One thing our Interview Series has taught me is that the fashion industry takes all sorts of people behind-the-scenes to make the world of fashion spin. From seamstresses to buyers to PR to trend forecasters—the fashion industry is incredibly varied.
Mercedes Gonzalez of the Global Purchasing Group proved that to me once again. Since 1998 the GPG's unique role in the industry touches everything from manufacturing to buying to marketing. GPG builds retail strategies for retailers and new designers—to assisting them with business planning and growth strategies. Business strategies within the fashion industry comes naturally to Mercedes, with her two decades+ in the fashion business. In addition to business strategies, in 2005 GPG created a showroom to showcase the talent of break-out artists .
Armed with a degree in Economics and decades in the business Mercedes, as Director of GPG, leads her team on various projects including overseeing their showroom, training some of the top buying offices in the country, restructuring hundreds of stores, and other consultant-ish roles.
In addition to her busy consulting schedule Mercedes speaks publicly and has been featured on nationally syndicated fashion magazines and shows like Women's Wear Daily and the Today Show. Mercedes also teaches several trade workshops and offers short- and one-day workshops for beginners in the industry interested in learning the economics of fashion. Her one-day workshops are designed for those interested in breaking into the industry but do not want to (or aren't ready to) commit to a long-term business/fashion degree program.
Mercedes' commitment to training newcomers to the industry obviously hasn't curtailed since her time as adjunct professor at N.Y.U. She was quick to volunteer to take part in our Interview Series, to help educate our readers on work being done in the industry. Our readers who are looking to break into the industry would do well to pay close attention to Mercedes' advice below:
How did you get your foot into the door of the fashion industry?
I had an uncle that was a dress manufacturer in New York City. I worked with him from a very young age and before I went to NYU to study economics my intention was to work on wall street. I graduated a month before “black Monday” and the only person that would hire me was my uncle.
What is your current focus/role within the industry?
Global Purchasing Companies does retail strategy planning. We mostly work with start-up retailers and new designers helping them to create a profitable business model.
What type of education did it take to get you where you are today?
My suggestion in the fashion industry is to study business. I think it’s over looked in many schools. If you are studying to be a designer I think it’s important to take classes on production. I feel that many fashion professionals in the industry are not well-rounded enough. My uncle would tell me you need to know the price of rice in China to understand how the fashion business works. There are great designers that don’t know how things are made. Many of them have been working as designers for years….they just pass the design to the production people and are done.
How has your career path progressed over the years?
I have let my business grow organically, always looking for the opportunity. We started as a buying service for retailers. Then we discovered that they needed help in operations, not just buying and trend forecasting. That took us to working with young designer since the retailers always want something new. Our understanding of American retailing has taken us from Chile to China to help the new retail markets be competitive. It’s always about taking on a new challenge and making it your own.
If you had it to do all over again what would you do differently, change or improve?
I would only change my attitude. When I started, to me this was a temporary job and even a little “low brow”. I wish I would have asked more questions to some of the old timers I had the opportunity to work with, but being “college” educated I was a little “know it all”. This is not a low brow industry. It kills me when people say that factory work is unskilled labor. Have you tried to sew on a button??? Then you know the skill it takes.
What is your favorite part of working in the fashion/design business?
I love the change and how unpredictable it is. Every day is different. I know that’s not for everyone…but for me it’s like air, it keeps me alive.
What advice would you give to aspiring fashionistas?
Study business, work for free, pack boxes, clean the floor at a factory, work in a boutiques and a national chain. Learn everything you can from the ground up before striking out on your own!
What is the most important skill or hard lesson you have learned while working in the industry?
You have no friends.
What was most surprising about working in the fashion industry?
Everyone wants to be your friend.
What school(s) does your company generally recruit new hires from? And, do you accept interns?
We take on a summer and a winter intern. The school doesn’t matter it’s where they want to go that’s important to us.
Which roles in the fashion industry do you think will offer the best career opportunities moving forward? eg. designer, PR, entrepreneur, etc.?
Sales and owning your own retail store.
What designer(s) or brand(s) influenced you the most as a creative professional?
Other designers shouldn’t influence you. Watching the consumer is the best inspiration.
Do you think today's jobs in the fashion industry require more of an artist's touch or business-like ruthlessness?
Business and ruthlessness.
Which skills do you consider to be most critical for a career in fashion?
Honesty, organization and vision.
What would you recommend for aspiring fashion professionals looking to break into today's fashion industry?
Network network network.
Check out more interviews at The Fashion-Schools.org Interview Series.