a small house across from the old Mc High football stadium and walked everywhere, she said, including “bringing lunch to Dad on Saturday because we had no car back then.”

Dos Rios Textiles with its imported fabrics, beading and laces, is the store that put the business on the map. “It’s the name everyone knows,” Salcines said. “There’s not one place I go that people don’t tell me our stores have been a part of their life for weddings, baptisms and quinceaneras.” Now a third generation is coming to Dos Rios for fabric for their weddings, proms and cotillions.

Novel Design Center, in a two-story Art Deco building next door to Dos Rios, offers a private line of fabrics and is open only to decorators with their customers. Fernandez created over 120 proprietary ‘books’ that combine decoratively compatible fabrics of different textures, colors and patterns. The thousands of various, sumptuous fabrics are sourced globally.

“We never anticipated it would get this far. But it was the right thing to do,” Fernandez said. “First we sold to border cities, then we went to Monterrey. Before you knew it, we were selling to every city in Mexico.” Fernandez would take all the samples home and assemble the coordinating fabrics into books. About five years ago, he contracted a professional designer to assemble the books when juggling both operations and design got too much for him to handle. New books still go past him for approval.

Read more of this story by Eileen Mattei in the August print edition of Valley Business Report, out now.

Freelance writer Eileen Mattei was the editor of Valley Business Report for over 6 years. Her articles have appeared in Texas Highways, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Parks & Wildlife and Texas Coop Power magazines as well as On Point: The Journal of Army History. The Harlingen resident is the author of five books: Valley Places, Valley Faces; At the Crossroads: Harlingen’s First 100 Years; and Leading the Way: McAllen’s First 100 Years, For the Good of My Patients: The History of Medicine in the Rio Grande Valley, and Quinta Mazatlán: A Visual Journey.