LOS ANGELES — When customers leave Bernadette Garland’s store, they feel like a million bucks because her shop, Ambiance By Bernadette, helps women dress up with eye-catching accessories and clothes. 

What You Need To Know

  • California Rebuilding Fund offers low interest rate loans to small businesses, especially those in historically underserved and under-banked areas of the state

  • Businesses with 50 or less full-time employees are eligible to apply

  • Businesses with gross revenues of less than $2.5 million in 2019 are eligible to apply

  • The loan must be paid back over a 3- or 5-year term with a fixed annual interest rate that is currently 4.25%

“My designs are kind of for the ‘show off’,” Garland said. “[It is for] the person that is doing a performance, or making a grand entrance, or doing a photo shoot. The fun stuff, you know!”

Growing up, Garland loved designing fashion accessories and apparel but ended up working corporate jobs that left her unfulfilled. She decided to chase her dream, remembering that childhood passion.

“There were many trips to the New York City garment district with relatives when I was a kid so the passion was there from the very beginning,” she said.

Garland initially sold her designs to other companies but eventually opened a retail store on Slauson Avenue in the Windsor Hills part of Los Angeles. Impacted by the pandemic, sales of her jewelry, handbags, and clothing designs dropped by 50%. Her customers stopped going out.

“They’re not getting dressed. They have nowhere to go,” she said. “They’re not performing.”

Garland turned to making face masks, which helped her stay afloat for now, but she is worried about making ends meet. She applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan but was denied. She tried applying for another loan but that is stalled because her identity was stolen.

Garland was frustrated by the lack of financial help until customers told her about the California Rebuilding Fund. It is a loan program established by the state, public and private organizations in late 2020 to help the smallest and hardest hit businesses recover from the pandemic.

“Eighty-five percent of them [businesses] are minority-owned, female-owned, and reside in a low-to-moderate income tract and so these are in poorer communities. These are entrepreneurs that traditionally have not had access to the financial system,” said Scott Wu. 


Wu is the executive director of IBank, or California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, which put $25 million dollars in the fund. He said lenders who serve small businesses also ran into problems of their own during the pandemic.

“The community development financial institutions that traditionally serve the smallest of the small businesses that are underserved, underbanked, those institutions were running out of money. They didn’t have enough capital to lend,” Wu said.

The California Rebuilding Fund provides that money. The fund has grown to $125 million as other organizations add to it, providing much needed loans with low interest rates to entrepreneurs like Garland. The money would help pay mounting expenses like rent and allow her to hire someone to help with daily tasks she handles on her own.

“People would call me and say, turn your FaceTime on and show me around the store. I want to shop. And can you bring it to me, too?” said Garland. “I am having to wear all these different hats.”

The role Garland loves the most, however, is designing. She hopes a loan will help her business not only survive, but also thrive.