I met Mercedes Gonzalez about 15 years ago. I had recently started my style consulting after leaving the industry as a designer and was working to get my name and services out there. You have to remember, this was in the early 2000s, there was no Facebook, Instagram, blogs or other meaningful forms of social media that could be used (my first two newsletters were printed on paper and snail-mailed). One of the ways I grew my business was through the free monthly seminars I offered for women. I would collect the attendees’ info, put them on my mailing list and hope to turn some of them into clients. After one of these seminars, a woman introduced herself. It was Mercedes. Impressed by the information I shared, she asked me if I would be interested in setting up a meeting.
I will never forget our first meeting. I went to her office (I didn’t have my own office. For the record, I still don’t). She was wearing these flannel oatmeal colored culottes, they were making a comeback. If you know me, you know remembering what someone wore is what I most strongly recall from most first encounters. I found myself incredibly intimidated by her and her success and wondered why she even wanted to meet with me. But, we hit it off and have been friends ever since. Since then, Mercedes and I have spun into each other’s worlds with some form of regularity, sometimes going a few years without needing to connect and other times in a more frequent manner. We have just always been in contact and I can safely say my life is richer for it.
The recent release of her book, Chronicles of a Buyer: The Mostly True Adventures of an International Fashion Buyer (link here) gives everyone the opportunity to know Mercedes and all she has accomplished in her life and her career. And let me tell you, it’s a lot and her book is a must-read.
As the book is described: Fashion is a business of smoke and mirrors, notorious for crushing the souls of most that 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 glamor in fashion and that only cut throat 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.
My personal feeling about the title of the book is that it doesn’t even come close to describing just how comprehensive it is. Not only do few people even understand what an international fashion buyer does, but the depth of Mercedes’ career and the stories she shares go much farther than the title implies. This is a woman who spearheaded establishing a thriving and ethical cottage industry in a third world country, pioneered to Hong Kong in the early days of doing manufacturing overseas while having no real concept of what she was doing, has helped to launch the careers of many designers and have righted the wrongs of so many retailers she has likely lost count at this point. All this can be read about in her book.
Part memoir and part “how-to,” Mercedes starts her book in the early days of her career in the garment industry under the tutelage of her brash Uncle Manolo who owned a company making affordable polyester dresses in the garment industry. The journey continues with amazing stories and the defining (coffee-throwing) moment where Mercedes quit her job as an underappreciated international fashion buyer at another company and decided to branch out on her own and start Global Purchasing Group. Now in complete control of her career, from there the stories just get better and better.
Having started in the industry in the early 90’s as a fashion designer, during the waning years of the fashion industry “garmentos” (you’ll better understand this term better when you read the book) and when the industry was rife with misogyny and unethical behavior (not that these things don’t still exist), the stories of her early days were almost too close for comfort for me and, unexpectedly, my own memories from the industry came flooding back. These are memories I had either long forgotten about or had tucked away in the deep recesses of my mind to protect myself. Like the time every single one of my fellow design team members quit the same week except for me. I stayed on to help with the onboarding of all the new designers and because I couldn’t afford to quit. After being thanked repeatedly for doing this by the VP of my division, that same VP soon considered me old, bad blood and put a target on my back during a secret meeting to get me fired. If it wasn’t for a fellow newly hired designer, who risked her job security telling me this scheme, I would never have known, nor would I have been prepared for all the times my bosses tried to trap me in mistakes that would get me fired. Lucky for me, I was too good and always one step ahead to be brought down. Oh, and I should mention, this all happened while my dad was terminally ill with cancer, which all my co-workers and the VP knew about. I will save the rest of my story for another time, but my point is, if you were a woman in this industry back then, you had to be tougher than a $2 steak.
Some reviewers of Mercedes’ book have said they felt like her stories were wrapped up a little too neatly with a bow or were too outrageous to be believed, but, I can tell you, having known Mercedes for as long as I have, nothing beats a good Mercedes story. NOTHING. Not only are they outrageous, but she is also one of the best storytellers I have ever met. Reading her book, even if you have little interest in the fashion industry, you get taken on a journey with stories, characters, travels, and more that are delightful, heartbreaking, touching and inspiring. You get involved with characters she meets along the way in her career and authentically feel something when anything happens to one of them. This is a testament to Mercedes’ writing and how well she welcomes you into her life through her book
As an industry professional, what I also love about Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer is Mercedes sets the record straight on a lot of things those outside the industry don’t know because they have either never been exposed to the underbelly of the fashion industry or because they get their facts from following their favorite “style icons” on Instagram or reading advice from so-called fashion experts with no real experience. It was gratifying to read a book by someone who actually has real experience, a lot of it. While Mercedes and I are both from the same industry, coming from different parts of it, every time I have felt out of my depths in an area of industry expertise, Mercedes has been the only person I have ever gone to get information. Not only does she know what she is talking about, she also backs up everything she professes with mountains and mountains of research. If you really want to know how the fashion industry works, this is the book you want to read.
Mercedes is also a tough cookie, someone that I know I couldn’t beat in a street fight. She’s shrewd, sharp, strategic and doesn’t like crybabies. It would be my guess that she has also been called arrogant, smug and a know-it-all by at least a few people. At times, her book comes across that way, like she is the self-proclaimed All-Knowing-Oz of fashion, but then you realize that if this book was a man’s story, none of that would be in question. Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer reminds us that all women should be as self-assured as Mercedes, especially when they have the credentials to back themselves up
What I also know is that for as shrewd, strategic, blunt and to the point as Mercedes is, she is one of the most generous professional friends I have, has probably given more away than she has gotten back from most of the people she has worked with and I have her to thank for many business opportunities that have come my way. Whenever I travel to MAGIC, Mercedes is like a celebrity to all the small retailers and designers she has undoubtedly helped or inspired. I should also mention that several years ago, a cousin of mine earned the spot as a summer intern for Mercedes. To this day, my cousin tells me she learned more from that summer working with Mercedes than she did in her four years at college getting her degree in fashion merchandising.
Yet, the biggest and most pleasant surprise I got from reading Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer is it inspired me to be more, do more and try more in my own life and career, not so one day I could be Mercedes or even do what she does, but to be a bigger and better me. I found myself really inspired to examine and reflect on my own life, look at where I haven’t been audacious or bold enough, where I haven’t used my time well enough, not taken enough risks or trusted myself as I should have. And, like me, after reading this book, you may find yourself with the same thoughts, not necessarily wanting to be a fashion industry leader and a go-getter, like Mercedes, but to be a leader and go-getter in your own life. And, in the end, that is what truly matters. I do believe we all have a little Mercedes inside waiting to break out and stake our claim.
Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer: The Mostly True Adventures of an International Fashion Buyer is available at Amazon and most booksellers now.