Fashion is a business of smoke and mirrors, notorious for crushing the souls of most who dare to be part of the industry. Go on a global expedition with New York City-based fashion buyer, strategist, and consultant, Mercedes Gonzalez, as she learns that there is no glamour in fashion and that only cutthroat corporate espionage prevails. From politicking with blood diamond dealers and Russian kingpins to living in indigenous villages, she has relied on her street smarts and fear of her uncle in order to outwit the industry tyrants at their own game. The underdog becomes the overlord (at-large). You'll want to grab a notebook for all the business (and life) tips this read has to offer. Advance warning, this book will convince you to become a proponent of child labor, an advocate of GMO, and a cynic of organic cotton.
|Publisher:||Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Mercedes Gonzalez, founder of Global Purchasing Companies, is an international retail strategist developing and implementing retail techniques around the world. For more than 25 years her influence has impacted some of the industry norms being used today.
Read an Excerpt
THE EARLY YEARS
Looked like I wasn't going to work that day. I had spent the night watching the Hong Kong market crash; the economic tidal wave wrapped itself around the world, crushing every market in its way, ending the next day in Australia. Black Monday became black Tuesday, then became black rest-of-the-year.
I had landed a job right after college with Midland Bank as an analyst doing the due diligence on companies that were positioning themselves for an IPO (initial public offering). I had been on the job a month, but I was not doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to buy and sell foreign currencies, and Midland wasn't even an international bank. The market crash wasn't too heartbreaking for me, since I wasn't happy doing what I was doing, but it was a job.
After the dust settled, it became apparent that Wall Street didn't need any rookie analyst, as seasoned professionals were now working on commission-based salaries. I went to my uncle Manolo for a job. It would be temporary, just until the bear became a bull.
"I told you Wall Street was full of shit. You can't buy and sell paper; that's fake bullshit." He talked in a tone that was more like yelling than speaking, but that was his everyday inside voice. "Find something to do and make yourself useful." That was Manolo talk for you've been hired.
Short Sleeves Long Sleeves
One of the lessons I learned in school was the importance of diversification. My uncle only made one type of dress. It was a printed polyester shirtdress with patch pockets and a self-belt. His idea of diversification was to make them in long and short sleeves. I suggested that we add new styles, like something that can be worn in the winter months. That way we could have a wider reach of retailers in the north and have a product that could be sold twelve months a year. I was thinking a full collection of five deliveries, but his idea was to make a pant. (Yes sir, a pant.) I had talked him out of a skirt, which was a battle on its own since he hadn't needed to make a pattern. Well, at least this wasn't your ordinary pant. This was double-knit polyester with an elastic waistband that came in nineteen fashion colors. I use the word "fashion" loosely, since he didn't follow any trends or use Pantone colors. That polyester was so stiff that I swear the pant could stand up on its own. I used to tell buyers that the pants were not only durable, but bulletproof. They might have been. They were an immediate hit. In fact, it was in the Sunday pullout circular of many national newspapers. Two for $19, of course, in your choice of nineteen fashion colors.
I had earned the respect of my uncle, which I only figured out when he was bragging to a friend who just made handkerchiefs. I shouldn't say "just made handkerchiefs," because they weren't your ordinary, everyday white handkerchiefs. He made them in every style humanly possible, at every price point, for every type of store. He asked me to explain the concept of diversification, which I did with much academic rhetoric. Uncle's friend took my advice to heart, because soon after he was also making scarves. Scarves, you might note, are just handkerchiefs made larger. So much for diversification.
My uncle lived in the moment, and while the pant idea was OK, in his words, he "needed the next big thing." Sitting in Ben's Kosher Deli (they still make the best matzo ball soup in the city), I overheard a couple of garmentos talking about the shitload of money they were making selling to Walmart. I didn't know what Walmart was at the time, but by the sound of it, Walmart was the next big Kmart. Let me take you back in time.
No one wanted to sell to Walmart because it was so lowbrow and tiny compared to Kmart. In fact, Kmart, in one year, had opened more stores than Walmart had in ten years. But this was what made selling to Walmart so appealing. They had steady growth and were desperate for product, but there was a catch. The guys went on and on about how they had to go to China for production, since Walmart's pricing was so low. They argued that it wasn't about making a percent in sales, it was about making a clean quarter on every item.
So, what did I do? I came back from lunch and did a little homework. I was glad I had kept my Wall Street connections so I could do my research. It seemed like Walmart was on the cusp of a massive growth spurt. They were acquiring businesses and growing in twenty-seven states!
"Tio Manolo, we have to sell to a chain in the South called Walmart, but to do so, I have to go to China and source a cheaper factory," I said all in one breath, and as fast as I could, hoping he wouldn't pay too much attention and just say yes.
"Who the fuck is Walmart and what the hell is in China that you don't have here?" That also came out in one loud breath.
"Walmart is a chain of ... of ... of ... "— I didn't have the right words to describe it, but I thought I'd better come up with something good and fast, or I was going to lose this conversation —"... of SUPER stores. I mean, they have everything and they sell it at bulk pricing."
"We can't discount, that's not our business. Plus, we'll hurt the other retailers that sell our goods."
"No, that's why we have to go to China. We can make it there cheaper and we don't have to discount, we can just change the brand name."
He was looking interested, and then he hit hard. "What the fuck do you know about China except for eating Chinese food?" "Remember that I went to school for international business, and China was the main focus?" I snapped back. Hmm, I am actually using some of my education, I thought to myself. My uncle and just about all of his friends didn't go to college and were all self-made businessmen.
"Well, you better put that diploma to good use, because right now you can use it for toilet paper." I agreed.
Four days, three meetings with the travel agent, two books on doing business with China, a stack of traveler's checks, and I was off to China. Twenty slow-motion hours later and I was in Hong Kong. Then it sunk in. Holy shit, I was in fucking China. What the fuck was I doing in fucking China? I spent the first three days/nights, who the hell knows, crying in bed. I didn't even know what time of day it was and I needed to find a factory. All with no Google, no cell phones, and no help desk.
I was trying hard to relax. Deep breaths. My heart was racing. I had a pain in my chest like I'd never felt before. I raised my left hand up, stretched it to the left and then to the right. Were these the symptoms of a heart attack? What were the symptoms of a heart attack? Was I having a heart attack? I made myself sit down, had a drink, and went to my happy place.
What the fuck! Sitting there wasn't going to work. I couldn't afford to be stressed and paralyzed in fear, since I didn't have a trust fund or a sugar daddy. My motivation came from having an uncle who was going to kill me. I had to shake it off and put my big-girl panties on!
The next morning, I asked the doorman if he could direct me to the Garment District. I was sure that every place in the world had a Garment District. He spoke perfect English, as Hong Kong at the time was still ruled by the English. He mentioned that his aunt was a pattern maker, and she would know where the Garment District was. Eureka, there was a Garment District!
I was staying at the Shangri-La, the most beautiful hotel I had ever been to, even to this day. Service at the Shangri-La was beyond impeccable. After my third day of ordering the same room service, the chef called my room and asked if he could send me up something different, while keeping the flavors that I seemed to like. Incredible! He didn't want me to be bored with the same food every day and he was proud of his culture's cuisine. Everything he sent up was new to me and I loved it all. Chinese food in China is not the same as New York Chinese. There is no MSG and there are some interesting choices of protein. Pigeon, anyone? His hearty, satisfying cooking gave me courage and comfort. Trying something new wasn't so scary.
The following morning, there was a knock on my door. "Madam, it's the bellman. I am here to take you to the center." I opened the door and the young bellman, who I had met when I first arrived, informed me that it was his aunt who was the pattern maker. He had been given the day off to take me to the agent building. I asked him how much it would cost. He said $100. I thought it was a bargain. It wasn't until later that I understood what he meant. It turned out that he was taking me as a courtesy of the hotel, and he had informed me that he was well paid, making $100 a month. Oy vey. Well, it was still money very well spent.
We arrived at the agent building, which was a short walk from the hotel. That was a good sign. It was a magnificent building with a central atrium that let in the natural sunlight. I could see the rays of light reflecting off the clear glass office walls that filled the space like honeycombs. It felt like the clouds had parted and the angels were playing "Ode to Joy" on the trumpets in the sky!
I noticed that the directory was written in Chinese and English.
Another good sign. The building was very well-organized. Each floor was dedicated to one thing. One was toys with wheels: roller skates, skateboards, bicycles, and such. There was a housewares floor with just kitchen items, but not electronics. Home electronics, such as vacuums, were on another level. Then there was the old lady floor! I had never been so freaking happy to see a rainbow of pastel polyesters that would have rivaled any float at a gay pride parade! It was all very organized by tops, bottoms, and dresses. There were many tiny glass box offices with agents sitting in solitary confinement, reading yesterday's paper over and over again. Their dress samples were crammed into every nook. One had a sample hanging that could have been the twin to the dress my uncle had been making for more than twenty years. Jackpot! He opened the door, and a burst of cigarette smoke slapped me in the face.
Mr. Charlie Chan, a tiny Yoda-looking man, missing one side molar where, I later found out, he permanently held a cigarette. He would eat, speak, and I'm pretty sure sleep with it stuck in there. He checked me out with a doubtful expression. He had a weathered, aged look despite never having worked outdoors, and managed to wrinkle it a bit more trying to figure out what I was doing there. It was only then that I realized that besides the woman rolling a food cart down the hall and another sweeping the downstairs, I was the only other woman in the building.
I pulled out my samples and pointed to the one that was hanging in his room.
"How much?" I asked. A rookie mistake — you never start by asking the price. In fact, when the time is right, you tell them the price you want and start from there. "Let me see," he said in clear English while taking the sample from my hand. He turned it inside out, looked at the seams, and pulled them.
"Crooked seams," he said. So what, I thought to myself, they were $28 retail dresses. I grabbed his sample from the wall, looking for production mistakes. I must say it was very well made, but I was there for price, not for production perfection. It had to be sellable, not perfect.
"How much?" I asked again.
"How many?" he said.
"Depends on price," I said. This ping-pong match went on for about twenty minutes when finally we agreed on $3.25 FOB mainland for a twenty-foot-high cube container. I just want to let you know that the only thing I understood about that whole conversation was the $3.25 US! I didn't know that 3,500 dresses fit in a twenty-foot — high cube. I also didn't know what a twenty-foot-high cube was, nor did I know where mainland was, or the term FOB (Free On Board). But I didn't care. It was $3.25 and in the United States that same dress was costing us $12.
Courage in a Bowl of Soup
I decided that night I would celebrate by eating outside the hotel. So, I promptly crossed the street and went into the first restaurant I found. It was early, so the restaurant was empty. The waiter sat me down at an enormous round table with a red tablecloth and plastic flowers. He gave me the International Menu that had photos of all the food they served. There were plenty of familiar looking foods, some not-so-familiar, and some that I didn't want to become familiar with at all. There was an excellent selection of soups. I picked one that looked to be shredded beef with noodles, a boiled egg, and maybe some parsley leaves. Perfect! "I'll take this one," I said to the waiter, pointing to the soup.
"No, no, no, not for you," said the waiter.
Maybe I was missing something in his broken English. "Yes for me, soup please."
"No, no, no, not for woman soup."
What? What the hell had he just said? Not for woman soup? What kind of crap was this?
"Yes, for women soup, bring now." Why was it that I always started speaking in broken English when speaking to someone who didn't understand English? Wouldn't it be smarter to just speak slower and clearer? "Bring soup now," I demanded. As he scurried off, I yelled, "And bring me a Coke!" Damn, I thought, I got this. It was all going to be all right. I was the boss now, and I was going to be the man in my uncle's eyes.
While I was daydreaming my delusional thoughts of grandeur, or maybe I had nodded off (I had no idea what a drag jetlag was), the soup was placed in front of me. But the waiter didn't leave. He just hovered over me, a little too close to my space, and stared. It was almost like he was daring me to eat it. I gave him my best stink eye, telepathically telling him to fuck off, but he just moved behind me, out of my line of sight. I could feel him right on top of me. Was the soup deadly spicy? I had forgotten Asian food could have a significant kick to it. Was it just bitter and you needed to acquire a taste for it? Was it made from some raw microbial-infested delicacy that would keep me in the bathroom for days? Well, it was too late to chicken out now. I went for it. Yum, it tasted like a beef stew. It was tasty and delicate with nothing overwhelming. Very familiar, nothing scary here. As I was finishing it, I looked around. All of the waiters were staring at me! Would there be a delayed reaction? Was my head going to explode? What was the problem with these guys?
You know what? Who cares? The soup hit the spot, it was 6 p.m., and I was ready for bed.
I found out the hard way that I needed to get a visa to go to the factory to finalize the negotiations. This set me back a day, so I took the day off and jumped on the ferry to go shopping in Kowloon. I spent the day shopping the local market, which included a tour of the more than 200-year-old jade market with it's $1,000 hand carved rings. Since of course, I couldn't afford anything, I made my way back to the hotel, hopping back on the local ferry, and decided to go back to the soup restaurant. That night, I walked into the same restaurant. Why mess around when you've found a good place and a good meal? I was early for dinner once again. The place was empty, but this time the waiters were peeking behind the curtain or being called to come out from the kitchen, and the ones setting up the bar were all pointing and giggling at me. Who cares? I was seated and a different waiter than the one from the night before handed me the menu. Before he could turn away, I grabbed him, opened the menu, and pointed to the same soup. He looked at me and shook his head. "No good."
"No, it's very good," I said.
He did a kind of vulgar gesture. He made a fist, slapped the top of his arm moving in an upward direction, and said "Not woman soup, man soup. Makes blood strong."
I was thinking to myself, was this guy kidding me? I had just flown halfway around the world, didn't know my ass from elbow, but found what I came for, just to be spoken down to by some chauvinistic pig giving me the international sign for "go fuck yourself"? I didn't think so. "Bring the soup," I yelled at him. This time I didn't hesitate and drank it. The waiters were super amused and watched me from the far corners of the restaurant, trying not to be obvious while being very obvious. But really, who the fuck cares? Not me! I was the one paying the bill. I tried to hurt them in some way by not leaving a tip. But the joke was on me, since it's not customary to tip in China. Once again, the soup hit the spot and put me in a happy food coma. I felt mentally and physically ready for the first time since I had been in China.
I spent the next couple of days on the mainland. I had a crash course on harmonized codes, duties, and quotas. I found a telex machine at the factory that I could use to send a message to my uncle's friend. He was a button salesman named Joe whose company had been exporting buttons from China for years. He was also one of the alarmists about doing business in China. He would be able to tell my uncle I was alive and was coming home in two days with good news and samples.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer"
Copyright © 2018 Mercedes Gonzalez.
Excerpted by permission of Schiffer Publishing, Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
THE EARLY YEARS, 13,
BUT MY NAME IS ON THE DOOR, 41,
CHEAPER ON CANAL STREET, 55,
YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG, SID, 59,
BERGDORF BLONDE, 70,
THE EXPRESS LANE, 75,
THE EMPEROR AND HIS NEW BOOTS, 85,
NICKELS AND DIMES, 98,
RICH OR FAMOUS, 102,
IT TAKES US TO MAKE THE VILLAGE, 127,
RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS, 147,
HELL BOSS, 158,
THE GODFATHER AND THE ORPHANS, 162,
I'M WITH THE BAND, 176,
TOO MUCH INFORMATION, 193,
THE SKINNY OF IT ALL, 194,
WHEN ELEPHANTS FIGHT, 212,
ZOOLANDER IS A DOCUMENTARY, 222,
ALWAYS A RETAILER, 233,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mercedes gives readers a unique lens into the behind-the-scenes reality of the fashion world, and the real art and grit required to survive in retail. This is a ‘nothing held back’ telling of what it takes to be successful in the fashion world from one of New York’s leading top guns herself. Written unlike any other book about business or fashion, Mercedes takes readers on the journey from when she kicked off her career, and entertains readers all the way to the end while educating them on the technical ‘book stuff’ that should be taught in fashion schools but isn’t, and on the painful lessons that only come from ‘battle.’ Introducing many real life examples and anecdotes the reader feels like they walk beside her in a life that reminds you that ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ As she details her dealings with misogynistic businessmen, paramilitary troops in third world countries, oligarchs in post-revolution Colombia, pretentious fashion designers, unruly clients, womanizing tailors, and small town retailers, her honest, and confrontational approach to ‘the business’ is a shocking and inspirational telling of the challenges and joys of turning ideas into dollars. For anyone interested in fashion, students or stylist, or entrepreneur—this book is an absolute must read. Mercedes Gonzales’ first book will entertain you, and challenge the preconceived notions of most, if not all readers, about the world of fashion. This book would make an excellent addition to the curriculum reading of any first year fashion or business student, though anyone interested in fashion and retail will benefit from Mercedes’ experiences. You’ll start this book drinking coffee, but finish it with a glass of whiskey in your hand.
I was voted least fashionable in High School (okay, no I wasn't because that wasn't a thing) but let's just say I never cared about clothes. I never cared about high fashion, I never read vogue magazine, I only watched the Devil Wears Prada because it was the only thing on TV, and when I started reading it during my lunch breaks at my old office gig it was because it was the only thing they had lying around to read. I never liked The Devil Wears Prada - none of the characters were sympathetic and the book dragged on and on, dull and lifeless like the paperback jacket it wore. So when I found this book, I thought to myself "I wonder if this is going to be a rehash of that horrible story, should I even bother reading this?" I started reading on a day where my Trailways bus broke down twice en route to NYC, and by god, I wish it broke down at least 10 more times so I could continue to read undisturbed. Yes, this book is THAT good. It is THAT addictive. I found myself actually being compelled by an industry that I once gave a rat's ass about. I laughed, I cried, and I read it cover to cover within only a few more bus rides. I found myself actually thinking about the book in my own life, in my own personal situations, and using the information I had learned (I work in customer service), I was able to better my own experiences. I recommend this book for any human being - anywhere - interested in anything. If you deal with clothing, read this book. If you deal with people, read this book. If you just want a good book to read that will touch you on every emotional point, READ THIS BOOK!