Thursday, October 25, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

"Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer" Makes Retail Funny Again

More info/purchase

Upon graduating from NYU with an Economics degree Mercedes Gonzalez had no intention of working in the fashion industry. Gonzalez, author of the new book "Chronicles of a Fashion Buyer: The Mostly True Adventures of an International Fashion Buyer" wanted to work on Wall Street and be Michael Milken -- right before Wall Street crashed and Milken was arrested for insider trading. The times being what they were, (plus the fact that "my fancy degree in economics didn't seem to be worth the price of toilet paper") she instead took what she thought would be a temporary job working for Uncle Manolo, a garmento who sold "old lady polyester print dresses."

Manolo's advice which sticks with her to this day: "You need to know the price of rice in China to understand this business."

Gonzalez began to change her perspective. "I wanted to be a buyer: saving the world one dress at a time, running ethical, sustainable, organic factories that ran on solar-powered fairy dust and unicorn tears.  I was going to live the glamorous life, flying on the Concorde and going to all the fashion shows. I was in for a big surprise," she writes.

Mercedes Gonzalez

The book, available on October 28, is a fun and informative romp through Gonzalez's nearly three-decade career.  From being gutsy enough to take her Uncle's production overseas, where else but China, in order to sell in bulk quantities to Walmart, to a job at a buying office where she made her mark in knit tops under $10, Gonzalez writes wryly and hilariously about the challenges she faced every step of the way. Eventually gaining full-service clients in the U.S., Mexico, and Latin America (her main qualification was that she spoke Spanish) and even a Siberian mall developer, she started her own business, Global Purchasing Companies, now in its 20th year.

In her irreverent, entertaining style she details many of the dubious situations both home and abroad  (mystery soup in China, an underground gay nightclub in Pakistan, being hit by a NYC taxi), along with the colorful sometimes unscrupulous characters that she's had to learn to deal with. Her successes and failures are laid bare whether called on to nurture and develop new design talent, merchandise existing stores, implement a supply chain, or grow a concept from the ground up. Potential clients should be prepared -- she will not be your "yes man" the way friends and family are known to be. While Gonzalez is the self-proclaimed "dream crusher" she is also the "nightmare avoider" preferring that those seeking her advice enlist her when they first have their idea so that, if need be, she can shut it down before real money is wasted.

Life and retail lessons include the obvious such as know your customer, pick the right location, the right salespeople, the right merchandise (it should have that "Je ne sais quoi" but not just something that you like), stock it within easy access and of course, offer it at the right price. Don't keep your dead stock (merchandise more than six months old) on the floor at full price -- run a sale. Your slightly off-kilter hobby should not be your business plan. If you have to decide between being rich or famous Gonzalez advises going for rich any day! In case you want to know who's got retail right, there's a whole chapter in the book extolling Paragon Sporting Goods -- especially their sales staff's techniques which have made the author a loyal customer.

As "advance warned" on the book's back cover Gonzalez will "convince you to become a proponent of child labor, an advocate of GMO, and a cynic of organic cotton." I first thought that this was just a bit of sarcasm however once these terms are unwrapped -- and the author explains how she's been exposed to them all (and more) in her (occasionally) dangerous travels -- you will see beyond the popular rhetoric and understand her viewpoint.

After reading this book I had a better idea of what' s involved in fashion buying. Albeit not everything registered with me  -- someone who long ago gave up even the pretense of balancing my checkbook. Yet another back cover tagline reading "Fashion is a business of smoke and mirrors, notorious for crushing the souls of most that dare to be part of the industry," is quite easily relatable.

Should this book leave you wanting more, Gonzalez is currently at work on her next book entitled "The Garmentos."

- Laurel Marcus

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